Cape History: Thekla Hedlund and The Bellows in Falmouth

Thekla Hedlund from the 1920’s, courtesy of FindAGrave.com

Cape Cod in June of 1933 was a very different place than today. The current Sagamore and Bourne Bridges were two years away from being finished, in their places stood two drawbridges built in the 1910’s. The Mid-Cape Highway was two decades from being constructed; Route 6A and Route 28 were the main roads carrying people all over. There was no television, there were no radio stations. The year-round population according to the 1930 Census was a mere 32,000, or roughly 12,000 less than Barnstable alone in 2014. It was a much different world then except for one thing, food. In any time people have to eat.

In 1933 just as the Great Depression was taking hold on the country a new eating establishment was opening up in the then-quiet town of Falmouth. It would be simply known as The Bellows, its owner would make it one of the first landmark restaurants on Cape Cod.

Thekla Hedlund was born on Long Island in the town of Lynbrook. She had come to Cape Cod during the Roaring Twenties with her husband Maurice, summering in Centerville, and beginning to establish her reputation for creating and serving delicious food. The Hedlunds would operate the Lustre Tea Room on Main Street for five successful years. Upon Maurice’s death in 1929 Thekla decided to move on and ply her trade in Falmouth.

Another ‘tea room,’ which were popular during the pre-World War II era, was what Hedlund had in mind, although it would soon outgrow anything she had previously planned for. Even back then it was quite difficult to open a new business and Hedlund found herself rejected by the town before they finally agreed after a second application to allow the building to be constructed on Falmouth Heights Road. Local builder John DeMello would take care of erecting the new tea room and Ms. Hedlund was ready for the summer season in June 1933.

Word spread slowly the first season. Hedlund relied on her reputation from the Lustre Tea Room and positive feedback from those customers who took a chance on her new establishment. Those who did come in for breakfast, lunch, or dinner were treated to fine cuisine including popular items like chicken pie, corn fritters, and even lobster. Local lobsterman Sam Cahoon, who had provided lobsters to Hedlund at Lustre, caught them for The Bellows as well. This was no ordinary tea room.

A seasonal spot The Bellows would set a schedule of opening in mid-June and closing in mid-September. Thekla would return to Long Island with her two daughters for the winter. Upon returning to the Cape for the start of the second season at The Bellows Hedlund found that business went through the roof. Word of mouth had spread. Whereas in the first season one could show up and find a table it was now necessary for people to telephone ahead and make reservations. Perhaps it was Sam Cahoon’s fresh lobsters which were part of a $1.50 lobster dinner? It could have been the .75 cent dinner specials held every night but Sundays and Holidays. Whatever it was The Bellows was a certified hit and it would only get bigger.

In 1938 Hedlund received permission to expand on The Bellows. John DeMello would return to help construct the two additions on what was originally a small tea room. Now when customers entered they walked into a large reception hall which had white pine walls, a beamed ceiling and large fireplace. The larger dining area was now complete with maple furniture and a spectacular view of a pine tree-lined garden.

The Bellows would only grow in business and reputation into the 1940’s with Thekla and her two daughters shouldering the load. That wear and tear would eventually come back to claim Hedlund. In August 1945 nearing the end of her twelfth busy season at The Bellows Thekla suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. Her daughters immediately closed down to tend to their mother. Despite their best efforts Thekla would never again open The Bellows. She passed away on April 13, 1946 at the age of 73.

After that the building would pass through many hands. Charles Colligan bought The Bellows from Hedlund’s estate and almost immediately sold it to New Hampshire restaurateur William Doukas in 1946. He would carry on Thekla’s tradition for two more years even bringing in well established chefs and bakers from Boston before selling The Bellows to John Sheehan.

Sheehan would turn The Bellows into a guest house and rename it the Red Horse Inn likely due to his love of horse racing. In 1952 The Red Horse Inn was sold to Raymond Duffy to be used as a guest house and not a restaurant. Grace and Bob Cashman who bought Red Horse Inn in 1956 worked hard to make it into a landmark in Falmouth. They brought some much needed stability to the former Bellows holding onto it for forty-seven years. The current owners have been there since 2011 and today Red Horse Inn is still thriving.

However one cannot help but think back to a different time, a different generation. Thekla Hedlund’s principles of good food and unvarying quality in cooking and service are the hallmarks of any great restaurant. It is easy to understand why The Bellows was one of the first true iconic establishments on Cape Cod.

By Christopher Setterlund



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