The Historical Society of Santuit & Cotuit was established in 1955 to preserve the heritage of the area. Their mission has continued and
expanded to, “Acquire, preserve, interpret, and exhibit collections of historical interest to the villages of Cotuit and Santuit, while providing educational and cultural experiences that reflect the spirit and traditions of our community.”
When are the Dottridge Homestead and Historical Society of Santuit & Cotuit museums open?
The Historical Society sports a number of great museums, archives, and exhibits for those interested in Cape Cod’s history. Encompassing the Dottridge Homestead, Cotuit Museum, Fire Museum, Rothwell Icehouse, Historical Kitchen Gardens, as well as the Cotuit Archives and Cotuit Museum Shop. The museums are open weekends from Memorial Day through Christmas. Their archives are available for those doing research, and the homestead and museums can offer private tours by appointment.
When was the Historical Society of Santuit & Cotuit established?
The society began with Nita Crawford, who inherited the Samuel Dottridge Homestead in the 1950’s. After a time using the building as a laundry for her historic hotel, The Pines, Crawford began the work of fundraising to reconstruct the homestead. The fundraising efforts even included dinner and desert parties! She hoped to restore it to its original condition, even sending out a call for artifacts left forgotten in attics, barns, and spare rooms that might date back to the 1800’s. Once complete, the restored homestead became the headquarters of the Historical Society of Santuit and Cotuit.
Who was Samuel Dottridge?
Samuel Dottridge was born in London in 1786. He arrived in Cape Cod in his late teens. After several years working as an indentured apprentice learning house carpentry from John Baker, Samuel married Abigail Kelley Chase.
Once they were married, the couple decided to join friends in moving to Cotuit. They didn’t leave their homestead behind though, instead hitching it to 17 yokes of oxen. The Barnstable Patriot reports that the family didn’t do the trip from Harwich to Cotuit in a day, rather lived in the house as it was dragged over the course of 18 months!
The house reached its final resting spot on the corner of Ocean Avenue and Shell Lane, facing the sea in Cotuit. The house still has lilac bushes out the front door, just like it did when Samuel and Abigail called it home. Samuel worked as a carpenter in the area, and ran a local salt works to supply local fishermen with the salt they needed to preserve their catch.
Kitchen Gardens at Dottridge Homestead
Just outside of the homestead visitors will find the Kitchen Gardens. In 2007 the Kitchen Gardens project was launched to establish a 19th century landscape on the grounds of the Dottridge Homestead. The garden features raised beds, crushed seashells for pathways, and heirloom plants similar to the ones that the Dottridges might have tended around their own homestead, all those years ago.
Behind the homestead visitors and history enthusiasts will find the Cotuit Museum. The Cotuit Museum features regional items from the Historical Society of Santuit & Cotuit permanent collection. These include ship models, quilts, historic photos, historic China, whaling artifacts from the region, and historic tools. The artifacts date from the 1800’s to present day and tell part of the story of the region’s history.
Their exhibits cover Whaling, Cotuit in Motion, Education, Cotuit’s Origins, Hotels, and Industries. There is also an exhibit showing the instruments and supplies used in the Office of Dr. Donald Higgins, a local physician. The Cotuit Museum also shows a special exhibit that changes each season.
William Morse Fire Museum
In this museum, you’ll find the oldest mechanized fire engine on Cape Cod. You’ll also find other antique firefighting tools and exhibits on their history.
Ice cutting was a classic industry on Cape Cod into the early 1900’s. Ice was cut from lakes, ponds, and rivers and stacked in ice houses. It was then sold to preserve food, cool drinks, or to make ice cream! In Santuit and Cotuit ice was cut from No Bottom Pond, Eagle Pond, and Lewis Pond.
The Rothwell Icehouse was built in 1898. It passed through many hands of ownership and was donated to the Historical Society of Santuit and Cotuit in 2009. The icehouse now serves as a museum, featuring exhibits and historic photographs that dive deep into the region’s ice harvesting history.
The current special exhibit for 2020-2021 explores how Cotuit, which the HSSC describes as a “Village of fisherman, sea captains, and oyster and cranberry farmers” came to be tied to that Cambridge school and earned the moniker “Little Harvard”.
Events at the Historical Society of Santuit & Cotuit
Events offered at the Historical Society of Santuit, and Cotuit are wide-ranging and lots of fun! There’s the 2021 Chronicles, a lecture series held in the Cotuit Library, or virtually over Zoom. Donations are accepted, and recordings of the presentations are sometimes available on the historical society’s website.
In June, Phil Odence discussed “New Ways to Learn About Old Homes” and explained more about his work developing a digital map of historic homes.
On July 15 the lecture by David Churbuck delved into the “Wreck, Rescue, and War of Bethuel Gifford Handy”.
The August 19th talk was given by Martin W. Sandler, discussing his book: 1919: The Year That Changed America.
September 16th’s talk explored the shores of Cape Cod with Gilbert Newton, teaching attendees more about the marine plants and animals found on the shores from seaweed to scallops!
The talk on October 14th covers everything you need to know about Great Whites on Cape Cod. Speaker Kristen Kibblehouse from the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy shares the latest on White Shark Research, connecting it to public safety and conservation implications.
The HSSC offers historic walking tours of Main Street in Cotuit and stops at over 30 historic homes! The walking tour is led by a local historian.
The Historical Society of Santuit & Cotuit also offers a scholarship program, runs a historic plaque program, and a historic book club. Each July the Historical Society of Santuit and Cotuit puts on the Taste of Cotuit fundraiser, which features music, beverages, and local food offerings!
They also offer a popular event called “History Uncorked.” At History Uncorked guests enjoy learning about an item from the historical society’s permanent collection over a glass of wine!
Celebrate the start of summer with the sweet taste shortcake at the HSSC’s Annual Strawberry Festival.
The Historical Society of Santuit & Cotuit’s Fall Festival is on Saturday October 9th from 12-3 pm. The proceeds of the event go towards supporting HSSC programming. The festival features a Pies for Programs event that is a delicious way to support the HSSC. There will be an open-hearth cooking demonstration during the Fall Festival, led by Joan Cornell, a longtime docent. The event will also feature artisan demonstrations from local craftspeople. There’s also a sale going on in the Historical Society’s Gift Shop!
Historical Society of Santuit & Cotuit Expands
The Historical Society of Santuit & Cotuit is looking to expand their campus. After years of struggling with space constraints, the HSSC has launched a capital campaign to expand and redesign the campus. The museum reports that its membership has grown by 300% over the last seven years, and that the expanded space will allow for smoother operations, as well as new administrative and archival space. This will enable the museum to accept new items to its collection, something they had been having a tough time doing prior, from a purely space constraint issue! The goal of the new space, which will be built in the current site of the Fire Museum, is to Build a Future for Cotuit’s Past.