Welcome to Life in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.
Wellfleet is famous for its oysters, which are celebrated in the annual October Wellfleet OysterFest. In fact, Wellfleet’s oyster beds drove the early economy, as did whaling and fishing.
The town was home to 30 whaling ships at the time of the American Revolution. Because of the decline of whaling and the mackerel catch in the late 19th century, the fleet declined, being completely free of schooners by 1900.
The oyster fleet continued, however, and many types of shellfish continue to be harvested. Despite this decline, a church near the town center continues to operate a clock that chimes ship’s time.
The area was originally settled by Europeans in the 1650s as Billingsgate (after the famous fish market in East London). Wellfleet was part of neighboring Eastham until 1763 when it achieved town status after nearly 30 years of petitioning.
In 1717, the pirate “Black Sam” Bellamy was sailing nearby when his ship, the Whydah, sank offshore, together with over 4.5 short tons (4.1 tonnes) of gold and silver and all but two of its 145 men. The wreck was discovered in 1984, the first of only two confirmed pirate shipwrecks ever to have been discovered.
Guglielmo Marconi built America’s first transatlantic radio transmitter station on a coastal bluff in South Wellfleet in 1901–1902. The first radio telegraph transmission from America to England was sent from this station on January 18, 1903, a ceremonial telegram from President Theodore Roosevelt to King Edward VII. Most of the transmitter site is gone, however, as three quarters of the land it originally encompassed has been eroded into the sea. The South Wellfleet station’s first call sign was “CC” for Cape Cod.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy created the Cape Cod National Seashore, which encompasses most of the Atlantic shoreline of Cape Cod. In Wellfleet, the territory circles the town, from Jeremy Point through the marshes and “islands” along the Herring River, includes Cahoon Hollow Beach, and extends the length of the Atlantic shore of the town.
The lands of Wellfleet wrap around Wellfleet Harbor, extending from the main portion of the Cape around the harbor to Jeremy Point. At one time, Wellfleet Harbor included an island known as Billingsgate Island, which sat at the harbor’s mouth, to the south of the point.
Once a flourishing small community with a lighthouse, the island was destroyed by coastal erosion and now exists as a shoal that is exposed at low tide. The Billingsgate shoals are split between Wellfleet and neighboring Eastham.
Several other inlets extend inland from the harbor, at the mouth of the Herring River (also called “The Gut”), Duck Creek, Blackfish Creek and Fresh Brook (commonly known as “The Run”) which leads to several brooks.
In addition to the Seashore, Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, run by Massachusetts Audubon, surrounds much of The Run, including part of Small Island (between The Run and Blackfish Creek).
Between the sanctuary, seashore and other small parks and beaches, seventy percent of the town’s area is protected.
Wellfleet is a pretty small town, but it’s surrounded by the coast on both sides. It’s most well known for its great oysters (which you have to try!) and wildlife sanctuary. Plus, it’s pretty centrally located on Cape Cod, so you can easily take trips to nearby towns and beaches if you want.
- Massachusetts Audubon Society Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary
- Fox Island Marsh and Pilgrim Spring Woodlands Conservation Area
- Box Turtle Woods Conservation Area
- Bayberry Hill Conservation Area
- Great Island Trail
View our official Wellfleet community page at Wellfleet.MA.Life