WHEN YARMOUTH WAS A PORT
Even today the road sign, ``Wharf Lane"., on Route 6A near Willow Street, recalls that era when there really was a port in Yarmouth Port. A stroll down Wharf Lane today passes pleasant homes, lawns and flowers, and ends at a dirt ramp with sagging bulkhead extending into the serene and empty marshes. A couple of small boats of the summer residents are moored in the creeks. Gulls swoop, terns flit, a few swimmers cavort in the incoming tide, and the bay stretching off toward Sandy Neck is empty except for an occasional sail or fisherman's flying bridge. But on a summer day in the 1830s, the scene was a bustling contrast.
Called Central Street then, the sand and shell thoroughfare was churned by horses and oxen hauling freight wagons and carryalls, bouncing chaises bearing women in bonnets and long gowns, or a top hatted sea captain bound for the packet to Boston, to pick up his ship. If the barrel were up on German Hill, a crowd would be collecting on Central Wharf, with eager hands ready to grab docklines to throw around a piling and warp Captain Ed Hallet's packet sloop Eagle Flight into the dock.
Elisha Doane, who owned a share of the Flight would be there to pick up a cask of spirits for his tavern in Yarmouth village and little Charley Thacher would be prancing around his mother as they waited for father, clerk of a Boston court, to arrive for the summer. Isaiah Bray would likely be overseeing the unloading of lumber from a Maine schooner, destined for the new Town House. There would be haggling for rope and paint at Taylor and Hawes general store on the wharf, while the ripping of heavy shears through canvas could be heard from the sail loft upstairs.
A couple of mackerel schooners might be unloading at Simpkins fish house on the smaller wharf to the east, where a ragged representative of the newly built almshouse hoped for a gratis bucket of the bony catch.
A cocky grocer's boy would drive his truck wagon at a brisk clip across the bridge onto Central Wharf, scattering pedestrians and provoking oaths from sweating dock workers. Eventually The Register newspaper carried prominent announcements through October, 1839: ``All Persons are forbidden from trotting their horses on Central Wharf and Bridge, or from carrying more than one load on said wharf and bridge. Should an accident occur in consequence of violation of the above rule the proprietors will hold the persons violating for any damage that thereby occurs. By order of the Directors James Hawes, Wharfinger." As many as a half dozen vessels---sloops, schooners, pinks and cutters---might be tied up at Central Wharf at any one time, and nearly as many at the nearby Simpkins dock. Tradesmen, travelers, dock workers, fishermen and yelling youngsters moved through the stacks of lumber, barrels of dried fish, bushels of salt, boxes, bales and kegs waiting pickup or loading. To the west, Hallet's Mill ground out steams of corn meal from its stones turned by the tidal race through Mill Creek. Along the shore were salt works, and an occasional rope walk, amid the cornfields and kitchen gardens.
Maritime commerce grew apace on the south shore too, as shipowners and boatyards all contributed to the growing trade to New York, southern ports and the West Indies. But because of its more convenient communication with Boston, it is clear that Yarmouth Port, along with neighboring Barnstable and the great port community of Provincetown were centers of commerce and culture---until arrival of the railroads in the 1850s and 60s.
Among the vessels moving daily in and out of the Bay shore ports, the sloops and schooners of the packet lines seemed to have provided the constant regularity of communication with Boston, which kept Cape Codders alert to a wider world.
Information courtesy of the Yarmouth Historical Society. Taken from Yarmouth's Proud Packets by Haynes Mahoney