(credit Tom Leach, 2012)

Wychmere Harbor, Harwich Port, Mass.

When Josiah Paine wrote how the fishing fleet and commerce schooners anchored and delivered there cargo, Harwich had no natural harbors. Wychmere was still a salt pond with a small tidal brook that would not be made navigable until 1887. Cargo of lumber, coal and fish were delivered over several wharves that extended out from the shoreline at various locations at Harwich Port and South Harwich. Although there is some record of several decent size vessels being built and launched from Herring River, West Harwich, this was not considered a reliable harbor presumably due to its entrance bar and strong current within the river which would have made grounding eminent for non-auxiliary vessels at the time. Paine wrote in 1883, "the town for its entire length on its souths is bounded by Nantucket Sound. With this long stretch of seashore it has no natural harbor. The only protection to small vessels that seek an anchorage here is the sandbar that lies two-thirds of a mile from shore, and parallel with it. This bar at high water has from seven to nine feet of water, and lie at anchor in the deep water on the north side of the bar for safety."

"On the outside of the bar, large vessels can anchor and ride with ease when the wind is northerly and also where there are light winds from other directions. When the fishing business was carried on hear in the 19th century and a large fleet of vessels was employed, those that were unable to cross the bar on account of the draught of water, were compelled to ride at anchor "back of the bar" (south of the bar)."

Wychmere Harbor channel catboat fishing fleet 1905Still, Harwich managed a "rich maritime heritage". "The official United States census for 1850 shows 71% of the males of Harwich, age fifteen and older, were "mariners", or, "master mariners", indicating that their work was aboard ship, at sea." "The development of the railroad and the steamship, made commerce under sail obsolete by the turn of the century, or shortly, thereafter."

Wychmere Harbor became an important part of a real estate venture which really took hold in the 1920's. The name was promoted by a group of business tycoons who purchased most of the surrounding shore land and on toward South Harwich in the late 1890's. The land investors, William Gifillian, Dr. Stewart Church and Alexis Julien called themselves the Wychmere Syndicate wanted to promote this area as a terrific railroad destination from New York and Boston to Harwich Station. They saw the need to promote the harbor's "nom-de-pen" beyond its common name Salt Pond as it was known by the locals. The name Wychmere was actually coined and appeared for the first time on a 1910 map of Barnstable County. However, it was "the Syndicate" that used the catchy name for the first time in their of a real estate advertising. We believe it comes from the British "wich" given to places where salt can be found (as Sandwich, Greenwich, Harwich) and "mere" from the Scotish name for lake. So we have "Wych-mere" or salt lake!

A improved racetrack once circled the Salt Pond, a distance of exactly one mile, and sulky racing took place for just more than three years until 1887 when fifty men with shovels trenched a channel into the harbor from Nantucket Sound where it exists today. The new harbor provided a safe anchorage for catboats and later fishing vessels and yachts.

A work-up painting by artist Harold Brett of Wychmere Harbor (1934)The land at Harbor Road on Wychmere Harbor was given to the Town as a site for the pier in 1927 by the Gray Family (of Detroit, Michigan) who lived next to what was then the Town Dock off Snow Inn Road. The story goes that Mrs.Gray was upset with the noise of the fishermen using the dock next to her house on the west side of the harbor. In an effort to resolve differences and at the same time spread good will, the heir to the Gray Marine Engine fortune bought the land directly across the salt pond and donated it to the Town as a permanent landing for the commercial fishermen.

The property also supplemented another T-wharf once located in the north end of Wychmere coming off the land which is now known as the overlook from Rte 28 known as Larson Park. Fish shanties used as bait shacks for the hook and line fishery ringing the northeast corner of the Harbor as early as 1900 were eventually relocated to the new land donated by the Grays where they still rest today and are still actively used by hook fishermen.

from Paine's History of Harwich, Mass, Josiah Paine, published 1937.
from 627 Harwich Vessels 1872-1900, Sidney Brooks Scholars, published 1998.

19th Century Harwich Fishing History

In the early part of the 19th century, Harwich was one of the three largest fishing centers on the Cape: Fifteen to 20 vessels of about 40 tons each fished on the shoals and at the banks.

In 1835 legislation authorized the building of a wharf on the south shore of Harwich by Darius Weeks and others. In 1841 a wharf was built at Marsh Bank where Valentine Doane started his fishing business. Job Chase was given permission to erect a wharf in West Harwich in 1848. The next year Union Wharf was built to the east of Marsh Bank. Long Wharf was built west of Salt Water Pond and east of the Union Wharf All of these wharves were destroyed by ice, but later Henry Kelley and Co. and T. B Baker built and maintained a wharf at Marsh Bank for many years, repairing it constantly from the ravages of winter storms.

In 1849, Harwich produced 14,6O5 barrels of fish. The same year Chatham produced 3,845 barrels, In 1851, when the largest catch of the state was reported, Harwich had 48 vessels employing 577 men and boys. in addition to the local fleet, four good-sized schooners sailed regularly to the Straits of Belle Isle near Canada.

Early in the century boats were built right on the south shore. About 1845 Anthony Thacher built a small fleet in West Harwich out of native lumber for Job Chase, a Harwich merchant. One of these was named Superb Hope after his daughter. In 1855 the Job Chase was launched, a vessel of 85 tons — the last to be built there.

With the use of the purse seine by which whole schools of fish were surrounded offshore, larger boats and crews were required, also deeper harbors. The fishing industry in Harwich began to decline.

In 1832 the Salt Water Pond Company had been incorporated for the purpose of constructing a harbor and opening and maintaining a channel from this harbor to the sea, but this did not long survive. Masters from Harwich sailed in distant waters, on vessels hailing from off-Cape ports. They returned to Harwich to invest in a new and growing industry. While the fishing fleet was at it peak, at Round Cove in East Harwich great tabs of clams were opened and salted during the winter to be used for bait in the summer fishing.

Also from Pleasant Bay sailed the “Corn Crackers” - sloops of about 50 feet. The owners of these small coasters would amass a cargo of salt codfish, dried on flakes along the shore, bushels of corn of their own raising, bushels of salt of their own making, potatoes, turnips, eggs and beans and sail off on a trading expedition. They would cruise to New Bedford; Providence, Stonington and New London, Connecticut, where they would trade their stock for hardware and commodities. Gradually around this bay too, the fishing industry diminished and cranberry culture came into prominence in the town.

This material was excerpted from the “275th Anniversary of Harwich, Massachusetts “printed in 1969 and available at the Harwich Historical Society’s research library. In 2002 the Society erected two wood stanchions featuring a map of Harwich‘s harbors in the 1880s, located at Bank Street and Red River beaches. Vintage Views is a contribution from Harwich Historical Society.

This webpage developed by
Tom Leach, Harwich, MA


(the year Harwich appointed its first Harbormaster)


Harwich, Massachusetts
Year Years of Service
1950 No Harbormaster (Roger Munsey appointed 1st Shellfish Constable)
1951 No Harbormster yet appointed
1952 Roger Munsey appointed 1st Harbomaster 1
1953 Roger Munsey 2
1954 Roger Munsey 3
1955 Roger Munsey 4
1956 Roger Munsey 5
1957 Joseph Ellis appointed Harbormaster 1
1958 Joseph Ellis 2
1959 Joseph Ellis 3
1960 Joseph Ellis 4
1961 Joseph Ellis 5
1962 Joseph Ellis 6
1963 Joseph Ellis 7
1964 Joseph Ellis 8
1965 Joseph Ellis 9
1966 Joseph Ellis 10
1967 Joseph Ellis 11
1968 Charles W. Lee, Jr. (Tod Lee) appointed Harbormaster 1
1969 Charles W. Lee, Jr. 2
1970 Sherrill Smith appointed Harbormaster (Saquatucket Harbor completed) 1
1971 Sherrill Smith, 2
1972 Sherrill Smith, 3
1973 Thomas Leach appointed Harbormaster (5/16/73) 1
1974 Thomas Leach 2
1975 Thomas Leach 3
1976 Thomas Leach 4
1977 Thomas Leach 5
1978 Thomas Leach 6
1979 Thomas Leach 7
1980 Thomas Leach 8
1981 Thomas Leach 9
1982 Thomas Leach 10
1983 Thomas Leach 11
1984 Thomas Leach 12
1985 Thomas Leach 13
1986 Thomas Leach 14
1987 Thomas Leach 15
1988 Thomas Leach 16
1989 Thomas Leach 17
1990 Thomas Leach 18
1991 Thomas Leach 19
1992 Thomas Leach 20
1993 Thomas Leach 21
1994 Thomas Leach 22
1995 Thomas Leach 23
1996 Thomas Leach 24
1997 Thomas Leach 25
1998 Thomas Leach 26
1999 Thomas Leach 27
2000 Thomas Leach 28
2001 Thomas Leach 29
2002 Thomas Leach 30
2003 Thomas Leach 31
2004 Thomas Leach 32
2005 Thomas Leach 33
2006 Thomas Leach 34
2007 Thomas Leach 35
2008 Thomas Leach 36
2009 Thomas Leach 37
2010 Thomas Leach 38
2011 Thomas Leach 39
2012 Thomas Leach retired (June 30, 2012) 39+
2012 John Rendon appointed Harbormaster (7/02/12) 1
2013 John Rendon 1
2014 John Rendon 2

This webpage posted by
Harbormasters Office, Harwich, MA