Centerville Community Information

The history of Hyannis and the Town of Barnstable is rich and colorful, from the first explorer to yesterday. Residents are proud of the history and have worked hard to preserve many of the historic monuments and homes in the town.

In 1602 Capt. Bartholomew Gosnold was the first of the Old World explorers to view the area now known as Hyannis. Settlers from England incorporated the Town of Barnstable in 1639. In 1666 Nicholas Davis, first settler and businessman, built his warehouse for pickling oysters in brine, on Lewis Bay at the foot of what is now Pleasant Street.

In 1690 Edward Coleman, Jr. built the first permanent residence at the head of Lewis Bay. John Thatcher provided the first mail trip to Boston. Salary: one dollar per day. The early settlers of the Town of Barnstable were primarily farmers who turned toward the sea. The maritime harvest was plentiful, for frequently there were drift whales on the beaches. By the close of the 19th century, over 800 shipmasters sailed worldwide from the homeport of Barnstable, Massachusetts. Many of these brave mariners established strong family ties in our area, and their descendents are still vital, well-known members of our community today.

From the days of the earliest settlements the Indian Sachem Yanno or Iyanno, for whom Hyannis is named, sold the area presently known as Hyannis as far as Craigville for 20 pounds and two small pairs of pants. Until the advent of railroads and steamships, life on the seas greatly determined the growth of the Town of Barnstable. By 1830, Hyannis center contained one house of worship, the Baptist Church on Bearse's Way (now known as Main Street), four schoolhouses, two or three stores and a tavern.

Over 200 shipmasters had established dwellings in Hyannis and "the Port" by 1840. By this date the salt works was also an important industry. July 8, 1854 was a most important date for the residents in the area, when the first railroad cars reached Hyannis, signaling the development of intensive trade and expanded business activity. After the Civil War, the rail lines and steam tugs marked the end of the schooner era.

City dwellers had begun to appreciate the pleasures of summer vacations spent by the edge of the sea, and in 1872 the Hyannis Land Company purchased nearly 1,000 acres extending from Lewis Bay to Craigville, including most of Hyannisport, for about $100. Thus began the ever-expanding tourist industry radiating from Hyannis.

Among the earliest nationally known personalities to enjoy the Hyannis area was President Ulysses S. Grant in 1874. Some years later President Grover Cleveland visited Hyannisport. During the 1960's the eyes of the world focused on Hyannis when native son John F. Kennedy ascended to the Presidency of the United States.

In 1926 Joseph P. Kennedy of Boston and his wife, Rose, rented the Malcolm Cottage in Hyannisport, which had been built in 1902 as a rambling clapboard home with green shutters and a private beach. Three years later, the Kennedy’s purchased the house and hired the original architect, Frank Paine of Boston, to remodel it. An addition doubled the size to 14 rooms and 9 baths and included a motion picture theater in the basement, the first private theater built in New England. By 1932 the Kennedy family had grown to nine children, and the summer home saw the comings and goings of Joe Jr., John, Rosemary, Eunice, Patricia, Robert, Kathleen, Jean and Edward. Their days were filled with swimming, sailing, tennis, touch football and picnics. President Kennedy later spoke of Hyannisport as a special place "where no two summers were quite the same."

In 1956, while he was serving in the United States Senate, John F. Kennedy purchased an adjacent residence that later became the summer White House. Other family members also bought near-by houses, and the "Kennedy Compound" was formed. The homes are still summer residences for many members of the Kennedy family, and in recent years Sydney Lawford, Maria Shriver, Kara Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy chose the site for their wedding receptions.

The Compound has been a popular attraction for visitors ever since the Kennedy presidency. The thousands of visitors who come to the region each year hoping to catch a glimpse of the Compound should be aware that Hyannisport is a quite, residential area where tour buses are not permitted. Traffic is sometimes restricted on streets leading to the Compound. The best way to see the Kennedy Compound is from the water, and frequent summer cruises are available from Hyannis Harbor to view the homes and other sights.

Another popular destination is The John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum on Main Street, Hyannis. Exhibits focus on "The Cape Years" of President Kennedy, offering photography, photomurals, a video with vintage footage and oral history enhancements. Here a glimpse may be had of the family times and recreational activities of the late President.

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