Our transformation into a tourist town: some key questions

Wellfleet has had seasonal visitors since the late 19th century, but for many decades we were less tourist destination than a small town like most small towns, more here for ourselves than for outsiders. At some point that changed and our primary identification (and reality) began to be that of a tourist town. That crucial watershed occurred so long ago, and we are now so thoroughly a two-season town that it’s hard to get back to when and by what stages the transformation took place.

How did we get here from there?

One obvious event in the process, perhaps the most important, was the transformation in 1961 of two-thirds of our town into a national park. The whole idea of the CCNS was to throw us, along with the rest of the Outer Cape, open to consumption by fellow Americans.

Here are some questions about other key moments in our tourist town trajectory.

It has long been an accepted reality of our life that most restaurants (along with most everything else) close down for the long off-season. (It’s what makes it “off.”)

The Lighthouse restaurant, a familiar feature in old photos of Main Street, has only recently become a part-time restaurant. To judge by the closures this winter, others, such as the Bookstore, may be moving in that direction. Were there other traditional restaurants that went from year-round to seasonal? And when did that happen?

What’s the first restaurant conceived from the start with summer visitors in mind, and when did it open?

When was the term “off-season” first uttered (indicating that the two season pattern had become an accepted part of our self-image and reality)?

When did we first find the term “affordable housing” useful (because the second home market had begun to make most houses unaffordable to most locals)?

Two-thirds of our housing stock have been second homes, empty for most of the year, for 20 years or more. When were fewer than half our housing stock second homes? Or fewer than a quarter?

It is well known that most locals in the 1950s vehemently opposed the CCNS taking (and not just a big landowner such as Charlie Frazier). At what point did most of us start being happy about the Park?

I would appreciate hearing from people with information or educated guesses as to these dates.

And I’m probably leaving out a number of key indicators, so please respond with any that occur to you.

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