Schenk Estate

The screen door opens, welcoming us to another summer at the summer house. Excitement fills the air in anticipation of the summer ahead.The windows are flung open, allowing the fresh sea breeze to blow through each room. Nobska’s foghorn is heard in the distance, the comforting sound our constant friend. The dogs run around the yard at high speeds and our big 160-pound Newfie has found his way into Fresh River already!

Treasured beach stones and shells that we left on the porch from our last beach walk before we closed the house last fall sit as we left them, unchanged by winter’s storms.

Expeditiously the cars are unpacked, so we can take our first walk to the beach, the tradition that begins each summer. This summer is special as my daughter turns 13; it seems like yesterday, at 2 weeks old, her first trip was to the Cape. A bit too young to understand but we could not wait to introduce her to this very special place.

As we walk to the beach, we noticed many changes in the neighborhood. From Mill Road to Walker Street along Surf Drive, a number of large homes have replaced the smaller homes that had been there for decades. The new homes seem to dwarf the original beachfront ones. It seems there are at least three new ones that have gone up since we left late September.

Since 2014, new flood maps and regulations have gone into effect. Under these new regulations the base elevation for homes in the flood plains rose to 2 feet. Construction of new homes must comply with being built 2 feet above the new base elevation. When the original homes are sold, construction of larger homes on these sites is becoming the norm.

Since I was a child, I was always fascinated by Bywater Court and the flat-top houses that made up most of the neighborhood.

From Shore Street to Fresh River Lane, that large piece of land was the Garret Schenk’s Estate. Mr Schenk was the founder of the Northern Paper Company. The land was then sold to George Bywater Cluett, who was an heir to the Arrow Shirt Manufacturing Company. So the name Bywater Court was not named because it was “By Water,” but because it was Mr. Cluett’s middle name—actually his grandmother’s maiden name.

In 1942 the estate was broken up; Mr Cluett financed the building of a number of homes and hired architectural designer Gunnar Peterson. Mr. Peterson began designing the homes in a sleek but somewhat controversial modern style. Cape Cod was not ready for these square concrete block structures with flat roofs. There were many critics and of those critics, Mr. Peterson said, “The modern home will become as indigenous to the soil as appropriate to the time and place as were the original Cape Cod homes of their times.”

While many disliked the homes, others saw the design as comfortable affordable and loved the large windows that admitted views and light. The neighborhood always appeared to be “space age-like” with all of these modern dwellings, with the exceptional location, the beach across the street and an easy walk to downtown Falmouth and the harbor.

Families began moving in, and Bywater Court became a very popular neighborhood with the original owners spanning generations.

Mr. Peterson went on to design the Dome Restaurant in Woods Hole as well as many other structures around Falmouth.

In 1905, Mr Peterson’s father moved to Falmouth and took over as caretaker of Nathaniel Emmons Estate. Gunnar grew up in Falmouth and attended Falmouth Public Schools and graduated from MIT. He became well-known and a pioneer, so to speak, for his modern designs.

There are very few of the original homes designed by Mr Peterson remaining on Bywater Court. They are being sold and torn down to accommodate bigger homes that comply with the new flood zone rules, or they are being redesigned and you have to look hard to see any semblance of the original design.

Gunnar had a vision years ago. That vision changed a landscape. Seventy years later, the landscape is changing again.

Ms. August is an interior designer and owner of Nancy August Interiors, nancyaugustinteriors.com.

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