Then & Now: Bustling Barnstable Harbor

Above: Barnstable Harbor as it is today; black-and-white photo, courtesy of Jim Ellis, captures Barnstable Harbor as it was in the early 1950s.
By Lisa Cavanaugh

What is now a harbor more dedicated to pleasure craft and whale watching than commercial fishing was once a busy hub of industry, says Jim Ellis, a historian and local Barnstable Village blacksmith. Ellis, whose family goes back 11 generations in town, recalls the Goulart and Rupkus Fish Company, a weir manufacturing business and warehouse and processing plant located near where Mattakeese Wharf restaurant and Millway Marina are today. “I started in the late ’40s when I was just a kid,” says Ellis. “At 9 years old, I worked at the fish house, then the next year I started going out on the boats.”

Private homes now sit on the western tip of the harbor, known as Freezer Point, where there used to be a large ice and fuel facility that supplied the commercial fishing boats. “A man named Captain Gerald ran the freezer,” says Ellis. “Then in 1942, they built the cannery to supply canned fish for the troops.” The company hired men from Nova Scotia to work at the cannery, who were housed in a two-story dormitory known as the Fish Hook Club. “The women of Barnstable Village would go over and cook for them,” says Ellis. Just south of the ice house was another factory that manufactured rat poison, using leftover fish heads and guts mixed with toxicants. “People might be surprised that it was once there,” says Ellis. “But there was a lot of activity in Barnstable Harbor in those days.”

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