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posted Dec 2005
CAPE COD ORACLE
February 24, 1983
Turn-of the-century Wellfleet is still vivid in their memory
By Dainey Driscoll
To grow up in Wellfleet nearly a century ago was to live in an age when the greatest criminal act by any youngester was stealing an apple from a neighbor's tree.
"I don't think it was ever any better than in those days," LeRoy Wiles said in an interview, along with his younger brother Elmer when asked if -- given his choice --he would rather spend his childhood in Wellfleet then or now.
The present holder of the Boston Post Cane, which is given to the oldest resident of towns in Massachusetts, Roy Wiles, now 93, was born in Wellfleet November 6, 1889. His brother followed a little over two years later on March 22, 1892.
Actually the area wasn't called Wellfleet at the time. It was Dogtown.
Dogtown was that section of Wellfleet from Big Chief Hill (where Peggy's Yarn Shop is now located) to Pilgrim Spring Road. Neither of the brothers could tell why it was given the name Dogtown, but that was where their grandparents lived and where they and two of their sisters were born.
When the house became too small for the double occupancy, their father moved his family to the white house fronted by a small white picket fence that still stands on Route 6 near to what has more recently been known as Cora's jelly stand.
While the boys used to fish and swim and play baseball in those days, the girls used to play hopscotch, according to Roy.
All the girls, that is, except Cora. "Cora Holbrook could throw a baseball like a boy," Roy Wiles recalled with more than a little admiration.
They used to fish in the ponds and off the wharf, and in the fall there was a lot of flounder and frost fish (like a cod, but only eight or nine inches long, Roy explained) that came in where the railroad bridge used to be.
With no electricity, no telephone and no cars, they knew it was dinner time when the train came through.
LeRoy Wiles (left) and his younger brother Elmer recall the turn-of-lhe century Wellfleet of their childhood.
Photo by Dainey Driscoll
But there was a road where Route 6 is now. It was hardened with dirt and clay, with oyster shells over all. As the wagons drove over it, they would crush the shells.
"If you had money, you had a horse. If you had a little more money, you had two," Roy explained.
He remembers taking his little brother to school with him one day to visit.He gave Elmer his jacknife to play with.
"I haven't seen it since," he remarked. One morning Roy woke up with a bad toothache.
His mother sent him off to school with 50 cents and instructions to go across the street during recess to the dentist, who would pull the tooth.
The school, for youngsters from fifth grade through twelfth, was at that time located where the Congregational Church parking lot is now.
At recess Roy went to Dr. Wyer's office with his 50 cents.
"He picked up an instrument that looked like the claw of a big bird -- like an eagle," Roy remembered. "I thought my whole head was going to come off."
After the extraction was over, Roy went back to school. Recess had ended. While young people in those days didn't get into trouble, Roy recalled two of his friends who regretted a bit of mischief they tried on the same dentist.
The two boys stole some cherries from Dr. Wyer's tree, and he caught them. To teach them a lesson, he took them to court in Provincetown, according to Roy.
Afterward, he said, one of the boys -- Charles "Toot" Rich, by name -- complained, "All I got was three cherries, and it cost me $1.67."
Up from what is now the Thomas Pickering residence, formerly the Wiles homestead, is a road named Pine Point Road.
But it wasn't always known by that name. It used to be Physic Point, so called because of a doctor who lived on the road whose favorite cure for all illnesses was a good purgative.
The boys grew up and traveled to Alberta, Canada, to farm. There, Elmer met a girl from Montana whom he married and later brought back to Wellfleet. Here he became a policeman, an insurance agent, and Highway surveyor, a position he held for 18 years, until 1962.
It was while he was highway surveyor that Ocean View Drive was constructed.
He was one of the original two police officers when the department was formed in 1939 and its first sergeant.
Roy had returned earlier and found work as a carpenter, paper hanger and painter He married Esther Baker who died only last year -- the day after their 60th wedding anniversary.
And both brothers remember being little kids and going barefoot along what is now Route 6, with the rain running "like little rivers" and the wet clay squishing between their toes.
"We wondered why we had to wash our feet before we went to bed," Roy laughed.
Roy did most of the talking, possibly a habit based on seniority, possibly the result of a remarkable memory for events, dates and names.
Elmer said he couldn't remember a great deal, but he added, "I'm hearing things I've forgotten long ago."
Elmer has two daughters [sic] living in Wellfleet, Ruth Rickmers and Arlie Wiles, and Roy has a daughter Adele Northrup [sic] of Orleans. Their brother Bill died in 1970, but two of his children have chosen to stay on the Cape -- Robert Wiles of South Wellfleet and Evelyn Blake of North Eastham.