Wellfleet, Massachusetts

The seaside town of Wellfleet is located along the Cape Cod peninsula in Barnstable County in the US State of Massachusetts. The harbors fill with a glamorous assortment of yachts, sailboats, and trawlers in the summer; when tourists flock to the area, the population grows nearly six times in size. Wellfleet is famed for its Oysters, which are plentiful in their harvest and richly flavorful. Moreover, shellfish have proven to be the most sustainable of Wellfleet’s commercial industries. With its long history as a fishing harbor, this nautical village is known today for its glistening freshwater ponds and deeply devoted wildlife conservation sanctuaries.

Geography Of Wellfleet

Uncle Tim's Bridge in Wellfleet, Massachusetts
Uncle Tim's Bridge in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. 

The Cape Cod peninsula trails off the east coast of North America, extending into the Atlantic ocean. Boston, the capital of Massachusetts, lies inland and to the north, while major centers Worcester and Springfield fall further to the west. Wellfleet is one of four towns – including Eastham, Truro, and Provincetown, just 12 miles away – that are collectively referred to as the ‘Outer Cape’ or the ‘elbow’ of the peninsula because they exist on the thinnest expanse of the land mass. The township of Wellfleet exists within Barnstable county, and the surrounding area is littered with freshwater kettle ponds that can be found hidden amid the Cape Cod National Seashore or obscured from view in the depths of pine-dense forests. Due to the nature of the peninsula’s hook shape, Cape Cod Bay lies to the north of Wellfleet, while Nantucket Sound falls to the south. At the bottom of the Cape Cod peninsula lies Naushon Island, which sections off another chunk of the Atlantic into Buzzards Bay – west of Wellfleet.

Climate Of Wellfleet

Wellfleet's warm season is windy and humid, lasting from June to September, with average temperatures above 69°F. Temperatures remain relatively consistent over these months, and tourism scores indicate the entire warm season is a pleasant time to visit. The year's hottest months are July and August, when the average daily low is 65°F, and the average high is 76°F. Winters in Wellfleet are harsh and cold, with snowy conditions and high winds. The cold winter season lasts from early December to the end of March, and the average daily temperature only reaches as high as 45°F throughout these months. The coldest month Wellfleet experiences is January, when the average high is 39°F, and the average low is 27°F. Wellfleet has considerable cloud coverage and precipitation throughout the year, with October – the wettest month – bringing 4.5 inches of rainfall and even July – the driest month – collecting 2.7 inches of rain over the month.

Brief History Of Wellfleet

Wellfleet Town Hall in Wellfleet, Massachusetts
Wellfleet Town Hall in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Image Credit: ToddC4176, via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1644, the Court of New Plymouth issued land grants to settlers in Eastham, and between 1654 and 1674, these grants had grown to encompass the majority of the Outer Cape. Even then, Wellfleet Harbor held a reputation among fishers for being a great fishing spot – though, at the time, the area was called Billingsgate, after a fish market in London. The inhabitants of the surrounding municipality, referred to then as the ‘Hamlet of Billingsgate,’ were denied their petition to join together in the founding of an independent town in 1723. However, it was in this same year that the North Precinct of Eastham was established. When the General Court determined that the North Precinct be sectioned into a district called Wellfleet in 1763, the town’s name was chosen to invoke the profits and wealth of eastern England’s well-known (and much-loved) Wellfleet oysters. Come 1707, Wellfleet had made an international name for itself as a result of its thriving whaling industry, which sent ships to such distant lands as Africa and was incredibly beneficial for the town up until the interruptions caused by the British naval blockades, which were introduced during the American Revolution. By the 1800s, Wellfleet’s fishing port was one of the most prosperous in Massachusetts. Local shell fishers farmed oysters by shipping them from Connecticut and the Chesapeake, as well as Buzzards Bay, then planting them in the Cape harbor, where they would be imbued with the classic Wellfleet flavor that was so aspired for.

The Population And Economy Of Wellfleet

Wellfleet is home to 3,662 people. The median annual income per household is $45,547 (approximately $8,000 below the estimated national average), and per family, the median income is $68,884. The average individual income is $34,979, which is more than $6,000 higher than the country’s national average. The racial composition of Wellfleet is roughly 83% white, 7% Hispanic, and another 10% of mixed races (two or more). There is a poverty rate of 11% in Wellfleet, with a 9% unemployment rate.

Attractions In Wellfleet

A fishing boat in a harbor at Wellfleet, Massachusetts
Storm clouds over a blue fishing boat tied to a dock in a harbor in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. 

Wellfleet is said to be home to the tastiest, best-known New England oysters, and for a good reason; in fact, some consider them the very best in the world. The high salinity – 28 parts per thousand of salt to water – of the Wellfleet Harbor, where oysters continue to be farmed in addition to naturally harvested, offers a decadent brine that stands apart from other flavors. Additionally, the water temperature in Wellfleet harbor is lower than it would be in the south, where the same species of oyster can also be found. Cold waters are an advantage to the farming of tasty oysters: low temperature makes for a low metabolism in the oyster, meaning it stores more glycogen compounds, resulting in a sweet-tasting oyster. Finally, the refreshingly clean waters of Wellfleet Harbor produce pollution-free seafood.

Greater and Lesser yellowlegs at Goose Pond in Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary
Greater and Lesser yellowlegs at Goose Pond in Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. 

Few places are more peaceful in all of Massachusetts than the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, with trails and boardwalks suitable for walking with families and children. Complete immersion in this wilderness escape is possible through a stay in the Sanctuary’s campground or by attending one of the many events and classes hosted here. The tiny town of Wellfleet is unique in its history, location, and reputation. Colonial settlers ventured to this region of North America earlier than most others. Various booms and busts in the fishing, agriculture, and commerce industries have seen the town through centuries of progress. As a community within the Outer Cape, the town still fosters a strong nautical culture, and the oysters for which the town was named continue to bring pride and renown to the people of Wellfleet.

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