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Rockport’s Historical Buildings–Week 7: The Cable House

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Rockport’s Historical Buildings–Week 7: The Cable House

The Rockport Cable House during the 1890s

The Rockport Cable House during the 1890s

Sandy Bay Historical Society

The Rockport Cable House during the 1890s

Sandy Bay Historical Society

Sandy Bay Historical Society

The Rockport Cable House during the 1890s

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Last week we saw that the Congregational Church had some important roles in history. This week, we will look at a little known, but very important building from Rockport’s past–the Cable House. Built in 1884, the Cable House is newer than many of Rockport’s buildings, some of which have been here since before the American Revolution. The Cable House functioned as a receiving station for the North Atlantic Cable System.

On the 22nd of May 1884, crowds of people gathered along Pebble Beach in Rockport. Mothers came to the beach carrying infants in their hands, so that even the youngest Rockporters could witness the big day. People sang “Hail to Columbia”, the unofficial national anthem of the time and cannons were fired into the harbor. As the raft carrying the transatlantic cable reached the shore, the crowd cheered with unequivocal pride. Rockport had just become connected to Europe with a transatlantic telegraph line.

This telegraph line, owned by the newly founded Commercial Cable Company, stretched from New York to Rockport to Newfoundland, and from there to Valencia, Ireland. When the Steamer Faraday came to Rockport in 1884 to connect Rockport to Newfoundland, Rockport knew that it was an important day. At the time, Rockport was an important city. Granite was starting to become big business, and the economy was booming. By hosting the transatlantic cable, Rockport became a gateway to European communication for America. In fact, the Cable House was protected by the US Marines during World War 1 as a key communication link. However, Rockport’s place on the national stage would soon diminish. Granite became too expensive during the Great Depression, and telegraphs fell out of favor to telephones, and Rockport’s important history fell out of the light. In 1935, the operation of the cable ended.

When the Cable House’s service had ended, the cable operator William Kirkwood purchased the house but resold it to Edward Wendell in 1937 as a residence. In 1946, the property changed hands again, this time, to the parents of lifelong Rockport citizen Bob Smith. According to Smith, the Cable House, while no longer functioning, was a social center. “Each year, after the Christmas Pagent, there was a party at the Cable House,” Smith said, “It was really a wonderful place to be.”

Of course, the Cable House not being built as a residence, living there was unique. As Smith said, “It was a funny house.” In the cellar, for example, there was a line used to determine where breaks existed in the cable. In the living room, there were shelves full of wet cell batteries. Being surrounded by these bits of Rockport legacy would have been inspiring, and an unusual addition to daily life. During Mr. Smith’s childhood, his mother operated a Bed and Breakfast out of the Cable House. She was also a huge part of the town, even starting what is now Motif #1 Day.

While the Transatlantic Cable was long out of use, the legacy didn’t die. The once important town of Rockport reignited its former glory on the centennial of the landing of the cable, in May 1984. Bands played and the Rockport Schools hosted a week-long celebration of Rockport’s Cable. On the 22nd of May, in the midst of the celebrations, Rockport received a radio signal from Valencia, Ireland, wishing Rockport a happy centennial. One student, Sam Rulli, then in 3rd grade, discovered that he had ancestors who had operated both on the Irish and Rockport side of the Cable. Celebrations were held, including banquet dinners, and spirits soared.

Rockport was once a mighty town and has a history of leadership, pioneering in communications, as seen here, and in other aspects of life as we have seen over the past few weeks. Rockport’s Transatlantic Cable is just one more reason to hold our history high. Perhaps the best way to close this article is with a poem written by someone who was present at the initial laying, and could sense the pride and anticipation that Rockport held as the cable neared:

 

Now carefully lay me down under the sea

And let its deep waters surge over me.

Land me and trench me, at Cap Hedge Beach

There let me rest till my new home I reach.

And when I am joined to my far distant mate,

Though I prove a rival, let me cause nought of hate.

Then be the first message which I shall convey

Thanks to the people of Rockport from Bennett & Mackay

 

Next week will be the last scheduled edition and will focus on the Paper House. We will still accept suggestions throughout the year.

A special thanks to Bob Smith, who suggested this building and provided information for this article. We also would like to thank the Sandy Bay Historical Society for their assistance in this article.

Do you know of a historic building in Rockport? Let us know and we may feature it! Please contact us at tlt@rpk12.org and use the subject line “Rockport History”

Cannonball found offshore, likely from the celebrations during 1884

Flyer from the 1984 centennial celebrations of the transatlantic cable

Map of international telegraph lines during the early 1900s

Telegraph equipment, including a piece of the cable

About the Contributor
Nathaniel Kirby, Local Events Contributor

Nathaniel Kirby is a junior at Rockport High School and is involved in many of the school's clubs, such as the Green Team and the Math Team. Nathaniel...

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Rockport’s Historical Buildings–Week 7: The Cable House