From its beginnings, what is now Westport Point (“Paquachuck” to the native inhabitants, meaning “cleared hill”) has depended and thrived on the waters. Seated where the Noquachoke and Acoaxet Rivers meet, just minutes from Buzzards Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, the historic village built its first wharf in 1740, eventually spawning a major shipbuilding industry. Commercial whaling solidified the town’s fortunes in the early 1800s, and a variety of small-scale trades and businesses developed to support its growing year-round population.
History of Lees Wharf, Westport Point, Massachusetts
The story of Lees Wharf Oyster Company is deeply rooted in the history of Westport Point. Built on or about 1830 for Thomas Mayhew, whaling agent and member of the prominent Mayhew family ofNantucket, what is now known as Lees Wharf has been a focal point of Westport’s maritime activity throughout the ensuring 200 years. This picture, circa 1895 gives the flavor of what “The Wharf” looked like. Coincidentally, this was taken in the same year that the Lees family emigrated from Portpatrick, Scotland to their new home in America.
Successive persons and companies occupied “The Wharf” throughout the 19th century, all in some form or another associated with the working waterfront. Everything from fish, lumber, coal, and general ship’s supplies were sold here, and familiar local names including Howland, Almy, Cory, and Whalon were regularly conducting business and socializing in and around “The Wharf” during this time. “The Wharf,” Cory’s general store and post office, and the sizable fleet of commercial “coasters” docked at the Point were magnets of activity for locals and tourists alike; a place where all strata of society intersected. This postcard image from the early 1920’s shows men filleting and salting cod at “The Wharf” before sending them to the drying racks in the small building at the top of the picture. This scene was fairly typical of the daily activity on the docks during that era.
By 1929, Bill Whalon had enough of owning and operating his business activities at “The Wharf” and asked young Al Lees, who had worked with Bill for a number of years, if he wanted to buy the place. After consulting with his wife Elizabeth who, by the way, was taking care of a newborn child: my father, Al Lees, Jr.), they decided to take the plunge and bought “The Wharf” in September of that year. It was a momentous year for my grandparents; the birth of their first child, their first business, and then one month later the October stock market crash. Timing is everything, and for the next two decades, “The Wharf” continued to beat with the daily rhythms of life during the Depression and throughout World War II. While lives at the Point were disrupted, and in some instances changed forever, “The Wharf” provided one of the few constants that people could depend on… the sights, sounds, and smells of the working waterfront, where daily life settled into a pattern controlled as much by the tides and the weather at home as by events thousands of miles away.
From the late 1940s until the 1954 Hurricane, the Point was alive with activity during a good portion of the year. The war was over, as was the Depression, and a feeling of hope once again cast its spell. The bridge to Horseneck Beach, which ran right by “The Wharf” brought tourists and locals alike to this idyllic fishing village. You could buy almost anything at Lees Wharf then; hand-lines for fishing, dungarees and boots for working in, penny candy for the ride back home after a day at the beach, and of course the freshest fish and shellfish imaginable. Weighing in Swordfish is a picture taken in the early 1950’s at the end of “The Wharf.” My grandfather is weighing the fish while one of his sons, Carl, looks on.
This changed with Carol, the1954 Hurricane that took a severe toll on the area in general, and Westport Point in particular. While buildings and boats at the Point were washed away, “The Wharf” remained steadfastly standing against the tide. As the landscape of the Point was changed by this event, it would not compare to what was to come. The Point, and “The Wharf,” was destined to become a picturesque backwater village at the end of a dead-end road by the creation of a 15-mile road to Horseneck Beach that bypassed the Point, and “The Wharf.” The old wooden bridge that held so many memories for so many generations ceased to pass down Main Road by Lees Wharf in 1963. From that time forward, “The Wharf” struggled as a viable retail fish business, though some success was found by wholesaling fish, primarily lobsters, to New York and Boston. This trend continued until 2008 when Al Lees, III, grandson of Al and Elizabeth Lees, purchased “The Wharf,” and renovated this almost 200-year-old building.
Lees Wharf Oyster Company
Al and Cindy Lees launched Lees Wharf Oyster Company AND were married in 2011—making the oysters a true labor of love! The farm, meanwhile, marries their deep connection with the working waterfront with their search for a fun, challenging lifestyle on the wharf.
Lees Wharf’s first batch of 145,000 one-inch oysters, from Matunuck Oyster Farm across the bay in Rhode Island, went in the water April 27, 2011. With the enthusiastic help of friends and family, they were all planted in one day! Then came the rewarding task of nurturing them to maturity. The pleasure of tending to the oysters is matched by the lessons learned from the wise and friendly experts in this unique community.
“The Wharf” is now the same as it always was; a home and a fish business connected to the water in the same way it has been for 200 years. Although the bridge no longer passes by the bedroom window, Cindy and Al still feel the ghosts of those who called “The Wharf” home. We hope that you will feel the magic of Lees Wharf every time you eat one of our oysters.