There was more discouraging news this week for those who fear Falmouth is losing historic buildings at a rate that before long will have a noticeable effect on the town’s character. Plans have been filed with the zoning board of appeals to tear down the Elm Arch Inn and replace it with condominiums.
It is unfortunate because, like a dozen or two other houses in town, the physical timbers of the place have touched several significant historical aspects of Falmouth.
It was built on Main Street by Captain Silas Jones in 1812. His son, Silas Jones Jr., was born in 1814 and is a story in himself. He shipped out on Woods Hole-built whalers, among them the Awashonks, which was attacked by South Sea islanders in 1835. Half a dozen, including the captain, were killed. Mr. Jones survived, of course. In 1840, at the age of 26, he was made captain of the Hobomock. He was the youngest captain in the whaling fleet.
The Elm Arch Inn was also among homes struck by cannonballs from the HMS Nimrod in January 1814.
The story as told by Dorothy Wayman in her history of Falmouth has it that Ann Freeman, who was staying with the Joneses, didn’t leave the house during the bombardment. As she attempted to cook food for the militia, a cannonball tore through the wall and struck a feather bed, scattering feathers throughout the room.
The house was moved off Main Street in 1926, where it took a role in another important era of Falmouth’s history. That same year, Anna Richardson, with her son Harry, came to Falmouth to operate the house as an inn. She was joined by her sister, Emma LaBossiere, and their brother and his wife.
Ms. Richardson was successful enough that she was able to buy the house in 1933 and over the next 20 years or so they gradually restored the building and it figured prominently in height of Falmouth’s tourist industry. “It is the essence of New England with the Casco eagle over the doorway and a ship’s model in the gable flanked by drum and cannon and sexton,” wrote the Enterprise in 1956.
None of this history will disappear if the inn is demolished. But an important connection to it will be.
This came home to us as we discovered, while talking about the possible fate of the historic building, that a few were only dimly aware of the place. This is not surprising; they are somewhat new to town. They would, no doubt, eventually be made aware of it as anyone who has lived a in town a decade or more is. The Elm Arch Inn is tucked away off Main Street but the distinctive building eventually gets everyone’s attention.
But if it is demolished, there will be nothing there to connect us to the past. There will one less reminder of the stories that go with the place. Life will go on, but it will be a little bit different in a way we find unsettling.