The Original Pigeon Cove House, Before it Became the Emerson, 1911

This real-photo postcard is remarkable for a couple reasons. For one, it shows a rare view of a historic Pigeon Cove building. For another, it appears to be signed on the reverse by Charles H. Cleaves, the Rockport lawyer and photographer who founded the Rockport Photo Bureau.

Illustration from 1873 book, Pigeon Cove and Vicinity.

In 1805, at approximately the location of the current Pigeon Cove Post Office, Capt. Daniel Wheeler opened a tavern. In 1838, Mr. and Mrs. William Norwood took it over, operating it as a tavern and boardinghouse. The business was popular with tourists and attracted notable visitors, including Richard Henry Dana, William Cullen Bryant, and Richard Henry Dana Jr., who honeymooned there in 1840, the year he published his memoir, Two Years Before the Mast.

With their business thriving, the Norwoods decided to build a larger boardinghouse about 600 years farther up Granite St. In 1846, they build the building you see pictured here, which they operated as the original Pigeon Cove House. Over the years, they continued to enlarge and add-on to the house, to accommodate their growing business. After Mr. Norwood’s death, Mrs. Norwood continued to operate the business until 1866, when she sold it to Mrs. E.S. Robinson.

In 1871, to make way for construction of a new and larger Pigeon Cove House, Mrs. Robinson moved the building to the corner of Philips Avenue and Green St. This is where the picture above was taken and where the building still stands — although you would not recognize it. The building was used there as a rooming house until 1911, when it was purchased by a new owner, extensively renovated, and reopened as the Hotel Edward. In 1964, the Wemyss family bought the hotel and reopened it as the Ralph Waldo Emerson Inn.

To the right you see an enlargement of the sign on the building in this picture. It indicates that the entire property, including a “large front lot,” is available, and that the “house will be enlarged” to suit the lessee. It indicates that inquiries should be sent to Charles H. Cleaves, who we may presume was handling it in his capacity as an attorney.

It seems safe to assume that Cleaves also took this picture. He was an avid photographer and produced many postcards through his Rockport Photo Bureau. This was not a commercial postcard, however, but a real photo postcard, meaning that it was an actual photograph mounted on postcard stock for mailing. The reverse (see below) is addressed to someone in Pittsburgh, Penn., and postmarked Aug. 4, 1911. It has no note, but bears what appears to be Cleaves’ signature. My guess is that he was sending this to someone who was interested in the property.

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