A Sailor’s Valentine

Sailing Sky High

Sailor’s Valentines on Cape Cod

By Pat O’Connell

Sailing Sky High
“Sailing Sky High” by Martha Cahoon.

Many folks believe that Sailor’s Valentines were created by sailing men aboard ships. It’s thought that the sailors used the projects to wile away the time at sea. However, when one stops to think about a sailor’s life, that thought just doesn’t make sense for a number or reasons.

First, can you imagine doing such intricate work aboard a ship while it is pitching and rolling? Second, there were not many idle moments aboard merchant or whaling ship. The crew was either working, eating or sleeping. And third, space was at a premium aboard those ships. There just wasn’t much room for storing personal items.

This is a Sailor’s Valentine that is on display at the Falmouth Museums on the Green.
This is a Sailor’s Valentine that is on display at the Falmouth Museums on the Green.

A Sailor’s Valentine is Intricate Sea Shell Art

They were created as a sentimental or souvenir gift. They use large numbers of small varied colored seashells that are glued into intricately symmetrical designs. The original Sailor’s Valentines were made between 1830 and 1890. They were created to be taken home as a memento of a sailor’s voyage at sea and given to his loved ones.  Most often, they are octagonal designs and were usually between 8 to 20 inches wide. Seashells are glued into place then mounted in a hinged wooden box. The patterns often featured a centerpiece such as a heart shape or a compass rose. In some instances the shells were used to spell out a sentimental message or a motto.

Sailor's Valentine in the Palmer House's James Fenimore Cooper room
Sailor’s Valentine in the Palmer House’s James Fenimore Cooper room.
Sailor's Valentine
Palmer House lnn’s Sailor’s Valentine.

Many of the Sailor’s Valentines were produced in the island of Barbados. This island was an important seaport during the age of sail. It’s believed that women on Barbados made the valentines using local seashells. It’s also  believed that some of the shells were imported from Indonesia. The finished product was then sold to sailors as souvenirs.

John Fondas, author of “Sailors Valentines” states that the most common source for Sailor’s Valentines was the “New Curiosity Shop”  that was located on MacGregor Street in Brighton, Barbados.  It was a popular shop where sailors liked to purchase souvenirs. It was owned by B.H. and George Belgrave who were brothers. John Fondas tells about a Sailors Valentine that was being repaired. During the job a Barbados newspaper was found inside the backing material.

Today the original Sailor’s Valentines are collectible and are valued for their color, beauty and unique qualities. Collectors have sparked interest in this unique art form. Sailor’s Valentine kits can now be purchased in craft shops and online.

The Nantucket Whaling Museum has an extensive collection of the antique Sailor’s Valentines, in addition, our own Falmouth Museums on the Green also has two excellent examples of antique sailors valentines in the Doctor Francis Wick’s House. The valentines were brought to Falmouth by some of Falmouth’s sailors many years ago.

If you are interested in creating a Sailor’s Valentine of your own. Susan Black, a native of Nantucket, has kits that can be purchased online. Each kit includes an octagonal wooden box with a hinged glass front and a collection of seashells from around the world. website

We hope you have a romantic Valentine’s Day.


Carved mahogany four poster bed in the Roosevelt Room.
Carved mahogany four poster bed in the Roosevelt Room.
Cape Cod's Emily Dickinson Room Five
Emily Dickinson Room

While all of our guestrooms have their own charm suitable for relaxation after the most wonderful day of artistic adventures on Cape Cod’s, we recommend the Harriet Beecher Stowe room, the Theodore Roosevelt room or the Emily Dickinson room. These rooms feature comfortable king beds, fireplaces, jacuzzi-style tubs and a relaxing stay before and after your day.

Cape Cod’s Hyannis Harbor Lighthouse

Hyannis Harbor Light

By Mary Moran

Hyannis, a village in the town of Barnstable and the highest populated area on Cape Cod, was once a busy and successful port for both fishing and trade in the 1800’s. It is located in what is called the Mid Cape area. With maritime traffic increasing, the need for a navigational aid in the harbor became apparent. The Point Gammon Light, built at the southern approach to the harbor in 1816, guided vessels to the harbor, but another light was needed for the dangerous areas inside the harbor itself. Daniel Snow Hallett, a Barnstable local, did his best to provide his own light for the waters by hanging a lamp in the window of a beach shack that he built at his own expense. Unfortunately, his efforts weren’t very effective and in 1848, $2,000 was appropriated by Congress to erect a proper lighthouse in the South Hyannis Harbor area.

In May of the following year, the freshly built Hyannis Harbor Light, a 19-foot conical brick tower, was put into service. The structure consisted of five oil lamps and parabolic reflectors that provided a fixed white light 43 feet above the water level. The lighthouse also produced a red sector to warn passing vessels away from the dangerous Southwest Shoal.The Hyannis Harbor Light property expanded in 1851 when another $800 was given in order to build a house for a lighthouse keeper. The wooden structure was built beside the lighthouse, connected by a convenient covered walkway. The position of keeper was given to John H. Lothrop in 1871 but was soon taken over by his son, Alonzo, in 1878 after Lothrop’s death only eight years into his duty. Alonzo Lothrop remained at his inherited post for a little over 20 years. He resigned from the position in 1899. After his resignation, the keeper position was given to a man named Captain John Peak. Peak had come from a long legacy of lighthouse keepers and was known for letting the local children help with his lighthouse chores and even giving private sailing lessons to the children who were able to swim. Almost fifteen years after Peak’s retirement in 1915, the Hyannis Harbor Light was discontinued and its lantern was removed from the structure. The lighthouse, keeper’s house, and property were sold at auction to A.W. Fuller for $7,007. Fuller then sold the property and throughout the years the old lighthouse was passed through the hands of many owners. Current owners, Janice Hyland and Alan Granby, built their own unique top to the lighthouse tower. Although it is anything but traditional, it is reportedly an excellent spot to catch a glorious Cape Cod sunset. In addition to the original lighthouse, the keeper’s house (1849) and oil house (1902) both remain standing to this day, and although the property is privately owned, one can get a great view of the old tower by taking a stroll east on Keyes Beach in Hyannis.

Hyannis is just twenty miles from the Palmer House Inn. While in Hyannis one can visit the JFK Cape Cod Museum that commemorates the president’s life on the Cape. There are also harbor cruises where visitors view the harbor and the Kennedy compound buildings and grounds.


Cape Cod's Stowe Room, A
Harriet Beecher Stowe room
Cape Cod's Roosevelt Room, B
Cape Cod’s Roosevelt Room, B

While all of the bedchambers at the Palmer House have their own romantic charm suitable for relaxation after the most wonderful day of sightseeing on Cape Cod, we recommend the Harriet Beecher Stowe room, the Theodore Roosevelt room or the Emily Dickinson room. These rooms feature comfortable king beds, fireplaces, jacuzzi-style tubs for a relaxing stay before and after your day.


Mary Moran is a Falmouth native and knowledgable about Cape Cod. In addition to writing for the Palmer House Inn, she’s also frequently at the inn and available  to answer quest’s questions. She enjoys reading, hiking, and spending time exploring Falmouth’s coastal waterways.

October 2015 Guest Reviews

10.9 Dear Bill and Pat, we enjoyed our stay and the wonderful breakfast. We loved the charm of your B&B. We decided to head to the Cape on a whim and we certainly chose the right place. Thank you for your hospitality. We will recommend it to our friends and family! – Jerilyn and Jonathan

10.7 This was the most comfortable place we have every stayed. Everything was so homey and clean. We were able to relax and enjoy. -Jim and Diane

10.6 Pat and Bill, Thank you very much for a nice stay at your beautiful inn. And thanks for the breakfast – delicious! The blueberry pancakes today were a great pleasure. We hope to come back some day. -Annette and Peer

10.5 Pat, Bill, and all Palmer House staff, Thank you so much for your hospitality and comforts during our three-night stay in your beautiful home. We came to celebrate Kate’s birthday early and have thoroughly enjoyed every moment. Sadly the weather wasn’t too kind but we hope to return some day and maybe get to see some Cape Cod sunshine next time! A special mention to your great kitchen team and breakfast room servers, they do a great job! – Ian and Kate

10.3 Bill and Pat, we have been visiting the Cape since we were little, but neither of us spent much time in Falmouth. We were here over the weekend for a wedding and are so happy we could experience staying here- the service, food, and attention to detail were all wonderful. We enjoyed our time here and will be back for sure. Thank you for making our trip so great! – Jeff and Andrea

10.4 Dear Pat and Bill, the thoughts that come to mind are not adequate to describe our stay at your beautiful inn. 5 star, royal, excellent, and beyond expectations. You and your staff made everything so special and grand. Thanks so much. – Bob and Pat

10.12 Dear Bill and Pat, well that’s it as  another holiday draws to a close after three weeks and almost 1600 miles as we prepare to take the last day of our trip back to Boston Airport and our flight home later today to the UK. It has been a great holiday. We have been to some wonderful places, seen many wonderful sights, and stayed in amazing accommodations, and throughout have received nothing but warm and friendly hospitality. The weather has been out of this world, the downside being a late start to “the Fall,” but we have been more than compensated to the lack of color in many other ways. We have been lucky to have ended our stay here at the Palmer House Inn. Everything about the “inn” highlights the quality of service and the accommodation we have experienced throughout New England. All the staff are friendly, wonderful people who can’t do enough for you, but all the time remaining highly professional. Everyone here has made our stay one we will remember for a long time. If we do come back to this wonderful part of the USA, then Palmer House Inn will be high on our list for a return visit. Best wishes to everyone. – Peter and Jeannette

10.12 We spent four great nights at the inn. Breakfasts were not what we expected – they were more than sufficient to set us up for days of exploring. Staff members and proprietors were welcoming and cheerful at all times making the whole experience a pleasure and a privilege. Falmouth is a perfect place for exploring locally and for the Cape over-all. This was supposed to be R&R but there is so much to see and do! Wonderful! – Pete and Liz

10.12 Dear Bill and Pat, we truly enjoyed our stay here! It was wonderful; your hospitality, kindness, etc. was impeccable. We will definitely be back. Thank you!!! – Jeanne and John. P.S. We have three kids in college and have not been able to travel much, this was wonderful!

10.9 Dear Pat, Bill, and girls, you have made us feel so welcome and comfortable in your beautiful home, a perfect end to our two week “road trip” of New England. Thank you very much. All the nice little extra touches were perfect. Best wishes- Carol and Nigel

10.8 Lovely place, lovely service, delightful experience. Thank you to Pat, Rosy, and all other staff members who helped create this lovely stay. – Helen and Prem

10.13 We just completed a 15 day vacation throughout New England, Nova Scotia, Niagara Falls, and finally Cape Cod. During that time we stayed in five B&B’s. 81 Palmer was the best of all – location, staff, food, assistance, and “attention to detail.” Could not have asked for a better way to complete our trip. Thank you for a memorable stay. – Gerry and Libby

10.11 45th wedding anniversary. An excellent base from which to explore Cape Cod. – Moya and Mike

10.16 First time at Palmer House Inn and will not be the last! We all enjoyed the charm that Bill and Pat have put throughout this lovely home! Thank you all, and Mary, and the kitchen staff, and the lovely woman who cleaned my room and did my laundry. Thanks to everyone for making our stay special!! The very best to you all. – Joan, Paul, Patti, and Joe

10.10 We had a beautiful stay at your beautiful home. We would encourage anyone who wanted a restful, welcoming place to stay – come to the Palmer House. Thank you for everything. – Joe and Marie

10.18 We had a lovely stay here. Breakfast was delicious and all the staff were friendly and helpful. – Ralph. It was simply delightful to spend my birthday here. Thanks to my husband for the thoughtful gift and thank you all for taking such lovely care of us. – Sharon

10.8 Dear Pat and Bill, Thank you for a very pleasant and comfortable stay. We are from Malaysia and we have loved Cape Cod and Falmouth, as well as Martha’s Vineyard. Such a lovely part of the U.S. and would love to come back. If we do, we would certainly make Palmer House our first choice to stay. Best wishes. – Amy and Ai

10.11 Bill and Pat, Thank you for a wonderful place to stay, so relaxing. A great place to spend an anniversary weekend. We will be back. Best wishes, Jerry and Siobhan.

10.22 Thank you so much for a truly lovely stay. The staff was amazing, the food was delightful. You are doing a wonderful job! – Rob and Jessica

10.26 Another year coming back to this charming B&B. It always feels like coming home to a dear friend of ours. Will it be a sixth time next year? – Ann-marie and Kjell

10.23 This was truly a lovely experience! There is so much to say, it wouldn’t all fit on this page! You’re the best! – Rob and Elaine

10.24 Thank you so much for being our base for the Cape Cod Half Marathon. We love Falmouth and the Palmer House! – Kellie and Todd

10.24 My husband and I have enjoyed our three nights at the inn. The fall colors are gorgeous! We rented bikes at the corner shop for two days. First, we rode to Woods Hole, about 3.5 miles. It’s a quaint and interesting town. On the second day, we rode to the cranberry bogs, around 5 miles. Beautiful woods, homes, ponds, marshes. You don’t NEED to go all the way to the bogs. We had a lovely meal at the Glass Onion. It’s within walking distance. Highly recommended. Lovely inn. – Dave and Lisa