Edward Penniman was a native of Eastham, Massachusetts. He was born in 1831 and at the age of eleven he began his sailing career. His ship’s voyage sailed to the treacherous waters of the Grand Banks. To this day the Grand Banks area is known as a plentiful fishing grounds. It is located off the coast of Canada’s Newfoundland. For several years he sailed just the New England waters, however, at that time, the best chance to earn wealth was in the whaling industry and New Bedford, Massachusetts with its deep water port and railroad system was the center of New England’s largest whaling fleet. At the age of twenty-one in 1852, Edward Penniman went to New Bedford to sign on to his first whaling expedition. Several years later, after becoming a captain, he chose New Bedford as his home port.
By the late 1800’s the whale population in the Atlantic had been exhausted and whalers were forced to sail further from home in search of their quarry. Captain Penniman became one of the region’s most successful whaling masters. The voyages frequently took three to four years. It was not uncommon for the captains to take their wives and children along for the voyage. Captain Penniman wife and children accompanied him on several of these voyages. His wife was named Betsy Augusta but he affectionately called her “Gustie”. Gusty was not just a passenger, she assisted with navigation and other shipboard matters. Eugene, their Penniman’s oldest son grew up to become the second generation whaling captain in the family.
After his fourth voyage in 1868, Captain Penniman went back to Eastham and built a second Empire style home that sits on Fort Hill. It is a two and a half story house with a central hallway. Perhaps its most striking feature is an octagonal cupola that has arched windows on all sides. The exterior is clapboards and is decorated with elegant millwork trim. It is interesting to imagine how spectacular this house must have been in rural Eastham, at the time of its construction. Most of the homes in the area were simple Cape Cod cottages with shingled siding and they were never painted. This house yellow clapboards, with white trim, black window sashes, green wooden blinds and it had brown and red roof shingles. The house had an elaborate white wooden fence and the entrance gate that is still standing is made from a whale’s jawbone.
The design and colors were grand but it also had “state of the art” technology within its wall. It was the first house in Eastham to have indoor plumbing. The roof had a water collection system that lead to a large tank in the attic. It used a gravity flow system that piped water from the tank to the bathroom and kitchen. There is also a large barn that echos the design of the house.
The charming Penniman House is located at the intersection of Fort Hill Road and Governor Prence Road in Eastham. It is within the “Cape Cod National Seashore”. It is about an hour and a half drive from the Palmer House Inn. It is open to the public during the summer season. For more information call 508-487-1256.
While all of the bedchambers at the Palmer House have their own romantic charm suitable for relaxation after the most wonderful day of adventures exploring Cape Cod’s finest history, 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.