WELLFLEET — Townspeople described Joseph Price, whose family owned 70 Main St. from 1931 through the early 1970s, as the “wood butcher” because of his untrained and unrestrained construction style.
Thank Price for creating what is now called the Wagner at Duck Creek, its outbuildings, and a restaurant. This compound of five buildings with 22,000 square feet of interior space spans five acres near the end of Main Street. The last owners, Erica Chapman and Leo Wagner, sold the place on April 7 for $3,145,000 to a Provincetown couple, John O’Toole and Grant Hester.
Trudy Vermehren will move her Fox & Crow Café from 6 Commercial St. to the restaurant space, which last operated in 2019 as the Well. She has not announced an opening date.
As for the inn, this summer the new owners plan to continue booking rooms in the main house, a cottage, and a carriage house. Bigger changes will begin, they hope, in October.
“We will make a set of adjustments over the next few years,” to include rebranding and other plans “that will involve sitting down with the town,” O’Toole told the Independent on April 29.
“Right now, we will focus on being open, friendly, and kind,” he added. The only pre-summer work he would name was to “plant flowers” and give every building a new roof, particularly important because there is a hole in the restaurant’s top.
“We were hoping to give her an Easter bonnet and now she needs a hat,” O’Toole said.
O’Toole, 52, is a former wealth management executive who was born in Ireland. “Our vision is to bring it back to its proper glory,” he said. “All it needs is some flowers and some attention. It is structurally magnificent.”
The buildings themselves are also quite odd. The large guest house was first recorded in an 1814 deed by which Henry Doane, “a mariner,” sold it to another mariner, Benjamin Holbrook, according to the Mass. Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS).
It was a family home until 1931, when Louise Price sold it to her brother, Joseph, and his wife, Eulalia. The Prices turned the Doane house into an inn called the Holiday House. Joseph added a large three-story addition to the rear part now facing Route 6. It included four pillars or columns that Price took from the Walter Libby estate, which sat where the Mobil gas station is, on what is now Route 6 just south of Main Street. A fire had destroyed the estate not long before, according to MACRIS and Wellfleet Historical Society records.
The oldest house on the property, the so-called cottage, was constructed from a Truro house that Price bought for $500. MACRIS states, “He carried the lumber from it over to Wellfleet in his Ford truck bit by bit.”
The Midnight Carpenter
Powers’s penchant for buying cheap, used lumber came to full flower with the “Hodge-Podge House,” which is next to the restaurant and sports a tall, narrow, forward-facing gable with a pediment over the front door. The house is a nailed-together amalgamation of an old stable, barns, and sheds.
“All the local stories recall that Mr. Price worked night and day and that it was common to hear him hammering and sawing at 2 or 3 a.m.,” according to the MACRIS documents. “All people agree, too, that he never bought any new lumber for his projects.”
His widow kept the Holiday House compound after his death. When she died in 1973, the property went to her friend, Virginia Crossman. In 1979, Seamen’s Bank foreclosed on the property, and in 1980 Robert and Judy Morrill bought it from the bank for $200,000.
The Morrills kept it as the Duck Creek Inn and Sweet Seasons restaurant for 35 years until 2015, when Erica Chapman, vice president of PepsiCo global real estate, and her husband, Leo Wagner, bought the compound for $2.5 million.
The couple did “a lot,” Chapman said. They replaced every window — a $200,000 investment — she said; added kitchens to the 18-bedroom, 16-bathroom main house and to the cottage; and put in air conditioning for the first time, as well as wi-fi and the first automated reservation system. A large catering kitchen in the lower part of the restaurant building was updated for big functions, Chapman said.
They had many more ideas. But Chapman’s job moved to New York City and the family, including five children, moved to Wilton, Conn. in 2019. They put the inn and restaurant on the market.
“We had big dreams,” Chapman said. “It is a five-acre property, and there is so much that it could become.”
That baton now passes to O’Toole and Hester.
Making It Shine
When Hester and O’Toole — who married in December and were looking for a Cape-based business so O’Toole could leave his corporate life — first stared at the tired-looking buildings, they thought, “This might be a lot,” O’Toole said.
But then, once the real estate agents opened the door to the Well, they were struck by how clean the interior seemed. It had been closed 20 months yet appeared ready for table service, O’Toole said.
“It looked terrible on the outside and fabulous on the inside,” he added. “So, we were much more comfortable and interested in delving in.”
While they have bigger plans, O’Toole said the major problem with the property comes down to curb appeal. That can be repaired with native plants and other landscaping, he said. The interior strategy will be to bring in period furniture and local art. They do not want to erase the place’s history but bring it back to life.
O’Toole’s theory is that old buildings yield benefits if you respect them. The couple bought a painting from Provincetown dealer Jim Bakker that will hang over the fireplace in the main house — Wellfleet at Twilight by Gerrit Beneker, painted in 1922.
During a recent repair of the tiles in the main house, O’Toole said, a bunch of letters from the 1930s fell out of the wall. They took that serendipitous gift of local history as a sign they were treating the Doane house well.