WELLFLEET — Back in 1949, Maurice and Ann Gauthier of New Bedford were in search of a better lifestyle for their growing family. They eventually found it in the woods of South Wellfleet.
Seventy-one years later, that Cape Cod life is still thriving at Maurice’s Campground.
Maurice, a civil service worker, bought 21 acres and built seven cottages and four cabins in what he initially called Ann’s Motor Court.
The campground office is wedged between the Cape Cod Rail Trail to the east and Route 6 and the Wellfleet Drive-in to the west. It was also the house where Maurice and Ann, a teacher, raised their sons — Martin, Maurice Jr., and John. The three brothers own the place today.
“We were raised in the office,” recalled John, who, at 66, is the youngest of the three.
For the Gauthiers, Maurice’s long run has meant pretty much seeing it all. “I can remember babies being born here,” John said.
The old-fashioned campground has no swimming pool or electronic game room. What it has is the same feeling of community that it had in its early days.
James Tibbetts, 54, said his parents began camping at Maurice’s nearly 60 years ago. By now, four generations of his family have spent summer weekends there. Tibbetts lives in Dunstable but still returns every weekend that he can.
He comes “for the camaraderie,” he said. “You work all week and then go down there and have a good time. We all come from different places, but we’re all there for the same reason.” The way Tibbetts sees it, “A lot of the Outer Cape hasn’t changed. That’s part of the draw, right there.”
Much of that community feeling starts with the brothers, who took over from their parents in 1976. They attended St. Joan of Arc Catholic Grammar School in Orleans, then went to live with relatives in New Bedford and attended Bishop Stang High School. But every summer, their Cape Cod playground was the undeveloped dune land where the drive-in now stands.
“The outdoors was yours,” John said. “You could get on your bike, go down to the seashore, wherever you wanted to go.”
The military presence, including bombers, added a sense of adventure. “DC-3s used to fly over here,” said Maurice Jr., 71. They were aiming for the S.S. Longstreet target ship off the beach in Eastham. Once, Maurice recalled, “they dropped one right in front of this cottage when my father was building them.” A bomb squad came in and detonated the shell on the spot.
Beth Connerly, 59, the campground’s office manager, and her family divide their time between Guilford, Conn., and Eastham. She said the owners “like being big brothers to me.” Connerly’s family camped at Maurice’s when she was child, and she became a summer employee while attending college in the 1980s. Because she and Maurice Sr. both spoke French, they were often on duty together Saturdays, checking in the abundance of campers from Quebec.
Ann was sweet, Connerly said, but also “no nonsense.” Connerly had to learn how to hang and fold laundry according to Ann’s particular method. “Believe it or not, we still do it that way,” she said.
After a day of fishing, Connerly’s father would bring in striped bass. He’d clean the fish right there, “and just hand out fillets to all the campers,” she said. “My dad grew up with that sharing tradition in the Depression.”
Whatever Needs Doing
This summer, Maurice’s managed to have, by pandemic standards, a pretty successful season. As usual, Maurice Jr. worked mostly in the store, Marty was in the office, and John could be found in between.
But the pandemic did change some things. Gone was the annual influx of J-1 foreign workers. “They’re really great kids, and I miss that, culturally,” said Connerly. The campground store, which had 12 workers in summers past, had just four this season, while more cleaning and sanitizing tasks were added to the daily to-do list. The Gauthiers had to reduce office and store hours.
Among the daily to-dos that did not change were the early morning hours making a slew of Maurice’s famous lobster rolls.
“I tell the kids, your job is whatever needs doing,” John said. “There’s no job description.”
Julie Simpson, a longtime Maurice’s camper who now summers at the campground and lives in Eastham during the off season, is among those multitaskers. An average work week for her this season has been 50 to 60 hours. Formerly from New Hampshire, Simpson opted to head for the Cape when her son moved out. “Why I am staying in the hills when I can go to the beach?” she reasoned, as Maurice handled the lobsters, supplied by the Turner family of Eastham.
More “tenters” came to the campground this year, John noted, but they still have at least 110 seasonal campers.
John describes the campers as “a real nice mix.” Some are local residents who rent out their houses and live at the campground for the season. There are fish market workers and landscapers. Many campers have thriving flower and tomato gardens outside the trailers.
Maurice’s Campground may be the last of its kind on the Outer Cape. Other family-owned camping areas have been sold, and none of the brothers has children. They don’t plan on moving on from where it all began, but, John said, “We’re coming to the end of the line here.”