Groton author pens sequel to beachside town’s history

COURTESY PHOTO
Author Gus Widmayer, of Groton.
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GROTON — Having successfully published a first edition, a local author has embarked on a second book project, with twice as many pages, detailing the history of Falmouth called The Belvidere Plain Revisited.

The book follows in the footsteps of the first, The Gentleman’s Guide to the Belvidere Plain in Falmouth, Massachusetts. Its 244 copies have sold out.

“In keeping with a 19-century style of travel guides, I gave the first edition the title of The Gentleman’s Guide to the Belvidere Plain in Falmouth, Massachusetts,” said author Gus Widmayer. “It had nothing to do with myself being a gentleman or for that being a requirement of my readers but was simply a play on 18th- and 19th-century travel guides.”

Published in 2006, The Gentleman’s Guide was Widmayer’s third self-published book, preceded by two others dealing with family history.

Although Widmayer has lived in Groton since 2008 and for 22 years in Boston before that, he has a personal connection with the town of Falmouth, where he spent many happy years as a child.

“I spent my summers since boyhood on the beach that is situated next to Falmouth Harbor on Vineyard Sound,” said Widmayer, a resident of Skyfields Drive. “That area of Falmouth is known as the Belvidere Plain. I have owned real estate there and my father still has a home there.”

As a subject, the Belvidere Plain in Falmouth not only presented an interesting panoply of seasonal visitors but also an opportunity to preserve a history that had not yet been placed between the covers of a book.

“Summer communities are a collection of diverse people, a melting pot if you will, of families from Massachusetts and beyond,” explained Widmayer. “Each has a colorful story to tell that is uniquely different from any other.”

It was one of those people whose acquaintance Widmayer said inspired his special love of Falmouth.

“As a teenager, I was asked by an elderly neighbor to take over the duty of collecting dues from residents in the area who shared a piece of beach-front land,” Widmayer said. “That neighbor, Anna Manning, taught me a great deal about property and real estate law. She sparked an interest in the place that only deepened over the years. This was a book about ‘place’ more than anything else.”

Once he decided upon a project to chronicle life on Belvidere Plain, Widmayer realized that like a good reporter, he would need to gather facts in order to place events in their proper context. But that, as he soon discovered, would not be as easy as it sounded.

“The biggest obstacle is ensuring accuracy,” Widmayer said. “It was a monumental task to gather facts from so many sources and compile them into one coordinated report without making errors. I wrote the drafts using Microsoft Word and became a sort of expert in the use of Word to create index entries, tables of contents and Illustrations, and footnotes. It was a major headache for me when Microsoft revised their Office suite and changed a lot of functionality to use different methods.

“So I started with a basic outline, which was a list of every house on every street that appeared in the original development known as Belvidere Plain,” continued Widmayer. “From there, I set about describing each building, each lot of land that it sat upon, and the many families that lived in it over the course of about 130 years. After a while, I began to notice trends where families from Jamaica Plain would give way to groups of families from Wellesley and Newton, or when the predominantly Catholic summer population gave way to Protestant and then back again. My source work relied heavily on the Registry of Deeds in Barnstable County and news items from the Falmouth Enterprise or Boston papers from the late 19th century. I also read books on Cape Cod where I can find them. I have a standing search on eBay for any pictures or postcards that come up for auction with the word ‘Falmouth’ in the description and have found a wealth of information there.”

But such a monumental task could not have been achieved without some outside help and the author found it among Falmouth residents.

“There were several families who were energized by my efforts and went above and beyond in their attempts to help me record a narrative on their houses and extended families,” said Widmayer. “Most notable was a Newton couple, Bill and Jane Wyman, who figure prominently in my first edition. They not only gave me the history of their families but also provided much information on their neighbors over the 100 years their family spent summers there. They contributed several of the old photographs that appeared in the book.

“But of those people who helped me, many fell into three camps: a very few who wanted to share nothing about their private lives, many who were too busy or disinterested in history, and finally those who wanted to contribute everything for the greater goal of recording the history of this beach community,” said Widmayer.

“Four or five families really helped a tremendous amount toward the first edition. Another four or five have since contributed a great deal of material for the second edition. Interestingly, many of those who were and are most interested were no long living there but had fond memories of the place. These ‘alumni’ were eager to have their time on Belvidere Plain recorded for posterity.”

For the new book, Widmayer is finding help from residents a bit easier to come by.

“The neighborhood association has been very supportive,” Widmayer said. “They even purchased six copies of the first book and distributed them as gifts to several branch libraries of the Falmouth Public Library. The Falmouth Historical Society has been a champion of my work from the start. They sold quite a few copies of the book and list it on their Web site.

“The second edition expands on the history of each house in more detail,” said Widmayer. “I had another four years to gather more information. It also covers families that did not have time to contribute to the first effort or were unaware that I was undertaking the project. There will also be many more photographs and postcard images in this next edition.

“My younger brother used to tell me that the purpose of life was to enjoy living,” Widmayer concluded. “I always disagreed with him. For me, the full meaning of life comes from accomplishment. I feel that creating this body of work allowed me to do something that no man had done before me. It also gave me a great sense of satisfaction knowing that a story I told would live on in perpetuity on the shelves of the Library of Congress. That was an important achievement for me.”

With no plans to rest on his laurels, Widmayer has other projects to get to when his new book on Falmouth is finally put to bed.

“My next book will likely cover the history of the house that I now live in,” Widmayer said. “It is architecturally significant and was designed by an MIT professor in 1962 for a prominent Groton family. It seems like an important story to tell.”

For those interested in following the progress of The Belvidere Plain Revisited or of purchasing a copy when it is complete, they can contact the author at ggwidmayer@gmail.com.