From A Sea Captain's House To A Public Radio Station - The Story Of WCAI's Home Base

Jan 7, 2019

3 Water Street in Woods Hole - the future home of WCAI - as it appeared in the 19th century.
Credit Woods Hole Historical Society

WCAI has operated from a former sea captain's house in Woods Hole since the station’s founding in 2000.

“This building was called the Captain Thomas Davis House, 3 Water Street. And this really started the business district of Woods Hole, when you really think about it. This goes back to 1845,” said Rob Blomberg, who’s lived in Woods Hole for 64 years and conducts walking tours of the town during the summer months.

Woods Hole was a backwater in the early part of the 19th century. 

“Up to then, it was salt works, it was farming, it was fishing, some transportation,” said Blomberg. “But the first industry that came in was really shipbuilding – whaling ships – to the point that there were very few trees left in Woods Hole. It was de-forested at that point because they were using it to build the ships – you know, the whaling ships and the regular ships themselves.”

Rob Blomberg has lived in Woods Hole for 64 years, and conducts walking tours of the town during the summer.
Credit Brian Morris/WCAI

Water Street was, and still is, Woods Hole’s main drag. During those early years, the street was lined with provisioners, coopers, and other businesses that served the whaling industry. Thomas Davis was a sea captain, and he turned the lower floor of his house into a store that sold dry goods. 

“On the west side of the building is where the store was. There might have been some clothes here, you might have had building supplies, nails, a little bit of everything. There would probably be dry goods, so you’d have food in here,” said Blomberg. 

Captain Davis and his family lived on the upper floors – in the same spaces where today WCAI broadcasts the news and produces daily local programming.

The WCAI building as it appears today.
Credit Woods Hole Historical Society

In 1859, the Pacific Guano Works opened, becoming the first major industrial operation in town. When the Guano Works eventually closed, a new influx of summer residents began to arrive. Joseph Story Fay, a manufacturer from the North Shore, bought up much of the land in Woods Hole and was responsible for much of the new construction that followed.  

“It was during this period here that the scientific organizations came in. We had the U. S. Fish Commission, which was a first during the Grant administration, followed in 1888 by the Marine Biological Laboratory, and followed in 1930 by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution,” said Blomberg.

3 Water Street continued to be owned by descendants of Thomas Davis until the mid-1940s. From the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s, the building housed a local printing operation called the Job Shop. Rob Blomberg remembers it well from his days working at the Landfall Restaurant. 

“One of my jobs, 3 or 4 days a week, to come up if I was on a lunch shift, they’d put the lunch orders in and you’d come in and pick that up,” said Blomberg. “If the Landfall needed new menus printed, they did that. So the majority of the businesses in Woods Hole, Falmouth, and really I would say the Upper Cape, the Job Shop was one of the places. It was a very busy printing place. I think they were maybe the preeminent printing company in the Falmouth area.” 

At the front of the building facing Water Street, Rob points to a spot right near the blue and white WCAI sign. 

“Right here, right in front of the building, there was a metal bar – it came up about 2 and a half feet, and kids all over Woods Hole would hang in here, and they would do like little loop-dee-loops until they were too big and they couldn’t do it anymore. It’s like a jungle gym…a little jungle gym that was right here,” Blomberg recalled.

The building underwent extensive renovations in 2011 and 2012.
Credit Brian Morris/WCAI

The building underwent extensive renovations in 2011 and 2012, which largely restored it to its 19th-century appearance.

“What’s nice is, as you look around the interior and exterior of this building, it’s a beautiful building as you come into Woods Hole,” said Blomberg. “Because, to me, this is the building that starts the business district of Woods Hole…and a great place for a radio station.”

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Special thanks to Cheryl Lodovico