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A Cape Cod Notebook can be heard every Tuesday morning at 8:45am and afternoon at 5:45pm.It's commentary on the unique people, wildlife, and environment of our coastal region.A Cape Cod Notebook commentators include:Robert Finch, a nature writer living in Wellfleet who created, 'A Cape Cod Notebook.' It won the 2006 New England Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Radio Writing.

A History Lesson at Ballston Beach, as Tides Unearth Building Pieces Long Buried

Robert Finch
The last remaining structure of the Ball's Town buildings at Truro's Ballston Beach.

One day, shortly after the most recent ocean breakthrough of the dune line at Truro’s Ballston Beach, I walked out onto the wide flat sand plain left by the overwash. There I unexpectedly found pages from the past laid out before me. 

At the tide’s edge, about 100 yards below the remaining dune line, were large slabs of dark peat. These must have been part of the Pamet River marsh when the dune line stood east of it, well over a hundred years ago.  At one point there was a very dramatic, multi-rooted tree stump being battered by the waves. It was very possibly that of a white cedar tree that once grew in the marsh.

Among the slabs of marsh peat and ancient tree stumps I also came upon a sizeable chunk of concrete studded with dozens of broken bricks. This, I thought, could very well have been part of a chimney of the old Pamet Coast Guard station that once stood on the dune line between the head of the Pamet River and the ocean. Or possibly, it could even be a remnant of a sizeable seaside resort that also stood on this spot over a century ago, a resort that gave this beach the name it bears today.

The story is found in Richard Whelan’s well-researched 2002 book, “Truro: The Story of a Cape Cod Town.” According to Whelan, a businessman from New York by the name of Sheldon W. Ball bought a thousand acres of ocean-front land in 1889. Imagine that! – 1000 acres of prime Cape Cod shoreline! It encompassed nearly a mile of ocean front land, stretching from Ballston Beach north to Higgin’s Hollow. At the present site of what is now a town beach, Ball built the “Ball's Town Bungalows Colony” a resort complex containing at least a dozen buildings. These included a club house, a dining hall, a bowling alley, a number of so-called ‘primitive’ cottages, and a nine-hole golf course known as the “Pamet River Golf Club" that stretched along both sides of the river.

“Ball’s Town” was run for over a half a century by Sheldon and his son S. Osborne Ball, a Provincetown lawyer who always signed his name “S.O.B.” According to Whelan’s book, the Balls’ Town buildings were regularly damaged by winter storms and were moved back several times. Nonetheless, the 1943 USGS map still shows a half dozen structures on the site. Today, the weathered cottage that sits precariously on a dune between the present parking lot and the beach is the last remaining survivor of “Ball’s Town” – or “Ballston,” as it is known today. When the owners of this cottage were asked what they planned to do, they replied, “We’ll just wait for it to fall in.”

Sheldon Ball and his wife Lucy also built the so-called “Ball Mansion,” a large wooden summer house on the summit of Higgins Hollow more than a mile north of the resort. They apparently did not care to mingle with the plebian tourists who rented Ball’s cottages. But Sheldon died while walking the beach in 1923 before the Ball Mansion was completed. Abandoned for decades, the National Seashore finally tore it down in 1986. Sheldon Ball and his wife are buried in a small family cemetery just west of the former site of the mansion. The mansion and the Ball’s Town resort are long gone, but the cemetery is still there, though it is overgrown and difficult to find. Still, it’s funny how our monuments to the dead usually outlast our monuments to the living. 

Robert Finch is a nature writer living in Wellfleet. 'A Cape Cod Notebook' won the 2006 New England Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Radio Writing.