Reincarnation of a former church is in perfect spirit of Cape Cod’s first settled town/

By Karen Rubin

We had already come to appreciate Sandwich, Cape Cod, Massachusett’s first town, for the richness of its history, literally displaying the span of America from Colonial times through the Industrial Revolution, the Victorian Age, the Gilded Age, and even the Depression. This time, though, we came to appreciate Sandwich as a community once again on the rise, but one that is also a living link to those forebears.

What made the difference, this time, is staying in a piece of that history: the Belfry Inne and Bistro. The owner, Christopher Wilson, is in the best tradition of the “Ten Men of Saugus” who founded Sandwich in 1637 and the stream of entrepreneurs who followed, like Thomas Dexter who started the Grist Mill in 1654 and Deming Jarves who revolutionized glass-making with his factory, in 1825.

The inn is on Jarves Street where Wilson is literally resurrecting the landmarks to pivotal times in Sandwich, and in the nation.

After spending 10 years in the world of banking, estates and trusts, Wilson came to Sandwich with a dream of opening a bed-and-breakfast. He found a ramshackle, tumbledown former 1879 rectory and its neighboring 1902 de-consecrated Roman Catholic church. After spending some $790,000, turned them into the Belfry Inne and Bistro-at once a dramatic and yet whimsical place to stay and one of the classiest places to dine on the Cape.

Re-christened The Abbey, it offers six rooms, each named for a day of the week, each exquisitely and dramatically hand-painted and decorated with Victorian period furnishings. The “Friday” room has dramatic stained glass window depicting Gabriel the Archangel, deep rose burgundy and gold-starred walls, and Queen pew bed, Aubusson tapestry coverlet, two-person whirlpool, fireplace, balcony, AC and TV; “Saturday” has magnificent stained glass window of Michael the Archangel, a balcony with southern views, two-person whirlpool, deep purple striped walls, a King pew bed with blue tapestry bedding, TV and AC. “Tuesday” has blue walls with marbleized medallions and a magnificent circular stained glass compass window, Queen pew bed with woven Belgian blue and gold tapestry facing a gas fireplace, Victorian armoire, two-person whirlpool and shower, stained glass windows surrounding the tub, and a southwest-facing balcony, AC and TV.


The one-time parsonage, a lovely Victorian with multiple gables, windowed turret and wrought iron decorations, was christened the Drew House, with nine guestrooms, all named for family members, including two family suites (the Kristina Drew room on the third floor has an 1840 ball queen mahogany bed, sitting area, and hand-painted bureau, large skylight, cable TV and air-conditioning; a bath with shower and separate two-person whirlpool). Each of the rooms is individually furnished, with had-painted furniture, antiques, Oriental carpets. Leneel Drew Room

Our room, The Lee Room, was spacious and comfortable with a porch, stained glass window above the bed, a Chinese rug and sitting area, ceiling fan as well as air-conditioning. The John Drew room has a queen four-poster mahogany bed facing a gas fireplace and a bath suite with double Jacuzzi; the Sara Drew on the third floor, has an iron headboard king bed facing a gas fireplace, skylights, a bath with five-foot soaking tub and glass-enclosed shower.

Wilson also acquired the Village Inn, a bed-and-breakfast next door to The Abbey. The charming 1830s Queen Anne-style building offers eight, country-style rooms, with gleaming chandeliers and mirrors, wood floors and country-style furniture. The Village Inn is ideal for families or for groups who want to take over the entire house.


Guests of all three inns are served breakfast each morning in the Bistro-a marvelous buffet of eggs, pastries and breads, fresh fruits, cereals.

Also, Tuesday through Saturday evenings, the Belfry Bistro serves sumptuous dinner creations of Brazilian-born Chef Argos Pilo, who offers “fusion” cuisine while showcasing the Cape’s seafood tradition: creamy clam chowder with fresh herbs; lobster bisque topped with cr�me fraiche and chives; lobster and scallops wrapped in phyllo bundle bag with a lobster cream sauce; Breast of Duck saut�ed served with wild mushroom risotto, baked spiced apple and a roasted shallot port reduction; Atlantic Salmon encrusted with pistachios, pan seared served with buttermilk chive mashed potatoes and a pistachio cream sauce; Filet Mignon with jumbo shrimp, saut�ed spinach, mascarpone mashed potatoes served with a red wine sauce; New Zealand Rack of Lamb roasted in a deep brown garlic sauce made with white wine and shallots, creamy garlic mashed potatoes; Swordfish center cut pan seared encrusted with black and white sesame served with sticky purple rice and a blood orange sauce; Bouillabaisse, a m�lange of seafood, including gulf shrimp, mussels, clams, lobster and scallops in a light tomato garlic saffron shellfish broth; and Veal Chop stuffed with Gorgonzola cheese, sun dried tomatoes and spinach served with Dauphinoise potatoes and a Madeira mushroom sauce. Lighter fare menu is available.

The Belfry Bistro specializes in intimate dinners for two or elegant affairs for up to 120 people, and, particularly given the ambiance, has proved immensely popular for destination weddings. Tented lawn and garden parties for 150 can be accommodated, dependent upon season and weather. The Inne hosts elegant weddings and corporate events. Weekends, there is soft piano music.

The acquisition of the Village Inn will make it possible for Wilson to build a heated, 20 x 40 ft. pool, which he hopes to have in by next summer.

Belfry Meetinghouse.

Now Wilson is again working his magic on one of the most storied landmarks in the village: the First Church Meetinghouse..

The scaffolding rises way up high, near to where the elevated belltower of the First Church Meetinghouse begins. A workman is painstakingly repainting the clapboard siding. Inside, new two-by-fours frame the new configuration of what will be rooms..


This was the site of the original First Parish Meeting House, built in 1638 and the first public building on Cape Cod, and served as a literal meetinghouse, simultaneously, of the town hall of Cape Cod’s first settlement and the place of worship for three different denominations..

Three different structures have occupied the site-the present one has stood since 1830..

Over the years, the town hall moved out, reflecting separation of church and state, then, gradually, the denominations moved to other quarters. Since 1965, the majestic, yet graceful structure was a doll house museum, Yesteryears, and finally, even that function ended. When we last visited Sandwich, it was cracked and peeling, boarded up and decaying. Wilson bought it at auction and saw it through its reincarnation as The Belfry Meetinghouse..

The Belfry Meetinghouse is geared for longer stays-such as weekly business retreats or monthly family vacations. Measuring more than 7,000 square feet, comprises five one-bedroom suites, dining area, and kitchen and meeting space..

Guests enter through a marble entryway and climb 15 stairs to enter the grandiose main space, where the eye is pulled upward to the newly painted tin ceiling with its handsome center chandelier. The original altar is enlarged and raised two feet above the main floor. A semicircular sitting area with wood-burning fireplace invites repose, reflection and contemplation. Light diffuses throughout the magnificent polychrome stained glass fenestration.

The main floor features a library with Internet access, fax capability and additional home office fittings, entertainment and dining areas. A ‘personal chef’ is available to serve occupants and their guests from the open kitchen dining area…


The former choir loft has been reincarnated as a gallery sitting area. Horse hair plaster was removed from interior walls, revealing the original etched glass windows beneath, letting sunlight stream in. A winding, three-story staircase gives access to the bell tower which has a new exterior viewing aerie..

Guestrooms are named for historically significant dolls (hearkening to its former use as a doll museum) and feature whirlpool tubs, TV/DVD, HVAC, CD players and sitting areas with refrigerator and bar. Beds are dressed in only the finest textiles. The master suite-950 square feet in all-is accoutered with a king size bed, dressing area and palatial bath and offers a panorama of the first floor from its veranda doors. Four additional bedrooms and a movie or presentation area are located on the main floor..

In restoring The Meetinghouse, Wilson is painstakingly preserving one of the most sentimental symbols of Sandwich: the black-faced clock..

In 1765, Reverend Abraham Williams became pastor, bringing with him a 19-year old black slave named Titus Winchester. Reverend Williams died in 1784, freeing Winchester in his Last Will & Testament in recognition of Winchester’s many years of faithful service as church caretaker..

Winchester went to sea as a steward and, when he died in 1808, left his entire estate- approximately $3,300-for the purpose of purchasing a clock for the Meeting House “so that it would ring for many years to come in memory of his former master.” The clock became to be known as “Old Titus” to the people of Sandwich..

Winchester was so respected by the Sandwich townspeople, that he was interred in the historic cemetery in a tomb very near Rev. Williams that has the longest inscription of any of the gravestones (it refers to him as a “servant” rather than a slave). (The Old Town Cemetery, which dates from the 1660s is fascinating to visit; the tombstone art and inscriptions speak volumes about the people and the times in which they lived.)

During the Portland Gale, a severe winter storm in 1878, the church steeple was toppled and the Winchester clock and tower were destroyed. A new steeple was built in 1881 with funds donated by Jonathan Bourne, a whaling tycoon who was born in Sandwich. The original clock was replaced with the present four-faced clock ‘for the entire town to see’ and a bell, cast in 1854, was also placed in the steeple. Now Wilson is restoring the clock and the bell

The story of the First Church Meetinghouse is consistent with the character of the Sandwich, which has gone through many transformations since the Ten Men of Saugus settled here in 1637. For, at a time of Puritan repression, Sandwich was an ecumenical place, welcoming Quakers (since 1658) when they were shunned from other communities, and where Indians were allowed to worship

The Town of Sandwich does not present itself all at once, but rather, reveals itself in fragments-quietly, it speaks volumes, and is most deserving of a lingering, studied look..

There is so much to do: the Town Beach, Heritage Plantation, the Dexter Grist Mill, Hoxie House, Thornton W. Burgess Museum, Sandwich Glass Museum, Green Briar Nature Center and Jam Kitchen, Aptucxet Trading Post, and Cape Cod Canal, even before venturing further about on Cape Cod, such as to Wood’s Hole. For further information about Sandwich, 508-833-1632,

The Belfry Inne & Bistro lets you, for a time, become part of this community, staying in a place that was very much part of its history. Just walking or biking about, you come upon the most intriguing aspects (just walking up School Street you see wonderful architecture). Wilson is encouraging longer stays, with packages that give a 10 percent discount on stays of three nights; and a fifth night free when you stay four nights. Concierge services are available to arrange golf at Golf at Sandwich Hollows (guests get preferred tee-times), whale-watching excursions from Hyannis, admissions to Heritage Plantation..

The Belfry Inne & Bistro is open year-round; September and October are actually ideal times of the year to visit; rates are lowest from November-April. There are seasonal celebrations at Thanksgiving, Christmas (though the dining room is closed on Christmas Day), Easter and such. Contact the Belfry Inne & Bistro, 6-8 Jarves Street, Sandwich, MA 02563, 508-888-8550 (main number), reservations 800-844-4542, , e-mail: Check the website for special deals..

Photo captions

The Bistro of The Belfry Inne (© 2006 Karen Rubin)

The historic clock and bell on top of the historic Meetinghouse, enduring symbols for the people of Sandwich, is atop The Belfry Meetinghouse, a lodging and meeting place (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

The Belfry Inne, a former Roman Catholic church and rectory, offers a distinctive atmosphere and great dining (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

The Dexter Grist Mill, originally built in 1654, is just one of the historic attractions all within the walking village of Sandwich, Cape Cod’s first settled town (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

© 2005 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Send comments or travel questions to

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About Travel Features Syndicate

Karen Rubin is an eclectic travel writer who has been spanning the globe for more than 30 years reporting on interesting, intriguing people and places to explore for magazines, newspapers and online. She publishes Travel Features Syndicate in newspapers and online including, Huffington Post and and blogs at "Travel is a life-changing and an interactive experience that mutually benefits travelers and community." Contact Karen at 'Like' us at

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