Salt Boxes Summer Cottage Colony 1938-1972

A baroness came, and so did a countess, in the heyday of Yarmouth's Salt Boxes

By Bainbridge Crist (Reprinted from The Register - December 21, 1978)

In the summer, during World War II years, and old beach wagon, with some of its doors tied with ropes, would meet the New York train at Hyannis on weekends, competing with a shiny wagon with a uniformed driver from the Hotel Belmont. Driving the wagon was a lady who would call out, "Salt Boxes." This was Mrs. Ruth Boardman, who would drive to the station with her small daughter Jane, now Mrs. Julius G. Teglas of 27 Salt Box Lane, South Yarmouth.

Mrs. Teglas said her mother was embarrassed about the wagon, but it was impossible to replace it during the war. The back doors wouldn't work, so the passengers had to climb over the back seat! Nobody seemed to mind.

The Salt Boxes were a unique development of rental cottages along Bass River, which eventually attracted summer visitors from far and wide, including many European refugees from the holocaust of World War II. Among those who stayed there were a Bavarian baroness, a Swedish countess, the son of a former German chancellor, and a famous German-American artist and cartoonist.

The Salt Boxes were two room cottages of contemporary design, with a fireplace in each room and a bathroom. Summer visitors could rent one room or they could use the cottage as a duplex. They are now gone and in their place are some 30 or more contemporary homes amid tall pines in a community that represents the dream of three sisters - Mari and Lillian E. Kenrick and the late Mrs. Boardman, widow of the famous flyer Russell Boardman. Mrs. Boardman died in 1970.

Mari Kenrick says people used to ask how the Salt Boxes got their name. She explained that they looked like boxes and the word salt was inspired by the old barn on the property, which was built of timbers taken from salt works that used to operate further down the river. So the two words were combined.

The story starts in New Hampshire, where Lillian Kenrick used to visit Sugar Hill. She was advised by the woman who ran the hotel that money could be made in renting rooms and suggested a cottage development. It was here, too, that Otto Kley, Jr., who was to play a prominent role in the Salt Boxes and who now lives in the community, met Lillian Kenrick, and friend of his late wife.

Lillian, an artist and interior decorator who had studied with artist John Whorf, and Kley, an innovative, well-known architect, decided to combine their talents to create a little cottage community of unique style. The Salt Box land, known at one time as the Willis Hall farm, covered some 36 acres, and had been purchased by Russell Boardman, who had hoped to open an air school there. Boardman had been decorated after making a record-setting, long-distance, non-stop flight of 5,011 miles from New York to Turkey with John Polando in 49 hours and 20 minutes in July, 1931. He was killed two years later in the Bendix transcontinental air race, but Polando still lives in Sandwich.

Ruth Boardman inherited the land. It was a valuable piece of property surrounded on two sides by the Bass River Golf Course, and with a 1000-foot frontage along the river, with a beach and two docks.

Mrs. Boardman took over the old farmhouse which had a leaky roof, fixed it up, and then rented it to pay the taxes on the land. She sold her husband's plane, "Cape Cod" in which he made his historic flight to Turkey. Mari and Lillian Kenrick wanted a place for their invalid father. So Mari purchased the old Bass River Post Office for $125, had it flaked and moved to a plot near the golf course.

In 1937 the decision was made to go ahead with the development of the rental cottages. At this time, Kley, who attended the Harvard Graduate School of Design, was with the National Park Service. Kley and an architect friend of his, David Fried, also in the Park Service, teamed up to design the Salt Boxes by "moonlighting" without a fee. Kley used to come to the Cape on weekends and holidays. After they left the Park Service, Fried and Kley had an office on Newbury Street in Boston.

The Kenricks and Mrs. Boardman pooled their resources and managed to get a loan from a local bank. Six cottages were built. They were constructed on a cement slab with composition board. Large 8x16-foot panels were used inside and out. A few years ago they cost and average of $1,000 each to tear down, which is just about what they cost unfurnished when built.

The plan on the Kenricks and Mrs. Boardman was to rent rooms and then, when they became older, to gradually sell the land for the development of a controlled community. It is controlled in the sense that home designs must be approved - and the designs must be contemporary rather than tradition Cape Cod.

The Salt Boxes were opened in 1938. The war and the gasoline shortage forced one major change in the plans: the sisters not only rented rooms, but had to open a restaurant in the farmhouse. Visitors who came by train had no means - other than walking miles - to reach restaurants. So they started serving meals, with their mother, Mrs. Marie S. Kenrick, making blueberry and apple cinnamon muffins for breakfast. College boys waited on the tables.

The Salt Boxes advertised, among other places, in the New York Times and Herald Tribune and the Saturday Review of Literature. In time the guest book included names as far away as California and, of course, the European refugees.

One of the guests was a representative of Duncan Hines, who recommended its inclusion in the Hines list of approved places to stay. This listing proved valuable. One of the foreign refugees was Mrs. George Richter, known as "Aly" Richter, who came with her daughter "Gigi". They now both live in England and still correspond with the Kenricks. She was a Bavarian baroness and the widow of an art historian who was a friend, among others, of Bernard Berenson, the famous authority on Italian paintings.

One day, say the Kenricks, Mrs. Richter came from her cottage in high-heeled shoes, a pretty dress and parasol, exclaiming: "I love its luxurious primitivity." Mrs. Richter used to chat with the clam diggers along that part of the river. Accustomed to the German spas with mud baths, she would suggest that they could make money with the mud. From a photograph of those days, Mrs. Richter was a striking blonde. One day, according to the Kenricks, a clam digger fell overboard from his skiff when he saw her in a black satin bathing suit. One of her friends who also stayed at the Salt Boxes was a Swedish countess, married to a German broker.

Probably the most famous visitor was George Grosz, the German-American painted, print maker and cartoonist, who came with his wife Eva. Born in Berlin in 1893, Grosz studied at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts, the Berlin Arts and Crafts School and in Parish. His works are in museums, both here and abroad, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the New York Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of New York, the Wichita Art Museum and the Stuttgart State Gallery.

Distressed with the political situation in Germany, Grosz came to this country in 1932, settling in New York. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1937 and won the Carnegie International prize in 1945.

His cartoons on the ruling classes and the military were hardly flattering. In the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Art (1969), Grosz is credited with having contributed "significantly to the finer traditions of social realism of this century".

In the late 1930's, Grosz painted a good many New England landscapes. When he visited the Salt Boxes he liked to sit under trees, eat salami and, say the Kenricks, hang melons "on the pines as if they were growing." Another German visitor was Joachim Stresemann, the son of Gustav Stresemann, who served as a chancellor and foreign minister in the Weimar Republic after World War I. Young Stresemann, whose father died in 1929, worked for a New York bank.

One visitor the Kenricks remember well is the late English actress Gertrude Lawrence, who used to visit friends who stayed at the Salt Boxes. Another guest with a well-known name was Mrs. II. Edward Manville, whose daughter Estelle was married to Count Bernadotte of Sweden, who was assassinated by Jewish terrorists in Palestine in 1948 while serving as a United Nations mediator; Mrs. Manville's husband was at one time president and board chairman of Johns-Manville Corp.

The story of Kenricks is this: Either one or both of the count's sons were at a boy's camp of High Bank Road, just a short distance from the Salt Boxes. Mrs. Manville flew in by private plane and stayed at the Salt Boxes for almost a week. During her stay the handyman at the Salt Boxes drove her around so that she could run errands, such as outfitting the boy or boys in Hyannis. Mrs. Manville instructed her grandson (or sons) to continue court manners when eating at the farmhouse, which the Kenricks regarded "as sort of ridiculous." At the end of her stay, Mrs. Manville went to Hyannis and departed on a large yacht. Whether this was the Manville's "Hi Esmaro," a magnificent 272-foot yacht with clipper bow, is not known. It could have anchored off the harbor and sent in a launch, but this is pure speculation. One of the great luxury yachts of that era, she cost $1,500,000 to build, was sold to the Navy for $150,000, and sunk by the Japanese in 1943 off the Solomons.

One more guest deserves mention. He was a Massachusetts manufacturer who became a good friend of the sisters. One day a man called from Boston to inquire if there was room at Salt Boxes for a gentleman who wanted to go duck hunting. The guest turned out to be Gifford K. Sidmonds, president and general manager of Sidmonds Saw and Steel Co. of Fitchburg. Sidmonds, who died in 1941, had served briefly as president of the Waltham Watch Co., Hunter Arms Co., and for five years was head of Marschalk & Pratt advertising agency in New York. He likes the Salt Boxes and wanted to buy the property but, of course, Mrs. Boardman declined. He did, however, lend $1,500 to raise the roof of the farmhouse in order to make space for two bedrooms and a bath. The addition was designed by Mr. Fried. This loan was repaid, but in the case of another $300 loan Mr. Sidmonds cancelled the note and returned it.

The next summer he came and invited the sisters to lunch on his yacht in Hyannis. Mari Kenrick says Sidmonds liked to talk about his life. He was born to wealth, but as a young man, she relates, he traveled with little money. He would cut wood or do other chores to get a meal. The barn near the farmhouse, visible from the river through the pines, served as both an office and social center for dancing, ping-pong or putting on shows. Before bringing the story of the Salt Boxes up to date, it should be mentioned that Mrs. Boardman took a great fancy to the "Gingerbread House" on Rt. 6A, now the Greek Restaurant Myconos, and bought it after the war with a good deal of land. She cut through a road, Gingerbread Lane, and subdivided the property. With the ending of the war the decision was made to revert to the original plan of merely renting cottages, and the restaurant was closed. It would have been possible, the Kenricks say, to have built a condominium or to have obtained a liquor license, but they did not wish that type of development, nor the large number of people or cars it would bring.

They realized that they would lose many of their old guests, and obviously, too, the refugee era was over. But, as they thought, new guests appeared, and the rental of cottages continued until 1968, making a span of 30 years. Some people who spent their honeymoon there have come back to visit their grandchildren. In the post-war period kitchenettes were added, as well as additional rental units. One of the later brochures listed several Salt Box duplexes and eight cottages and houses, with prices ranging from $115 a week for two people to a house for six at $315 a week. In the late 1940's the first land was sold for the subdivision.

Buyers were guaranteed the use of waterfront and protection from "encroachment of speculative commercialism." Kley acted as an agent for the subdivision, and Mari Kenrick credits him with playing the central role in planning the area. Probably all of the houses deserve mention, but there are at least two that are especially noteworthy. One house, which has been greatly enlarged, was made originally by combining the boys and girls outhouses of the Yarmouth Port School! Mari Kenrick says she purchased them for $110 at an auction.

Also in the late 1940's a house designed for the community by David Fried won a House and Garden magazine prize. Called "Holiday House," it was advertised for $9,800 and included a pine-paneled living room with the fireplace, two twin-sized bedrooms, separate stall shower and water closet, dining patio, kitchen and carport. The development is run by the Salt Box Association, a voluntary group with officers and a board of directors. The family membership at a nominal fee of less than $100 a year goes toward maintaining the beach, the two docks and the roads. About seven sites are still left.

Until 1970, Lillian Kenrick maintained a Boston office for her interior decoration work, and one of her last assignments was the Oyster Harbors Club. She worked for eight years in New York. (R.H. Macy and Bloomingdale's) before establishing her Boston office.

Mari Kenrick, a frequent contributor to the letter-to-the-editor columns of local newspapers on political and economic subjects, invented a metal cord wood crib, called the "Cape Cod Wood Crib," with indoor and outdoor sizes. It was patented and manufactured in Boston, but the patent has since expired. Mari and Lillian Kenrick now live in the old farmhouse, a few hundred feet from the Salt Box barn near the river. They are surrounded by mementos of the past - pictures of the cottages and some of the guests; guest registers, and models of the plane Boardman flew to Turkey in and one in which he was killed. Looking back over the past 40 years, Mari Kenrick says simply, "We have achieved what we wanted." And her sister agrees.

Russell Boardman, original owner of Salt Boxes, dies in 1933

Russell Boardman Dies in Indianapolis Crashed Saturday in East-West Air Race

Body to be Sent Here - Turkey Flight Brought Him Fame

(Reprinted from Boston Herald, Tuesday, July 4, 1933)

Indianapolis, July 3 (AP) - The adventurous career of Russell Boardman, 35-year-old Boston and Springfield, Mass., aviator and sportsman, was terminated today by death. Injuries suffered Saturday while streaking down the runway of the municipal airport here caused his death. He had landed to refuel while racing across country in the New York to Los Angeles air derby.

During the take-off in resumption of his westward flight a cross wind caught his tiny ship and sent it spinning out of control. Never Became Conscious Boardman, dragged beneath the craft as it struck the ground, wheels up, suffered a fractured skull and a punctured lung. He never regained consciousness.

For nearly 48 hours, however, a spark of life remained, giving his wife an opportunity to reach here from Providence, and his brother, Earl, time to come home from Albuquerque, N.M. Both hurried here by air. The brother was with him when he died. Mrs. Boardman, worn by anxiety and a long vigil, had left a few minutes before when physicians advised that she obtain some rest. Grief-stricken she left for Boston this afternoon by airplane to await the arrival of her husband's body there.

Flight to Turkey Boardman, who had distinguished himself by a non-stop flight from New York to Istanbul, Turkey, in 1931, in company with John Polando, was counted one of the country's leading pilots. He had narrowly escaped death several times during his daring career. Shortly after becoming a pilot his plane was wrecked during a take-off at Cottonwood, Ariz., and last summer at Springfield, Mass., he was in a ship that went spinning down from a height of 1,000 feet, landing in a clump of trees.

In the latter accident he suffered injuries from which he was several months recuperating. Boardman was born in Westfield, Ct. Besides the widow and brother, he is survived by a daughter, Jane, 5, and three sisters, Mrs. Clara McCurdy of Providence, Miss Alice Boardman of Mattapoisett, Mass., and Mrs. Stuart Grummon of Washington.

Russell Boardman Memoriabilia

Special thanks to the original owner of the development, Russell Boardman, first aviator to fly non-stop from New York to Turkey.

Russell Boardman in 1932 at his Gee Bee Racer NR 2101

Russell Boardman in 1932 with his Gee Bee Racer NR 2101

Russell Boardman 1934 Sky Birds Card front


Chewing Gum Card

Russell Boardman 1934 Sky Birds Card back

1930 International Pilot Certificate

1931 Flight of the "Cape Cod" from New York to Istanbul

On July 30, 1931, Russell Boardman and John Polando took off from Floyd-Bennett Airfield in New York aboard the "Cape Cod", a single-engine Bellanca J300 aircraft owned and piloted by Russell Boardman, and flew non-stop for 50 hours to Istanbul, Turkey, setting the world record for the longest flight ever made at the time. For more information on this amazing adventure, see: Cape Cod over Istanbul. The photo below was taken in August 1931 just before Boardman and Polando departed Turkey en route to Marseille, France.