The large image featured at the very end of this post is of an actual advertisement contained in the May 1926 issue of Country Life magazine, a publication targeting an affluent readership.
As many will quickly realize, the property offered 84 years ago in this advertisement as “The One BIG Opportunity on Cape Cod” was the same tract of land which would ultimately become New Seabury or at least a good chunk of it.
Headline: Guy Tobey Makes Record Purchase
Along side news of the passing of Edric Eldridge a two term State Senator and native son from Yarmouth and the launch of an 18 mile project extending electric service from Dennis to Wellfeet, the front page of the January 21, 1926 issue of the Hyannis Patriot contained an above the fold story titled “Guy Tobey Makes Record Purchase”. The sub title proclaimed “Boston Realtor Buys Largest Cape Acreage Recorded in Recent Years”.
The story details in a direct style how Guy D. Tobey through a syndicate of investors known as The Deauville Trust acquired “what is probably the largest sale of acreage ever recorded on Cape Cod in recent years, consisting of 1,500 acres, and with purchases of adjoining parcels, makes a total of 1,800 acres, with a salt-water frontage of approximately nine miles.”
Along with the record breaking news, the story included some interesting background information on the brokerage activities of Guy D. Tobey.
It seems Mr. Tobey was quite a dealmaker throughout these parts with his most recent land deals extending from Falmouth to Brewster. Some of Tobey’s transactions noted in the 1926 article included:
A 157 acre tract of land on the State road between Monument Beach and Pocasset…has been purchased by Mr. Tobey. This tract is valued at $15,000.
Mr. Tobey has bought thirty five acres on Swan Pond, Dennis valued at $10,000.
He also purchased a tract on Hiackley (sic) Pond in the Pleasant Lake section of Brewster, consisting of twenty acres with large frontage on the pond, valued at $15,000.
Seventy five acres with a frontage of 2,000 feet on Mashpee Pond has been purchased of the Homestead Trust by Mr. Tobey. It is valued at $20,000.
Mr. Tobey has also purchased and resold for development the Stoddard estate, formerly the Antler Inn at East Falmouth…consisting of 140 acres with a large frontage on Eel Pond…valued at $40,000.
Guy D. Tobey of Boston has bought 500 acres in Mashpee bordering John’s Pond, with a two mile frontage on the pond, valued at $40,000 from the Bacon estate. The broker was Charles L. Swift. This tract has been resold to W.S. Moody and resold by him to John H. Hinston for development.
The Hyannis Patriot article also provides strong evidence that land speculation was a thriving business on Cape Cod in the mid 1920’s and Mr. Tobey was indeed an active participant. The transaction information also indicates Mr. Tobey was buying land, much of it waterfront, anywhere from $80 to $750 per acre or an average price of around $300 per acre.
Although the actual purchase price of the 1,500 acre Poponessett on Cape Cod parcel was not stated in the deed (requiring no stamps) or the Hyannis Patriot article, The Deauville Trust evidently assumed a $200,000 mortgage on the property which would equate to approximately $133 per acre.
The Deauville Trust, quite possibly named after Deauville a fashionable international resort town in northern France, included five partners: Michael L. Connolly of Lynn, MA; Thomas Toomey of Lawrence, MA; Guy D. Tobey of Newton, MA; Melvin R. Hill of Brookline, MA; and Frederick R. Cunningham of Belmont, MA.
The Roaring Twenties – A Historical Perspective
As the advertisement indicates, The Deauville Trust put the 1,500 acre property back on the open market within months of acquiring it.
The mid 1920’s, however, was an interesting time to be considering an investment in such a large and unique tract of land on Cape Cod. Especially one offering four miles of shoreline on Vineyard Sound, Poponessett Bay and Waquoit Bay, and on the six ponds included on the property.
However, while it stands as being among the least documented bubbles, in 1926 the national real estate market was in a downward cycle as an asset-price bubble in the making since 1921 eventually burst in 1925. Residential and farm foreclosures increased in 1926, and rose steadily through the stock market bubble to an eventual peak in 1933.
As the prime tipping point leading to the nationwide collapse, historians and economists cite the widely publicized bursting of the Florida Land Bubble in 1925. The resounding pop of “The Greatest Real Estate Development in the World” was heard far and wide as speculators and promoters were no longer able to drive the market for land to unrealistic levels even in this tropical land of opportunity.
Adding volume to the Florida Land Bubble was a certain Charles Ponzi (that’s right, as in Ponzi Scheme), who was found to be one of the many promoters running land investment scams in Florida. Easy credit and the allure of a leisurely lifestyle in the Florida sunshine helped primed the pump. Post bubble accounts describe a frenzy overtaking Florida land investors, with city lots in Miami being “bought and sold as many as ten times in a single day.”
Over time things began to unravel and the Florida Land Bubble began to deflate beginning with the discovery that in many cases the Florida land was waterfront all right but of the swampland variety. As many of the new communities depicted on enticing maps and skillful pre-sale presentations were never started or sufficiently completed, it helped to sour the taste for speculative land investment faster than a glass of milk sitting out in the hot Florida sun. At the end of the Florida Land Bubble in 1925 scores of investors, many of which who never saw the actual land parcels they acquired, lost sizable sums in these land investments.
Land Development, Speculation and Pyramid Pricing on Cape Cod
Based on other real estate advertisements of the period, there appeared to be a number of Boston and New York based land developers and speculators actively promoting the sale of subdivisions and building lots on the Upper Cape. Carved from woodlots or former estates, the new “restricted developments” were pitched as perfect for “summer homes” on Cape Cod. In the promotions, lot buyers were enticed by exciting conveniences of the day such as gravel surfaced roads, electric lighting and “pure town water”.
Naturally, recreational amenities like docks and moorings for boaters, golf courses and proper bathing beaches were also on the list of what the summer residents desired. Opportunities to socialize with other summer residents of similar stature were important as well. Good access by rail or by modern state roads were other key selling points. On the Upper Cape, land developers tended to focus on the more established shoreline areas of Bourne and Falmouth where many of these amenities and features existed.
In contrast, the 1,500 acre Popponessett on Cape Cod parcel was at the time a pristine frontier and an investment opportunity for the true visionary and only the best of well funded land promoters.
Notwithstanding the recent turn of events in the national real estate market, land speculation among small investors was still occurring at enough of a rate to prompt the developer of lots on Racing Beach in Falmouth to include this proviso in a 1926 advertisement:
“It is the installation of these improvements combined with the healthy sale of lots for building purposes that make property under development increase in value not the continual transfer of lots at pyramiding prices. Racing Beach has every reason to increase in value.”
The land dealings of Mr. Guy D. Tobey, who was likely to be just one of several brokers operating on Cape Cod, also provides additional evidence that at least up until January 1926, the marketplace for vacant land was favorable.
“The One BIG Opportunity on Cape Cod” or Was it?
As the events of the era suggest the real estate market was clearly sending mixed signals which were enough to make an investor considering the 1,500 acre property in 1926 to be less bullish than what they might have been a year earlier.
After all, the national real estate market was starting to trend downward, a competitive supply of building lots existed on the Upper Cape, and the 1,500 acre parcel at the time was an expansive, sparsely developed woodland requiring a heavy investment in infrastructure, amenities and promotion.
The bursting of the widely publicized Florida Land Bubble in 1925 and the many stories of the schemes still fresh in the minds of many, turned land speculation and development into a dicey business.
It’s possible the The Deauville Trust, led by Guy D. Tobey an experienced land syndicator and man with an ear to the ground, understood these factors as well when he included the following phrase in the very last line in the advertisement copy, “Attractive price and terms for a quick sale.” The full page advertisement in Country Life magazine could also be taken as a sign that Tobey’s local trading partners weren’t keen on such a sizable offering and a much larger fish from a much larger pond was needed for this record breaker. At 1,500 acres it’s unlikely this would be an easy flip.
In the alternative, was The Deauville Trust just looking for an in and out deal? Were they looking to quickly reposition into the stock market which was in the early stages of the white hot run up to the eventual crash in 1929?
We will likely never know the full background on this interesting property offering along with the most intriguing aspect of the property which is the detailed conveyance history from this 1926 offering to the mid 1960’s when New Seabury was launched.
Guy D. Tobey, Nearly a Century Later You’re Still Right!
The real estate sale in which the Hyannis Patriot proclaimed “Boston Realtor Buys Largest Cape Acreage Recorded in Recent Years” and the 1926 advertisement both present an interesting opportunity to consider from a historical perspective the events and changing investment climate surrounding this unique and high profile Cape Cod property.
Yet even against the historical backdrop and factors still unknown, most will agree that in the end Guy D. Tobey is still correct in declaring over 80 years ago that this unique property was and will likely continue to be “The One BIG Opportunity on Cape Cod”.