A Deeper Dive

The Sealshipt Oyster Company

During the early 1900s the Sealshipt Oyster Company set up a modern facility on Shirttail Point on the site of the former Central Wharf in Wellfleet Harbor to process and then ship freshly shucked oysters in sanitary containers by railroad.

In its heyday, Sealshipt kept their plant running 10 hours a day, six days a week and shipped out as many as 40 railroad cars a month full of Wellfleet oysters to far-flung locations such as Washington, San Francisco, Dallas, Montreal, Canada and Havana, Cuba.

1900s Wellfleet Doc, from Wellfleet Historical Society

Built on the site of the former Central Wharf and characterized by the distinctive double roofline, Sealshipt was far and away the biggest oyster operation Wellfleet has ever seen.

According to the Wellfleet Historical Society, “Sealshipt combined heavy branding, advanced packaging technology and a consumer advertising campaign that promised unparalleled purity, in an attempt to create an oyster monopoly.” The company’s own brochure stated: “..all of our oysters are shipped direct from the best Atlantic beds in “Sealshipt” oyster carriers. No ice or water touches the oysters and no chemical preservative is ever used. The inner receptacle is kept surrounded by ice and sealed - hence the name Sealshipt.”

The Famous Beds of Wellfleet

Here is an excerpt from The Famous Beds of Wellfleet by local historian and author David Wright, in which he quotes the late native Wellfleetian Earle Rich, a mariner, shell fisherman, author and newspaper columnist, about the once prosperous Sealshipt Oyster plant which flourished in Wellfleet for several years in the 1910s:

"Sealshipt was the dream child of Jacob Ockers, known as the “Oyster King” Ockers, born in in Holland in 1847, son of an oysterman, became the largest individual oyster grower and shipper in the United States. He owned Bluepoint Oyster Company of Sayville, Long Island, and had holdings of oyster land in the Delaware Bay, Long Island sound, and of course, Cape Cod Bay. It was our famous beds that drew him here, and in particular, their uncanny ability to bleach his green New Haven oysters white. When Ockers realized this he went all out, purchasing land and planting ground, hiring Albert Davis as manager and a score of other Wellfleeters to run an operation that myst be described in detail. I’ll let Earle Rich do it, he was there…"

It (the Sealshipt facility) was the most modern and efficient establishment of its kind in New England; no expense was spared in making it just that.

1900s Wellfleet Doc, from Wellfleet 2 pages

The main building was doubled size and fitted with culling benches the entire length. On the Mayo’s Beach Road end a cement cellar was constructed in which oysters were stored in the winter to prevent freezing. A dock was built that extended from the main building to the channel and fitted with a railway on which cars ran, transferring the oysters to the culling benches, as they were hoisted for the deck of the “steamers” after each day’s catch. A stationary gasoline engine supplied the power needed to hoist the two-bushel baskets of oysters from the deck of the steamer onto the platform. From the platform, the baskets were loaded onto cars to transport them to their final destination, the benches. It was a system in which a thousand bushels of oysters could be handled in a short space of time: that was the amount of a normal day’s catch as brought in by the steamers. All labor was performed by hand once the oysters landed in the building.”

"…the economic value to the town was immense, providing work for the barrel master, teamsters, blacksmith and other allied businesses. How, you will ask and why did it fail? so many factors have to be considered, but In my opinion it was over expansion…it was simply a matter of running out of suitable growing ground which to plant the oysters…"

You can purchase the complete book, The Famous Beds of Wellfleet on the Wellfleet Historical Society website for a more in-depth look at the history of the town shellfishing’s industry.

Photos courtesy of Wellfleet Historical Society & Museum (Facebook / Instagram)

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