by Rod Lee
The three secluded cabins set off an obscure and rustic road marked by a sign on a tree that reads “Owl crossing” don’t begin to tell the story of Wallis Cove, which is celebrating a 50th anniversary this year.
Neither does the pristine 216-acre Whitin Reservoir with its sandy beach, great bass fishing and pit for bonfires.
Neither does the opportunity that is always available for a guest-house rental for the perfect lakeside setting for casual weddings, corporate planning sessions, birthday parties and family reunions.
Wallis Cove, in Douglas, is about much more than the seasonal business for which it is best-known, from May to Columbus Day.
When I agreed during a brief chat with Laurie Church at the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Home & Business Expo at Northbridge High School earlier this year to do a Valley Vibes column on Wallis Cove’s milestone, I had no idea how deep the Wallis and Church families’ roots went in the one hundred acres of forest that they have called home for decades.
“Wallis Cove is representative of the history of this end of town,” Ms. Church said to me on a bright Thursday morning in late May as I visited the site for the first time. She was rummaging through some large trunks (she calls them “time capsules”) in the basement and the walk-in attic of the home at 67 Island Rd. that was built in 1997 for her dad Charlie Church. The heavy trunks are packed with memorabilia going back more than two centuries.
Charlie Church was the grandson of William Church, a Civil War soldier who married Salem Wallis’ daughter—Cynthia. William and Cynthia inherited the Wallis estate and with it the several sawmills from which a living was derived.
Sawmills were an integral part of the life of the area, Ms. Church says. “More than money, (transactions) were conducted by barter; trading for washing to be done, a first cut of hay, two pigs and a sheep.”
Charlie Church ably carried on the family’s lumbering tradition. The cabins at Wallis Cove were hewn from lumber cut at the mill.
Ms. Church’s father passed away in 2002 at the age of eighty-four; his wife Virginia predeceased him. Laurie Church now resides in the home, which is filled with antiques and family photographs. She and her brother Tyler, who lives next door with his wife Debbie, share responsibility for the operation of Wallis Cove.
The Wallis family built its name on lumbering and “probably came here before Douglas was incorporated,” Ms. Church said. As Ginger Petraglia, who lives with her husband John at the nearby restored former family homestead at 73 Wallis Rd., puts it, “this piece of land has been in the same family since the 1760s.” The original tract consisted of approximately 250 acres.
The cabins, which are sprinkled together a short walk from the beach, below, each contain two bedrooms, a loft or porch, a bathroom with shower, a wood stove for heat, a microwave, stove, refrigerator, pans, dishes, toaster and silverware.
Harold and Barbara Brady of Charlton have rented the one cabin with a screened porch for two weeks in late June and early July for years, after being told of Wallis Cove by Barbara’s sister.
“I’d rent it for the whole summer if I could afford it,” Harold Brady said.
The Bradys love the quiet environment Wallis Cove accords them but they have an appreciation too, as Ms. Church does, for the history of the grounds.
“I fell in love with the camp,” Mrs. Brady said. “It’s my home away from home…campfires…dancing to (Oldies) music on the beach, the sunrises, walking in the woods.”
The Bradys got to know Charlie Church. “He was a gentleman and a sweetheart,” Mrs. Brady said.
Rod Lee is a long-time local writer and observer of the Blackstone Valley scene and the current president of the Webster Square Business Association in Worcester. His most recent book is Nance’s Nook, a comic tale based on life at a small convenience store in Linwood. Email him at [email protected].