Auction Set For Historic Property That's Seen Many Uses

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Local History

The lively history of 2 Academy Place is belied by the calm before the property is auctioned next week.  ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

ORLEANS A piece of the town's history – albeit one that was born next door in Eastham – goes on the auction block next week.

The former Academy Ocean Grille at 2 Academy Place will be auctioned by the Daniel P. McLaughlin Co. of Boston Dec. 8 at 1 p.m. in Orleans. A $25,000 deposit is required at the sale for the 4,000-square-foot building on a 37,026-square-foot parcel.

The Academy Ocean Grille's closure was announced in January. A yarn shop, A Stitch in Thyme, is open for limited hours at the location.

Recent sales of the property were for $329,000 in 1999, $750,000 in 2000, and $1.2 million in 2005.

“The structure was built circa 1880 in Eastham and was moved to its current location in 1891 by the French Cable Station to serve as employee housing,” Orleans Historical Commission Chair Ron Petersen wrote in an email. “It was later a private residence, a gas station, the original location of the Beth Bishop business, and finally a restaurant.”

Petersen said his information came from an historical inventory of town properties compiled in the 1980s. The commission is updating the 400-plus entries on file.

“As we will be commemorating Orleans in World War I in 1918,” wrote Petersen, “the association of this structure with the French Cable Station is of particular interest.” In July of that year, a German submarine attacked a tugboat and barges off Nauset Beach; some shells landed on the shore as well.

The inventory form, compiled by Bonnie Snow and Doris Berger, notes that 2 Academy Place was owned later by George W. Geers, who used it as a gas station and residence. The Orleans Historical Society's files include an article about Geers and his wife Susie by his great-grandson, George L. Geers. A newspaperman, he had written to the Cape Cod Oracle trying to find out more about his great-grandfather, who died 11 days after the writer was born in 1950.

“Family legend has it that he changed his name from Gear to Geers because of the automobile,” his great-grandson wrote. “He was tired of being called 'High Gear,' 'Low Gear,' and 'Shift.' This may not be the reason because Geers is pronounced 'gears' and his descendants have all been plagued with 'Shifty' nicknames.”

The newspaperman's article drew lots of reader response, which he detailed in a subsequent piece. Some remembered the elder Geers sitting in his kitchen waiting for customers, in no rush to hop up and work the Jenny gas pump. He drove a school bus, painted, hung wallpaper, kept hens, and had a dairy farm as well; one writer recalled helping to hay the farm on the Fourth of July in 1919 and being served “switchell,” a mix of ginger ale and molasses. Another remembered the proprietor's “10-gallon Stetson and small cigars.”

Local lads couldn't resist the ripe fruit in the Geers's cherry tree, which got them in trouble when he complained to their parents. “And they had the best blackberries in town,” another writer recalled.

The next owner of 2 Academy Place was Katherine Hall, according to the inventory. She started her International Shops (a gift store) there. In 1960, another retail use, Beth Bishop, was established for a long run until 1990, when that shop moved to a nearby building. Succeeding years saw the building offer many memorable meals during its time as a restaurant.

Note: Due to a reporting error, the wrong date was given in our Nov. 30 edition for the auction of 2 Academy Place in Orleans. It is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 8, at 1 p.m. The above story has been change to reflect the correction.