Here are some old houses connected with me and with the real stories that inspired Walker's Key
My parents bought this house in 1964, when I was just a year old. It is located just south of the lighthouse off Morris Island Road -- the lane was once known as Nickerson Lane, but at present there is no name associated with it. This is where I spent my early childhood summers. This photo is probably from the 1940s, but this is how the house looked when I was a little kid. My father made substantial additions to the house starting in the 1970s. Joshua Nickerson married Sally Morse March 4, 1804 and I believe they moved into their new house then. Joshua was lost at sea sometime between the end of 1808 and the end of 1812.
My great-great-grandfather, Albert Nickerson, married Rebecca Nickerson (she was born a Nickerson too) on December 18, 1851. The house they lived in was actually two houses that were put together and it is my understanding that neither house stood originally on the site. The story always told about the house was that the part on the right of this photo was an ancient half-Cape that was brought up from somewhere near the beach in South Harwich. Since nothing appears in this spot in the atlas of 1865, it appears that the houses were moved to this location after then. I don't know much more about the history of the property except that the land was owned by the Nickersons long before Albert came along. Albert's grandfather was Tulley (Nickerson), a name I chose for one of the characters in Walker's Key. Albert was lost at sea on May 18, 1878 when he was swept overboard on a return voyage from Cadiz. Rebecca, who was known as "Grandma Nick" to my grandfather, Frederick Walker, sold the house to my grandfather in 1915 for $600.00. See next photo for more about this house. ("Grandma Nick" is what Darby's great-grandmother was called in Walker's Key.)
My grandfather Walker purchased the Albert & Rebecca Nickerson house (see photo prior to the one above) from his Grandmother Nickerson in 1915. He married my grandmother, Constance Flanders, in 1919. In 1928, the year my mother was born, they remodeled the old Nickerson house into the house in this photo, and they named it "Skinequit Moorings" for its location overlooking Skinequit Pond. This is where my mother (standing at the right in this photo from about 1935) spent her childhood summers. My grandfather died before I was born, and when I was kid I always knew this place as my grandmother's summer house. After my parents split up around 1970, this became the place where I spent a lot of my summers. My grandmother passed this house down to us. We sold it in 2006 to buy a newer place for my mother and, sadly, it was torn down in 2011.
This 2016 photo shows the house built by Jeremiah Walker, my 4th great grandfather some time around 1800. My great-great-grandfather, Captain Henry M. Walker, was born in 1843, almost certainly in this house. Captain Walker in Walker's Key is based loosely on Henry M. Walker, and Eleazer Walker is based loosely on Jeremiah Walker.
If you are traveling east on Route 28 from Harwich into Chatham, this house is the first house you see on the right, just after the cemetery. This is where Captain Walker and his wife, Louisa Eldredge Walker, lived and raised their two sons, Frederick B. Walker and Henry M. Walker, Jr. I don't know when this house was built. I remember seeing a news article indicating that Henry and his wife remodeled it around 1880, so I believe that they did not build it. In the novel I leave Captain Walker in Harwich Port, but in fact he lived in Chatham in his adult years. When Henry and Louisa went to Florida in 1893 they kept this house, and Louisa (who unlike the fictional wife of Captain Walker in my novel, did not die young) returned to this house in the summers. She owned this house up until her death in 1918. Sadly, their younger son, Henry M. Walker, Jr., was lost at sea in September, 1891, on a fishing trip off Nova Scotia. The schooner, Albert Woodbury, was last heard from when it stopped in at Halifax for supplies, days before a storm blew in. I believe that his father-in-law, Thomas Sullivan, also lost his life in that incident. Louisa Walker left this house to her granddaughter, Louise I. Walker, daughter of Henry M. Walker, Jr. She never married and owned a general store in Cotuit. When I was a kid, my grandmother gave me a large box full of old postcards that came from that store, and that's how my fascination with old postcards began.
Henry M. Walker's wife, Louisa, came from a long line of Chatham Eldridges (a/k/a Eldredges). This is the house on Pleasant Street where she was born in 1844. I believe that she is one of the women in the older photo, which is probably from around 1880. She died in this house in 1918 under the care of her sister, Caroline Ellis, who then owned it. The house was a floater house from Nantucket, and is now available as a vacation rental.
This is where Captain Walker and his wife lived along with two boarders after Captain Walker became a Tampa Bay ship pilot. In July, 1900, Captain Walker was found dead in his room here with a bullet hole in his head. His friends and associates believed he was murdered. A very careful observer by the name of Eavan discovered that this house is still standing.
My great-grandfather, Frederick B. Walker, built this house on Indian Hill (what I call Walker's Key) in 1895. In this image from 1900, my great-grandfather is on the right. From right to left: my great-grandfather, his wife, Clarissa (Nickerson) Walker, their daughter, Mirella, their son, Albert, their son (my grandfather), Frederick. In this house in October, 1900, my great-grandfather was found (much like his father was found) dead, a bullet hole through his head.
My grandmother, Constance (Flanders) Walker, grew up in this home at 39 Auburn Street, Brookline, with her parents, sisters, aunt and uncle, grandmother, and several servants. Her grandparents, James M. Burgess and Jerusha Arey Dyer Burgess, purchased the property in 1887, soon after Jerusha came into her inheritance from her father, Micah Dyer, a successful Boston merchant. [I'm guessing the house was built around 1850 or 1860 by a man named Nathaniel Harris.] Tragically, James died only a couple of weeks after the Burgesses moved into the house at the age of 64. The family sold the house in the 1920s and it was replaced with a sprawling brick apartment complex sometime thereafter. I have a box of silvered doorknobs from this house given to me by my grandmother. The contrast between my grandmother's childhood and my grandfather's childhood is striking.
The Burgesses of Boston and Brookline were not related to the Burgesses of Cape Cod. In fact, the history of the Burgess family beyond James's father, William George Burgess, who immigrated from England, is a total mystery to me.
The house in the center of this image is where Hetty Howes, owner and publisher of The St. Petersburg Post, lives in 1900 in Walker's Key. (Okay, I don't know who owned and lived in this house in the real world.)
The house at 141 Second Street North is barely visible at the top of the telephone pole in the center of this image (only one window is visible). This is where Darby Walker lives in Walker's Key. In the real world, the property was purchased by Captain Walker and his wife, Louisa, in the late 1890s, and I believe they built this house, perhaps planning to retire there. After Captain Walker's death in 1900, Louisa Walker lived in this house, returning to Chatham some or all of the summers. She died in 1918 at the Eldridge family home in Chatham, which at that point was owned by her sister, Caroline Ellis. The Morgan Stanley tower now stands where Louisa Walker's (or Darby's) house once stood.