Woods Hole Harbor is a village located in Falmouth township in Massachusetts' Barnstable County. Lying on the shores of southwestern Cape Cod, Woods Hole Harbor is just 6.5 nautical miles (9.7 kilometers or six miles by air) from Vineyard Haven Harbor on Martha's Vineyard Island. Woods Hole Harbor is also almost 14 nautical miles (24 kilometers or 15 miles) southeast of the Port of New Bedford. The 2010 US Census reported that 781 people call Woods Hole Harbor home.
Woods Hole Harbor is the main point of departure for people traveling to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. It is also home to important scientific organizations: the Marine Biological Laboratory and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. The National Marine Fisheries Service, the United States Geological Survey, and the US Coast Guard also have branches in Woods Hole Harbor.
Local legend tells that five years before Jamestown was settled and 18 years before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth, Bartholomew Gosnold landed at the future Woods Hole Harbor in 1602. However, the town of Falmouth, of which Woods Hole Harbor is a part, was officially incorporated in 1686 under the name Succonesset. In 1677, the land around Woods Hole Harbor was divided among 13 settlers who earned their livings fishing, hunting, and breeding sheep.
Woods Hole Harbor remained much the same until the early 19th Century when it became an important whaling station. Prospering from the whaling industry, nine whaling ships were built at Woods Hole Harbor's Bar Neck Wharf, and the area was busy outfitting ships and processing whale oil and bone.
The whaling industry began to decline around 1860, and the local economy at Woods Hole Harbor gravitated to the new commercial Pacific Guano Works where sulfur, nitrate, potash, phosphorus, and guano imports arrived. The company store sold leather, pipe, lead, tin, wood, coal, and many other items.
Created by Boston businessmen, the Guano Company convinced the railroad to come to town, creating reliable transportation to Boston and guiding the future of Woods Hole Harbor. The company also produced fertilizers made from the guano that were exported around the world.
The factory was of great benefit to the people of Woods Hole Harbor, but it also produced very unpleasant odors. Fortunately for the residents, rather than being the base for industrial growth in the Woods Hole Harbor, the company went bankrupt in 1889 and closed.
While some residents suffered financially with the closing, Woods Hole Harbor began to develop as a center for scientific research and for tourism. From 1871 until 1887, Woods Hole Harbor's scientific community matured.
Fueled by a decrease in scup, sea bass, and tautog, the US Commissioner of Fisheries selected Woods Hole Harbor as the location for research activities that would address the political and economic issues in New England arising from the decreases in fishing stock. Even so, Woods Hole Harbor was not an important center for fishing. For many years, American biologists stopped at Woods Hole Harbor to conduct their own research.
While the research center was growing, Woods Hole Harbor was also becoming a popular location for summer homes built by bankers and lawyers from Boston and New York.