Traces of Ball’s Town

The gravesite of Sheldon and Lucy Ball.

Sheldon William Ball of New York City bought 1,000 acres on the Atlantic Ocean in Truro MA in 1889. On the land, he built the Ballston Beach Bungalows and a mansion. The bungalows were exclusively marketed to New Yorkers, and rented seasonally. They boasted a bowling alley and a club house, and were very close to the long-gone Pamet River Golf Course, which ran on either side of the river, but the bungalows themselves were reportedly lacking in comfort. Ball purportedly told complainers that they’d paid for the ocean views and the the living quarters were thrown in for free. His son Ossie (Sheldon Osborn Ball), who assumed management of the site after his father’s death, went further and referred to them as ‘shacks’ in order to ‘raise no expectations of luxury.’

The terminus of the driveway to the Ball Mansion.

Sheldon Ball died in 1923 walking on the beach from his house, a mile north of his cottages off Higgins Hollow Road. He was 67 years old. Legend has it that he built his house at a distance because he wasn’t keen on living near his clientele. He’s buried in the woods several hundred yards west of where his house once stood. Nearly twenty years after his death I’ve read that his wife Lucy’s ashes were interred near his grave. No proper marker for Lucy has been installed, and the makeshift marker is rusting and, frankly, odd.

When the Park Service acquired the property — at 1,000 acres one of the largest single tracks of the National Seashore — the house, apparently never finished, had already been long abandoned. I’ve never been able to find pictures of the house, although in all honesty I haven’t tried that hard. Maybe this spring I’ll take a trip to the Cobb Archive and see if I can find one. Apparently an irresistible site for partying, the Ball Mansion was a risk for the Seashore and razed in 1986. This is somewhat unusual for the Park Service, which generally lets buildings such as that fall into the earth. What’s left today is the driveway, an asphalt approach terminating in a circle. Although the site is now a briar patch of scrub, it’s easy to imagine the magnificent view the house must once have commanded. 

Cole of the Trees.

On and off for the past several years I’ve looked for Sheldon and Lucy Ball’s final resting place. The Truro Cemetery Commission has an entry for it on their link to isolated burial sites, but the directions are vague. I’d shared my interest in the Ball family history with my friend Cole, and he thought he’d perhaps found a clue to the gravesite. Yesterday, when we walked out to investigate, Cole’s hunch turned out to be a dead end but we took a path I thought I’d fully investigated and stumbled on the site. 

The gate to the Ball Estate on Higgins Hollow Road.

I’m not certain why I take comfort in having found Sheldon and Lucy Ball’s grave site. As a real estate developer who didn’t much care about the comfort of his clients, I’m not sure I would have much liked Sheldon Ball. But I am oddly grateful that his purchase of 1,000 acres of land indirectly preserved a magnificent area that’s become sacred to me. And I’m fascinated by the fact that he’s buried on the land, and not in a local cemetery. That must say something about his sense of connection to the place. That his and Lucy’s remains now hold a lonely vigil in woods that are well off the beaten track, also appeals to my aesthetic sensibility. 

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