The Secret Beach Town of the Elite: Nonquitt, Massachusetts

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Nonquitt isn’t a name you’re likely to hear very often, and its elite inhabitants would prefer to keep it that way. Although this quiet beach town was settled in the 1650s and has served as a summer vacation home for the ultra-wealthy since the 1870s, it has managed to remain a well-kept secret amongst the socialites who occupy it.

Nonquitt is technically a waterfront neighbourhood of affluent South Dartmouth, Massachusetts. That much is publicly known. Beyond that, very little can be found on the Internet or even in historical publications regarding Nonquitt, though photographs suggest a peaceful, preppy community where yachting and sailing are the activities of choice, and everyone takes life pretty slowly.

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Nonquitt Beach provides a stunning view of the Atlantic, while slightly further down the coast, several tiny, rocky islands can be accessed. Each hour, the Buzzards Bay swing bridge opens to allow for safe passage of sailboats in and out of the harbour.

Wildflowers dot the waterfront landscape, and bike paths are well worn from decades of leisurely exploration. In years past, many artists have summered here, clearly inspired by the peace, quiet, and simple elegance of the natural landscape.

Similar luxury East Coast vacation spots like Martha’s Vineyard and the Hamptons have failed to maintain the level of mystery that Nonquitt has. It’s almost unbelievable that, in the social media era, a simple beachfront town could remain so enigmatic. Nevertheless, Nonquitt remains closed off to the general public, and so deeply private that residents are reluctant to share details of life behind the gate.

Some basic facts can be acquired from the singular book that dares to reveal photographic evidence that Nonquitt continues to exist when no one is looking: Nonquitt: A Summer Album, 1872-1985 was published by Anne Morse Lydell some thirty years ago, though you’ll have to search on Instagram to find any more recent snapshots of life in this exclusive enclave.

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Interestingly, Nonquitt was not always the territory of the immensely privileged. It was, in fact, settled by modest, middle-class merchants in the late 1800s, who set up tents along the beach and attempted to keep information about their oasis from leaking to other families. Over time, word spread.

At the time, the mayor of Roxbury, Massachusetts was James Ritchie. As the Eastern seaboard became increasingly industrialized, many city dwellers experienced concerns about the fast pace of their lifestyles. When Ritchie learned about Nonquitt, he was immediately captivated by the secrecy and intrigued by what could be gained by offering city folks a chance to escape to the country. As a result, South Dartmouth became less of an agricultural community and more of a resort town.

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Residents of New York, Boston, Providence, and other metropolitan hubs along the coast quickly bought up properties in Nonquitt. Many of these original homes have been passed along from one generation to the next, and New England society families are not keen to give up a significant part of their heritage.

Current real estate prices average around $5 million. Just south of Nonquitt, in a newer community known as Round Hill, prices are curiously much lower, indicating that it is the village of Nonquitt itself, and not the proximity to the waterfront, that has particular prestige.

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Though a variety of modern mansions can be found in Nonquitt, the local architecture is largely colonial, with clapboard and saltbox-style homes common to the area. The original homes were not winterized, as residents typically left before Labour Day, but modern Nonquitt properties are suitable for year-round living. One striking visual representation of Nonquitt’s Puritan past is its numerous Quaker meeting houses, including the Smith Neck Friends Meeting House.

Besides sandy beaches, grassy knolls, and clear ocean views, Nonquitt is also known for something else: ice cream. Salvador’s Ice Cream is a round silo-shaped shop offering quick bites and a flurry of ice cream flavours, including Cake Batter and Wild Blueberry, that have gained notoriety among the locals.

Right up the road from Salvador’s is Olde Dartmouth Farm, where prize-winning thoroughbreds are boarded and many of the area’s youngest residents learn how to ride. It’s certainly a picturesque place to learn the most East Coast of all sports; the facility is spacious, lush, and inviting, with an outdoor sand arena, trail, and beach access exclusively for boarding clientele.

Notable former residents include a Civil War hero named General Philip Henry Sheridan, the author Louisa May Alcott, and the artist Robert Swain Gifford. Today, the community is largely inhabited by families with Ivy League degrees and considerable status.

They are unlikely to discuss New England’s best-kept secret, but if you’re curious, and just have to see this place for yourself, you’ll have to obtain a personal invitation from a resident—and agree that what happens in Nonquitt stays in Nonquitt.

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Carly Bush is a nomadic writer and editor whose adventurous mentality and passion for travel began at an early age. Her explorations of North America over the past several years contributed to her desire to write about travel in a new and accessible way. She strives to write engaging, uplifting, and challenging content.