“Salty” the Seahorse, standing 38-feet tall at the intersection of Route 6 and North St., is more than just a spectacle for out-of-towners. For many townies, the Seahorse with bright blue scintillating eyes (that are solar powered) is considered the symbol of Mattapoisett.
The Seahorse stands at the edge of the main Mattapoisett intersection, and behind it is a children’s playground, a gazebo, flower gardens and small networks and trails (built by local Boy Scouts) and streams that are owned and maintained by the Mattapoisett Land Trust.
However, before the Mattapoisett Land Trust was bequeathed the three-and-a-half acre property in 1988, it belonged to the Dunseith family.
During the mid-century, Henry Dunseith and his family lived in a house on the property, along with his gift shop. The house had been moved to accommodate the construction of the U.S. government installed road from Main Street to North Street in the 1930s.
To attract tourists traveling through the area (before Interstate 195 existed), Dunseith constructed the Seahorse.
“It was built in the mid-1950s to attract people, and it became a landmark for people coming to the Cape. People tell me, as little children, while they were sleeping in back of the car, when they’d wake up and see the Seahorse, they knew they were almost [in Cape Cod],” said Seth Mendell of the Mattapoisett Historical Society.
“There were lines of traffic all summer long,” he recalled, and the Dunseith Sea Horse Gift Shop was just one among many shops seeking business from the traveling pack of tourists.
The construction of I-195 spelled the end for many gift shops along Route 6 – including the Dunseith shop.
Mendell said in 1988 when the Mattapoisett Land Trust received the property from the Dunseith family after the death of Henry – who did not want a large commercial enterprise to take up that space – the fate of the Seahorse and existing structures was in the air.
At first, the Land Trust wanted to find someone to use the house. “They wanted to see if we [the Mattapoisett Historical Society] wanted to use the house, but we were so well established on Church Street,” Mendell said.
“The Land Trust, they tried to find someone who would be interested in moving into the building, but it really wasn’t in good enough shape,” explained Mattapoisett Land Trust President Gary Johnson. “We didn’t have the resources [to restore it], so we ended up tearing it down.”
While the house and old gift shop were razed down, a debate ensued in the late 1990s about the Seahorse, which required significant restoration.
“One thing of controversy was when we decided what we’d do with the Seahorse,” said Johnson. “When there was discussion taking it down, a lot of folks said we have to keep it.”
Johnson said eventually the funds were put together to restore the horse; it was taken down and then restored and dedicated in the year 2000. Johnson said 12 years later, there is a need to repair the solar eye – but funds are in place to make that happen although such work is “a little complicated.”
In addition to a park, in August 2009 the trust unveiled a small playground for 2 to 5 year olds.
“We get a lot of people going in there, there is a path that goes back. Little kids like to climb in the playground,” said Johnson. He said the playground was installed at the request of parents looking for places to take their children when the school playgrounds are closed. “It seems pretty successful. A lot of kids love to ring the bell.”
All in all, Johnson thinks saving the Seahorse was the right thing to do as it holds so much meaning for Mattapoisett residents.
“Even today when you walk around town, stores have postcards of the Seahorse. It is still a pretty important symbol of the town. We’re glad to keep it,” he said.
By Laura Fedak Pedulli