Have you ever wondered about the diversity of industries in Woods Hole? Whaling ships were built at the present WHOI dock, a guano (fertilizer) factory was on Long Neck (Penzance Point), and later, the village became an international center for science. 

The answer is its deep water port, Great Harbor, with depths to 70 feet, that has provided easy access to whaling and cargo ships and research vessels. According to Rocky Geyer, senior scientist at WHOI, the “harbor is mainly deep because of the complex glacial history of the moraine flanking Buzzards Bay, and the strong tidal currents keep it deep.”
The Commodore Morris under construction at Bar Neck Wharf (painting by F.L. Gifford)
In about 1820, whale ship owners and investors from Woods Hole and Falmouth (Ward Parker, Elijah Swift and others) developed the Bar Neck Wharf . At that time, Falmouth’s inner harbor had not been built, and the harbors in West Falmouth, Quissett and Waquoit were too shallow. Four ships were built in Woods Hole and eight others used it as their port.
Support industries for whaling lined the main street of Woods Hole. Candle House was built in the 1830s to manufacture spermaceti candles made from whale oil. Coopers made barrels, bakers supplied hardtack for the long sea voyages, Marshall Grew’s boat shop built the accessory whaleboats, and Braddock Gifford in his blacksmith shop created hardware and tools for the ships.

Because of the whaling industry, the main road in the village was extended and a wooden bridge was built over the Eel Pond channel, which had been crossed by fording shallow waters at low tide or by rowing across.
Waterfront in Woods Hole, 1870,showing whaling ships  (painting by F.L. Gifford)
By the early 1860s, whaling was ending in Woods Hole, and the next major industry brought cargo ships to Great Harbor from around the world.
After the great depression of 1857, Dennis ship builders Asa, Paul and David Shiverick (a Falmouth family) who built fast Clipper ships, and were backed by Prince Crowell, saw a new industry for their ships. Using guano (bird poop) from South America, which was high in nitrogen and phosphorus, mixed with menhaden from local waters, the successful industry produced fertilizer for more than 25 years.
Pacific Guano Company on Long Neck (Penzance)
In 1863, the Pacific Guano Company factory was built on Long Neck in Woods Hole. Prince Crowell was originally planning to use Vineyard Haven - then Holmes Hole – for the factory until he was delayed in Woods Hole three days in a storm.
Great Harbor was a busy place. Not only did clipper ships bring in guano, but ships from Sicily brought brimstone to make sulfuric acid, sodium nitrate from Peru, Chile and Bolivia, and potash from Germany to make potassium
The company abruptly went into bankruptcy in 1889, but the Pacific Guano factory made an impact on the village. The population of Woods Hole in 1850 was 200; by 1880 it was 500. The company employed as many as 200 people, including many Irish immigrants who moved to Woods Hole to work at the factory. Apartments and small homes were built to house them, and in 1882 Joseph Story Fay gave land for St. Joseph’s Church on Millfield Street, the 4th Catholic church on Cape Cod.
The steamboat “Monohansett” at Bar Neck Wharf in 1870, bound for Oak Bluffs.
In the background the cargo ships of the Pacific Guano Company are visible. (painting by F.L. Gifford)
Meanwhile, Spencer Baird, a zoologist, first came to the village in 1863 and became aware of the local fishermen’s concern about declining fish stock, and lobbied Congress for funding to address the issue. In June of 1871, Baird, assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and newly appointed US Commissioner of Fisheries, arrived in Woods Hole to set up the nation’s first Fisheries laboratory. Woods Hole had been selected for a number of reasons, one of which was its deep-water port.
The 150th anniversary of the establishment of NOAA Fisheries also celebrates the beginning of the world-renown scientific community that exists in Woods Hole.  
And the old Bar Neck Wharf, now WHOI’s dock, with its depth of 70 feet at high tide, according to WHOI port engineer Dutch Wegman, allows ample depth for the research ships that draw 20 feet.
“The Hole”
From the US Army Corps of Engineers:
"Woods Hole Channel is part of 'The Strait,' the narrow waterway that connects Great Harbor (at the Woods Hole section of Falmouth) with Buzzards Bay. Because Woods Hole is the mainland’s principal port and ferry terminal for traffic to and from Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and the Elizabeth Islands, the channel is heavily traveled.
During the 1870s, the Corps removed dangerous shoals and boulders threatening navigation at the entrance of Great Harbor and through 'The Strait.' By 1889, the Corps had constructed a breakwater in Great Harbor, dredged a channel into Little Harbor, and constructed stone piers and retaining walls at the wharves of the former U.S. Fish Commission in Great Harbor.
The present dimensions of Woods Hole Channel were completed in 1913. It is 2,500 feet long, 13 feet deep, and 300 feet wide. A 1,300-foot-long branch channel that veers southeasterly from Woods Hole Channel towards Vineyard Sound (east of Nonamesset Island) was also constructed. Like the main channel, the branch channel is 13 feet deep and 300 feet wide."
Great Harbor was a Harbor of Refuge, allowing sailing ships to get out of bad weather.

The town pier in Great Harbor was the home port to a fishing fleet of about a dozen large draggers during the 70s and 80s.
Fishing vessels at the Town Pier in Great Harbor
The MBL Club is now where the original Woods Hole Yacht Club was located.
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Woods Hole Historical Museum
579 Woods Hole Road (P.O. Box 185)
Woods Hole, MA 02543
Phone: 508-548-7270