Marise Fawsett & The Christmas Shop

The following two articles in order of appearance were written by Bill Daley and Pamela Reynolds Jenkins.

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Early photo of Marise Fawsett’s Christmas Shop, Route 6A E. Sandwich 

A brief history of the buildings at 594 Route 6A

By Bill Daley

There is a collection of small utility buildings that were cobbled together to create what was once the "Christmas Shop". It operated from 1946 to 2013. The current owner, Carol Haley, plans to reopen the shop in the spring of 2019 and wants a historic marker to pay tribute to the enterprise and its original owner, Marise Fawsett. Here is the history of the building.

Marise Fawsett was born in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin in 1911 at her parents' summer home. She described herself as a debutante and a “spoiled kid". She was raised in Milwaukee but, educated in boarding schools in New England.  Marise attended a two-year college and was so taken with one member of faculty that upon graduation in the early 1930s she moved to Sandwich with a classmate to join the teacher, Mrs. Helen Marot Taylor and her daughter Harriet Marot Taylor. Mrs. Taylor had recently bought a 30 acre farm on Old County Road. It consisted of a historic 1690 farm house without electricity, a barn and outbuildings; all of it purchased for the depression era price of $3,000.  The four women began a communal experience.

In a 1992 interview Marise described it as a great adventure. None of the women knew anything about bucolic life and Marise said, " We got a cow and we did not know one end from the other.  But the neighbors taught us." The group combined the country life experience with their intellectual interests and "studied all sorts of things - Shakespeare, Plato. They just opened up a new world to me." They also acquired a printing press and did business under "The Old County Road Press". Marise's ability as a printer would serve her well in the future. The 1940 Census shows that Marise's fellow student was no longer living on the farm. However, there were still four women: Mrs. Taylor age 60, her sister Blanche Marot age 71, daughter Harriet Taylor age 33, and Marise age 29. It was a wonderful life until everything changed in the early 1940s. Mrs. Taylor died in 1943; WWII had arrived and the group split up.

Ms. Fawsett worked in war time assembly lines, first in Boston and later in Connecticut. It was there she met her lifetime partner, Yvonne Rousseau. She had good business skills and they complimented the artistic interests of Marise. She loved her time in Sandwich and the two moved there in 1946 and by the fall of that year they had opened a tiny store at 594 Route 6A which specialized in miniature Christmas items and called it the "Christmas Shop" (not to be confused with The Christmas Tree Shops which came along later). One of the store's hallmarks were note cards that were designed and printed by Ms. Fawsett. She had a love for Beatrix Potter and nature, and Marise featured illustrations of small creatures, especially mice. She printed them in six colors, wrote the verse and drew the illustrations.  It was said that the many mice settling into the old building in the fall were her inspiration for the cards. They were a big seller and Yankee Magazine wrote an article about the store and titled it, " The shop that mice built".

The main building is a mere 10 x 13 feet and was originally a work shed.  Retired archivist, Barbara Gill, believes it originally stood on the 30 acre farm of the Taylors on Old County Road and was moved in the 1940s to the new Route 6A location. David Wheelock, restoration carpenter, has examined it and states that it is a mid 19th century utility building. He also said Roseanna Cullity told him the building was moved in the 1940s.  In some newspaper articles it was described as a cranberry building which is very likely because the Taylor farm also had cranberry bogs according to Barbara Gill. All of this makes sense because of the long-time friendship between Harriet Marot Taylor and Ms. Fawsett and Ms. Rousseau - it seems very likely that Ms. Taylor would have given permission to remove an old work shed to the two young women who were struggling to start a new business. (Mrs. Taylor had died in 1943 and her daughter inherited the property).

In 1949 Ms. Taylor sold a piece of land "for less than $100" to the two women that was probably part of the 30 acre farm and it was located on what is now Jones Lane (BRD book 729 p. 308). It was here that Marise and Yvonne would build their home and reside there for many decades. 

In the 1970s, Yvonne Rousseau's health began to fail and Marise could not carry on the business by herself and it was sold to the Dickert family who continued the business until they sold it to the Armstrong family in 1983. Yvette Armstrong continued to operate it as the Christmas Shop until it closed around 2013.  

 

After selling the business, Marise Fawcett went on to manage the gift shop at the Cape Cod Museum for Natural History. She left after six years to work full time on her passion for writing, especially about Cape Cod. She had spent 23 years doing research and had written many stories and was determined to get them published. It wasn't easy. She said,

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        Marise Fawsett’s Christmas Shop, Route 6A E. Sandwich Circa 1950’s

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One of Marise Fawsett’s Hand-Drawn Christmas Cards.

Marise Fawsett Greeting Cards are available for sale here.

A Young Girl’s Memories of Two Dear Women

By Pamela Reynolds Jenkins

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Marise Fawsett. Photo Courtesy of John Nye Cullity

 

Winter of 1965. I don’t remember how I was able to work at the “Christmas Shop” in East Sandwich.  But as I walked into this sweet, storybook, Scandinavian shop for the first time, I felt at home with Miss Rousseau and Miss Fawsett.  I was overwhelmed with all of their Christmas tree decorations from Scandinavian countries.  I never thought to ask if they had traveled there themselves – maybe a reader would know.  I like to imagine them going on buying trips there, and maybe skiing and enjoying a hot mug of Swedish hot chocolate.  I think I will believe that they did.

I was a 13 year old who was drawn to the company of older folks.  I appreciated their honest conversation with each other.  They welcomed me into their shop with warmth and care as I tediously tried to write prices on the tiniest of tags – they were very patient with me.

As Christmas passed, I had the privilege to receive piano lessons from Miss Rousseau in her home.  I’ll always remember her passion and joy in playing.  She was truly a concert pianist who had the patience of Job working with me.  I feel so lucky to have spent time with these two gracious women – I loved them dearly.

Pamela is a guest writer for the Friends of the Sandwich Town Archives

**Of Note:  John Nye Cullity of East Sandwich was a friend of Marise Fawsett and Yvonne Rousseau. He shared with FOSTA that their original Christmas Shop was a former chicken barn that they had moved from Jones Lane to 594 Route 6A. In a 2006 article John wrote upon the death of Marise he recalled, “in this humble building Marise set up [a] press and did small printing jobs but more importantly created a line of cleverly drawn Christmas cards featuring mice and other animals. These became quite popular, along with the many small crafts and gifts that were offered. The building grew slightly, but was notable for its low doors and overall tiny qualities.”

In the 1970s, Yvonne Rousseau's health began to fail and Marise could not carry on the business by herself and it was sold to the Dickert family who continued the business until they sold it to the Armstrong family in 1983. Yvette Armstrong continued to operate it as the Christmas Shop until it closed around 2013.  

 

After selling the business, Marise Fawcett went on to manage the gift shop at the Cape Cod Museum for Natural History. She left after six years to work full time on her passion for writing, especially about Cape Cod. She had spent 23 years doing research and had written many stories and was determined to get them published. It wasn't easy. She said, "I’ve had rejection slips that stretch from here to California". But, after 10 years of submissions, and three revisions she got her book published in 1990 by Heritage Books. It is called Cape Cod Annals and has been described as a "Cape Cod back road - meandering and unpredictable, a delightful surprise awaiting around every corner." A copy of it is in the archives in Sandwich.

 

Marise Fawsett said that she was raised in a staunch Republican household. She also said that, "I've totally changed". She became a political, environmental and humanitarian activist and was a member/contributor to more than 50 liberal causes. Not one to keep her feelings to herself, she plastered her 1989 Toyota with bumper stickers - calling it "the flying billboard". She attended civil rights rallies in Boston in the 1960s, volunteered at the Resource Center for Peace and Justice, protested at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant and was a highly visible and vocal community activist. The conservative mid -westerner made an easy and quick transition to an east coast liberal.

 

By 1995, Marise and Yvonne were in their mid eighties and were residing together at the Cape Heritage Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Sandwich. Mrs. Armstrong, the last owner of the Christmas Shop, recalled a conversation with Marise, "She held my hand and said to me, "I'm so happy that my little Christmas Shop is in such good hands". Mrs. Armstrong said of one visit from Ms. Fawsett, "this was their whole life. She walks through that door and she comes alive. She really, really does."

 

Marise Fawsett died in 2006 and in her will she left the rights to her greeting cards to the Sandwich Archives. 

 

Bill Daley

Sandwich Historical Commission

December 2018

 

 

Sources:

Sunday Standard Times, New Bedford MA, November 17,1957

Sandwich Happenings, August 10, 1990

Holiday Traditions of Cape Cod, December 1995

Cape Cod Times, December 24, 2013

Annals of a Life, January 10, 1992

1940 Sandwich Census

Conversation with David Wheelock

Conversation with Barbara Gill

Sandwich Archives