In 1926 Joseph P. Kennedy, at age 38 already a millionaire, although not as wealthy as he would become, was living in Brookline and renting a summer home on the south shore in Cohasset. He and his wife Rose both loved to play golf and he was put up for membership in the exclusive Cohasset Country Club. He was blackballed, apparently for being an Irish Catholic. A lot of history was changed by that decision. Instead of settling into the wealthy seaside community much closer to Boston than Cape Cod, Kennedy began looking around.

He found the Hyannisport Club, a golf club managed by an Irish Catholic where he was welcomed as a member. In 1926 he rented the Malcolm Cottage, a large home at the end of Marchant Avenue in Hyannis Port. Two years later in 1928 he bought the house for $25,000.00 and had extensive additions and renovation work performed. Kennedy moved from Brookline to a home in Bronxville, near New York City. He also owned a home near Washington D.C. in Maryland and a winter home in Palm Beach, but Hyannis Port would be his home until his death in 1969. Rose Kennedy lived there until her own death in 1995 at age 104.

His son John F. Kennedy was 9 years old when he came to Hyannis Port with his family in 1926. The family would move to winter homes in New York, Maryland and Palm Beach. Jack would board at Choate and Harvard, stay with his father at the London embassy and spend years in the Navy. JFK would have his own homes in Virginia and Washington DC. But from age 9 until his death in 1963 Hyannis Port would be his home, the center of his world.

Jack bought his own home in Hyannis Port in 1956 at 111 Irving Avenue, behind his father’s home, looking toward Nantucket Sound across a broad lawn next to Joe’s property, part of 28 Marchant Avenue, owned by Joe’s son Robert F. Kennedy and his wife Ethel. The three properties comprised the famous Kennedy Compound.

During the Kennedy campaign in 1960 and his Presidency, Hyannis Port became, during the summers, a major national and international dateline. The massive and intensive press coverage – newspapers, TV and glossy magazine color photos – of the wealthy, powerful and glamorous family at work and play in seaside settings focused national attention on Cape Cod. This attention combined with construction of highways to the Cape’s bridges and the mid-Cape highway exploded winter and summer populations and tourism.

To their neighbors this was not an unmixed blessing. The Kennedys always had friends and admirers on the Cape but attitudes towards them depended upon whether one was interested in growth and development or wanted things to remain as they were.

Admission to the Hyannisport Club did not assure acceptance among their summer neighbors – largely WASPs from Pennsylvania and the Midwest. The Malcolm Cottage before it became famous as part of the Kennedy Compound was known among some summer residents as “the Irish House.” Kennedy’s political success was a source of pride and prosperity for many locals but others complained of the traffic and costs of handling hordes of Kennedy-seeking tourists.

Ironically, in 1960 in his Presidential election against Vice-President Richard Nixon, JFK lost Barnstable County, the Town of Barnstable and the voting precinct including Hyannis Port.

From 1982 until his death in 2009, the Main House, Ambassador Joe Kennedy’s home, was the principal residence of his son, Senator Edward M. Kennedy. A few years after Senator Kennedy’s death, his widow Viki Kennedy donated it to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. The home is not open to the public, except for occasional functions.

Robert F. Kennedy’s home is still occupied by his widow, Ethel Kennedy. President Kennedy’s adjoining home on Irving Street is owned by Senator Kennedy’s son, Edward M. Kennedy Jr.

The absence of public access to the Kennedy Compound inspired the foundation by the Hyannis Chamber of Commerce in 1992 of the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum on Main St. in Hyannis. 60-70,000 people a year still visit the JFK Hyannis Museum, focused on the President’s time in Hyannis Port.

Written by Brian R. Merrick