The historic East Orleans inn was purchased as an investment by William Butcher in 1971. 

Since 2004, Pete and Denise Butcher have made it their home and life’s work. 

The 2021 season marks the Butcher family’s 50th year at Ship’s Knees Inn. Located on Beach Road a quarter of a mile from Nauset Beach in East Orleans, the historic home at the center of the inn was one of the first in what is now a thriving seaside community.

In 1971, William Butcher, a Connecticut entrepreneur, purchased the property for investment purposes. He quickly set about renovating what had been a rustic boardinghouse into a proper inn with 20 private rooms, most with shared baths. Upon William’s passing in 1984, his children, Pete and Donna, inherited the inn, and continued to operate it with the help of onsite innkeepers until 2003, when the siblings decided to sell the property. A buyer was quickly found, but a contractual issue voided the agreement.

It was then that Pete and his wife Denise made the life-changing decision to buy out Pete’s sister and move from Connecticut to East Orleans, where they took up residence at the inn and assumed the day-to-day responsibilities of operating it. 

“Our children were still in school – two already in college and two in high school – but they supported the move completely,” says Pete of the family’s decision. 

Although they lived in Connecticut, Pete and Denise had owned a second home in East Orleans in the late 1980s and mid-90s, so their children already had a connection to the area. Pete and Denise’s connection ran even deeper; Pete would often come down in the summer with friends while he was in college to do odd jobs at Ship’s Knees, and Pete and Denise met at the inn.

With their two younger children enrolled at Nauset Regional High School, Pete and Denise undertook a large-scale renovation prior to the 2004 season. Several guestrooms were reconfigured and remodeled into bathrooms, which provided all but two of the rooms with private baths.

“The challenge of owning a historic inn is to provide guests with the modern amenities they need, while never overshadowing the history of the property,” says Pete of the 2004 remodel, as well as ongoing renovations that are done each winter. 

Since moving to Ship’s Knees Inn, Pete and Denise have welcomed so many repeat guests that many have come to feel like friends.

“We had no idea what to expect last year when we were able to open in June,” says Pete. “We were honored to see so many familiar faces, although they were hidden by masks! Even with everything that was going on, we had a great season in 2020 and are looking forward to the upcoming summer.” 

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