Ship’s Knees Inn Marks 50 Years As A Family Business

Filed Under: Hospitality, More News

Fifty years ago, William Butcher purchased the  Ship’s Knees Inn in East Orleans. His son, Peter, and Peter’s wife, Denise, continue the family business and open their doors to guests from all over the globe with each new summer season. 

The oldest portion of the inn, the white clapboard home facing Beach Road, was built in 1820, when East Orleans was nothing but rolling farmland. Yet, the home’s history of welcoming summer visitors dates back to nearly its infancy, when the original owner, Freeman Snow, let rooms to guests. After Snow’s passing, his heirs sold the property and, today, it continues to serve as a summer haven for tourists.

Denise and Pete Butchder 1
Ship’s Knees Inn owners Denise and Peter Butcher.


“Many of our guests are beachgoers or seek an outdoor active experience,” said Peter. “With the world-famous Nauset Beach just steps from our door, about a five-minute walk down the hill; Cape Cod Bay a five-minute drive; and local biking, hiking, kayaking and other activities nearby, we are uniquely situated to accommodate all their needs.”

Guests are primarily vacationers from both the U.S. and Canada, but also from Europe, South America and Asia. More than 50 percent are repeat guests who return nearly every year. The appeal of the inn lies in the uniqueness of its three contiguous buildings and rooms and the fact that it is a historic property (known as the Freeman Snow House), according to Peter. 

“As with any small Inn or bed and breakfast, the ‘special touches’ provided begin with the talents and personalities of us as innkeepers and are further complimented by our terrific staff,” he said. “We and our staff place an emphasis on being hospitable, and that each guest feels welcomed and comfortable during their stay. Denise’s breakfasts, many with handed-down family Swedish recipes, are our guests’ favorite. When previously served as a buffet style, they were so artfully presented that guests actually took pictures of the buffet before serving themselves.” 

IMG 0705 2Each of the inn’s 17 individually appointed accommodations are all uniquely decorated by Denise from paint colors and wall décor to furnishings, fabrics, linens, pillows and comforters. They personify coastal charm, are simply appointed, and offer guests warmth and comfort while providing a contemporary Cape Cod feel.  

Each also includes amenities guests would expect in a large modern hotel, including WiFi, a flat-screen TV, refrigerator, air conditioning, ample electrical outlets and USB ports for devices, and all have recently updated modern bathrooms. The well-manicured grounds include an in-ground pool, lush green lawns and gardens, hammocks, patios and distant views of the Atlantic. A 1,500-square-foot courtyard garden patio with a gas fire pit was constructed in May 2008 and provides guests with a relaxing area for morning breakfast, reading, sunning, or enjoying an evening beverage. 

ShipsKneesInn Sign 1The recent pandemic hit the hospitality industries particularly hard, but the Inn has taken action to provide its guests with clean, safe rooms and community areas in which to enjoy their stay. 

“We implemented many changes to keep both our guests and staff safe, and those COVID protocols from 2020 will remain in place throughout our 2021 season,” said Denise. “Among others, they include contactless check-in, check-out and payment; ​eliminating housekeeping from entering their room during the stay; wearing of face coverings by both guests and staff; and physical distancing precautions in common areas, both interior and exterior. In addition to the above, we have added additional cleaning protocols to our guest rooms and common areas.”

While the Inn had been open year-round in the past, it has become seasonal in the last few years, open from May through October.  

The Butchers try to give back to their community whenever possible. 

“Prior to COVID-19, we provided donations to local Cape-based charities of bedding (linens, blankets, comforters), towels, furnishings and food,” said Denise. “We continue to support need- and health-based organizations with charitable donations of gift certificates for free nightly stays at the Inn. During the many years we were open year-round, we provided New England pastors from Baptist General Conference Churches free two-night stays at the Inn during our off-season periods.”

Being in business for 50 years is no small accomplishment in any industry, particularly the business of being innkeepers, but the Butchers love what they do. 

“Enjoying what we do and sharing with our guests the transformational quality of this special seaside town, the Cape Cod National Seashore and Cape peninsula itself,” is what keeps them going, according to Denise. “Many of our guests return year after year and we enjoy ‘catching up’ during their visits. They become our friends and family!”

For more information, call 508-255-1312 or visit