Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In My Footsteps: Trip 11 - Eastham, Mass.

In My Footsteps

Christopher Setterlund

Trip 11: Eastham, Mass.

January 26, 2010

It is the gateway to the Outer Cape. Once you pass through the Orleans Rotary into Eastham it is as if you have traveled to a different place and time. Except for very sparse clusters of shops and restaurants along Route 6 the remainder of Cape Cod up to Race Point in Provincetown is nearly unchanged from the 19th Century. It is out here that the true soul of Cape Cod can still be felt. Eastham is only the first stop through the Outer Cape, but like the other towns it has many amazing sights that need to be discovered.

The first place comes up on you fast along Route 6. A sign on the right points you toward Fort Hill. Before reaching the scenic overlook there is a parking lot on the left directly across from a piece of Cape history. The Penniman House(left), built in 1867 by rich whaler Captain Edward Penniman, was the most expensive house in town when it was built. It was a testament to his fortune he had gained through seven successful whaling voyages; his love for whaling is also depicted by the pair of whale ribs acting as a trellis to enter the front yard. After taking a stroll around the grounds of this marvelous olde mansion it is a short drive up to the lookout area of Fort Hill. There is a panoramic view of Salt Pond Bay and the Atlantic Ocean with a trail to lead you down to the water, or back toward the Red Maple Swamp.

The next stop up along Rt. 6 is First Encounter Beach(right). A left turn at the set of lights at Samoset Road leads you past Windmill Green. This winding road will take you to the beach area. This beach is historic as it is the place where the initial, peaceful meeting between Myles Standish and the crew of the Mayflower met up with the local Nauset Indians in 1620. The Mayflower crew kept on to Plymouth and the village of Eastham was not settled by the Pilgrims for another twenty-four years in 1644. At low tide there is a mass of open wet sand and mudflats for shell fishing. There are frequent seal and sea turtle sightings along the eastern most Cape beaches and signs posted around them alert you to this fact and ask you to leave them alone.

Nauset Road, a right turn less than a mile from Samoset Road takes you to my favorite spot in the town of Eastham: Nauset Light(right). Nauset Light, located on a hill overlooking the similarly named Nauset Light Beach, was originally built in Chatham in 1877. The cast iron giant was to be dismantled in 1993 but was saved through a tremendous effort by the Nauset Light Preservation Society. It is open Sunday’s during the spring, summer, and fall.

There are actually three more lighthouses located only a third of a mile away on Cable Road. The ‘Three Sisters’ lighthouses can easily be missed by travelers as they are not located on the shores of Cape Cod, but instead they sit spaced out across an open field. Their story is possibly the most amazing of all of the Cape lighthouses but it also the least known.

The diminutive Three Sisters, only fifteen feet tall as opposed to the forty-eight foot tall Nauset Light, originally sat overlooking Nauset Light Beach from as far back as 1838. The original brick houses were replaced in 1892 with the wooden structures that are still standing. After being systematically separated during the 1920’s to make way for the recently moved Nauset Light, the Three Sisters were one by one purchased by the National Park Service. In 1983, after 73 years apart the Sisters were reunited in the field where they currently sit. They were restored and placed in the field at the same distance apart as they had been when they watched over the Atlantic. Only the middle Sister(left), the last one that stood over Nauset Light Beach, still has its lantern adorning its top; there was not enough funding to repair the lantern rooms on the other two.

Nauset Light Beach, as well as most beaches up and down the National Seashore area of Cape Cod, showcase the biggest waves and are hot spots for surfers at all time of year. During this trip there were several surfers out on the waters near Coast Guard Beach located at the other end of Ocean View Drive from Nauset Light. The Outer Cape in general due to the rough seas has claimed more than 3,000 vessels in 400 years. It was this fact that led to the founding of the Massachusetts Humane Society which set up nine stations along the eastern coast of Cape Cod. They would be there to rescue and assist any ships in need. There is a set of trails that lead from Coast Guard Beach to Nauset Marsh. The boardwalk area is great for bird watching and photography.

Though it is considered the gateway to the National Seashore by many, Eastham is a prime spot for nature and history. Rather than just passing through on your way to the Seashore or to Provincetown make it a point to check out the places mentioned here as well as many of the other gems hidden around this 350-year old village. Have fun and happy traveling!

Directions: Fort Hill & Penniman House: Follow Rt. 6 north, there is a sign for Fort Hill. Bear right, the Penniman House is on the right, the Fort Hill overlook is straight ahead.

First Encounter Beach: Follow Rt. 6 north for just over 2 miles after Orleans Rotary. Turn right at sign for First Encounter Beach at Samoset Rd. Follow the road to the beach.

Nauset Light: Follow Rt. 6 north 2.75 miles, bear right onto Nauset Rd. Keep straight, road turns into Doane Rd., turn left onto Ocean View Rd. Follow it to the end. Nauset Light should be visible, Nauset Light Beach parking lot is on the right. The Three Sisters Lighthouses are a 1/3mi. walk down Cable Rd.

Coast Guard Beach: From Nauset Light Beach follow Ocean View Dr. back south.

References: Cape Cod Travel - Eastham

The Three Sisters Lighthouses

Nauset Light Preservation Society

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