In My Footsteps
Trip 20: Yarmouth, Mass.
February 8, 2010
Originally known as Mattacheese by the Native Americans, the town of Yarmouth is rich in history and heritage. When incorporated by the settlers in 1639 the inhabitants of the town’s borders included the Wampanoag, Cummaquid, Hokanum, and Pawkunnawkut Indian tribes. One of the first Indian burial grounds sits along Indian Memorial Drive in South Yarmouth and is designated by a collection of large rocks.
Heading east from Hyannis the first place to take in on a tour of historic Yarmouth is the Baxter Grist Mill(left) which is located right on Route 28. Built in 1710 and named for Thomas Baxter this corn mill is one of several located on Cape Cod. It was run until around 1900 when electricity and commercial flour became more readily available. This site at one time had a large outside wooden wheel and was the first site in Yarmouth named to the National Register of Historic Places. Even though there is a constant rush of traffic going by on Rt. 28 it is still quite easy to imagine the Baxter family grinding their corn for generations before technology made this spot obsolete. There is a chain link fence surrounding the wooden mill but it is open seasonally for visitors. The parking area is the next left after passing the mill and one of the original turbines used in the mill sits nearby among the pine trees.
Continuing along Rt. 28 I passed many motels that have been summer destinations for visitors since the 1950’s; at some points Yarmouth appears as though it has been unchanged for that long as well. Eventually I came to South Sea Avenue which if taken will lead you to Seagull Beach Road and the similarly named Seagull Beach. One of the two main beaches on the south side of Yarmouth, Seagull beach is bordered on the east by Parkers River and on the west by the private land of Great Island. It holds a great view of the boats entering and exiting Barnstable Harbor, the aircraft coming in and leaving the Barnstable Municipal Airport, as well as Lewis Pond which lies on the north side of the parking lot.
The previously mentioned Parkers River flows in from Nantucket Sound, crosses Rt. 28 and ends up in Seine Pond. The river runs in between two great family attractions, ZooQuarium, formerly known as the Aqua Circus, and the Pirate’s Cove miniature golf course which actually has two eighteen hole courses. The best views of the river come on the south side of Rt. 28 on a small parcel of town owned land called Crowes Purchase. It was once home to a drive-in theater but now affords visitors an easy walk and unobstructed view of the waterfront homes. The Riverview Resort provides a beautiful view of the river and pier as well as a highly regarded place to stay. Close by on Rt. 28 is another Cape Cod staple, the Hearth n’ Kettle Restaurant, always a great place to eat.
Further down Rt. 28 is Seaview Avenue which leads visitors to South Shore Drive and a spectacular row of beaches. There are Cape Cod staples such as the Red Jacket Resort, Skipper Restaurant, and Ocean Club on Smuggler’s Beach, but this road is most known for the beaches. The most well known of the beaches has to be Bass River Beach, which is more widely known as Smuggler’s Beach. The nickname comes from the illegal rum running operations that went on during the Prohibition era. This was where the alcohol would be smuggled onshore from larger boats via smaller boats and taken to speakeasies.
The beach itself has a public boat ramp facing Bass River and a delightful fishing pier(above) stretching over the jetty. It has a huge parking area and is always filled during the summer months. Even in the winter months people still flock to this beach to walk or simply enjoy the scenery. Bass River runs along the beach and is the unofficial border between Dennis and Yarmouth, there is also Crowell Pond located across South Shore Drive. There is a parking area and a path that will lead you to the water’s edge which is populated by ducks and other water fowl.
South Shore Drive becomes South Street and leads to another piece of history. Located on River Street is the Judah Baker windmill(right). Baker had the mill constructed in 1791 and it was moved several times before finally finding a permanent home on the shores of Bass River. It was painstakingly renovated by the town in 1999 and now appears as close to its original state as a 200-plus year old windmill can. The Windmill Park includes a small swimming beach with a rear view of West Dennis Beach. Much like the Baxter Grist Mill the windmill is open seasonally.
The last stop I made on this trip was at my old school, the recently closed John Simpkins Elementary(left). John Simpkins was a Massachusetts Representative who spoke for the people of Cape Cod when he served in the late 1890’s. The school originally opened in 1930 for all grades but became an elementary school in 1958. Passing by it on Old Main Street, the building has the look of an old library rather than a school. There is a large field for recreation as well as a playground for children. It is the sad process of time that this building that has housed so many growing young minds is no longer needed, but perhaps it will keep on teaching as a possible town library in the future.
Yarmouth holds both historic sites and recreation areas that rival any others on the Cape. The beaches are normally the first spot for visitors but the rivers are great for boating and kayaking. There are many longtime favorite restaurants and motels along Routes 28 and 6A, and other great places waiting to be discovered. I highly recommend taking your time and seeing all that you can of this, my home town. Have fun and happy traveling!
Directions: Baxter Grist Mill: Take Rt. 28 east and turn left onto Mill Pond Rd. The mill’s parking lot is on the left side.
Seagull Beach: Take Rt. 28 east, turn right onto South Sea Avenue at a set of lights. Drive ½ mi., turn left onto Seagull Beach Rd.
Smuggler’s Beach: Take Rt. 28 east, bear right onto Old Main Street. Turn right onto South Street. Follow it ¾ mi., the beach lot is on the curve on the left side.
Judah Baker Windmill: Take Rt. 28 east, bear right onto Old Main Street. Turn right onto South Street. Turn left onto Willow Street. Windmill is straight ahead at the intersection with River St.
References: Yarmouth Historical Society