Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Cape Cod's Most Beautiful Routes to Explore

2020 is currently perhaps the craziest time any of us will see in our lifetimes.  Quarantine is the norm and social distancing highly recommended.  However it is also recommended that people get outside somehow and get a daily dose of Vitamin D.  Those of us lucky enough to live on Cape Cod are close to endless possibilities to see beautiful sites in the sun.
This article will help you stay active and see the sites of one of the most unique places on earth while also keeping with the current new normal of the world during the pandemic.  You can choose to run, walk, bicycle, there is no right or wrong as long as you are moving. These are in no particular order but they all give you a glimpse into the heart and soul of Cape Cod.

Cape Cod Canal: This is an easy, paved bike trail which runs along the Canal and underneath two of the three bridges. Parking is free at the Railroad Bridge. The entirety of the bike path is between seven and eight miles. It is roughly five miles to make it from the railroad bridge to the Sagamore Bridge, ten miles round trip.
Looking toward the railroad bridge along the Cape Cod Canal.

Chatham Shore: For the active Cape Codder the shore route is a way to see many highlights of the quaint fishing village of Chatham. Parking is free on Cow Yard Lane which faces the North Beach Island cottages. The route takes you along Shore Rd. and past the legendary Chatham Bars Inn and Hydrangea House. Along the way you pass Chatham Lighthouse and head out to Morris Island. The route is between six and seven miles round trip.
Chatham Lighthouse

Province Lands Bike Trail: Nestled in the dunes of Provincetown this is an authentic look at untouched Cape Cod beauty. The bike trail follows the dunes rather than cutting through them. The loop from Herring Cove Beach, past Race Point Beach and back is filled with an almost infinite number of breathtaking sites. The route is anywhere from 5 ½ to 7 miles depending on how far you want to go.
A view of the ocean from the Province Lands Bike Trail

Osterville: Keeping with coastal scenery this route brings you from one of the most popular Cape beaches, Craigville, into rural Osterville. It begins at Craigville Beach and carries you away from the ocean to South Main Street.  Near Bumps River, you turn onto Starboard Lane with its numerous beautiful homes and secluded feel and follow to where it meets Old Mill Rd. This route is 6 miles round trip.

Yarmouth Beaches: Beautiful homes along the water? Check. Historic sites? Check. Several scenic beaches? Check. All that’s left is to take to the road to enjoy them all. Pleasant Street is where the route begins; you pass by beautiful homes along a shady portion of River Street before passing by the historic Judah Baker Windmill. After this you are just seconds from the ocean meaning anytime along the route you can cool off in the saltwater. Once you see Red Jacket Resort it’s time to turn and go back. This route is 6 miles.
The jetty at Smuggler's Beach

Cape Cod Rail Trail: Stretching from Dennis all the way into Wellfleet, with an offshoot into Chatham, the Rail Trail is nearly 30 miles of paved, scenic majesty. It is a bit much to do all of those miles but there is a great section that gives one a good idea of what the trail is all about. Starting at Headwaters Drive off of Rt. 124 in Harwich you head east across a cranberry bog, past several ponds and to the entrance of Nickerson State Park. This route is 12 miles round trip.
Sunset at Seymour Pond in Harwich

Nickerson State Park: Loaded with kettle ponds and campsites Nickerson is a virtual haven for active Cape Codders. The bike trail weaves along the main park roads but also has many offshoot trails that lead you into some of the park’s nooks and crannies. The main attractions of Nickerson are never more than a quick ride or run from the trail. The bike trail is 8 miles total.
Big Cliff Pond at Nickerson

Falmouth & Woods Hole: One of the science community's most well known spots coupled with sweeping panoramic views of Martha’s Vineyard make this a worthwhile jaunt. The Shining Sea Bikeway intersects at a few places but the route leads from Surf Drive Beach along the shore past Nobska Lighthouse and down to Water Street in Woods Hole. This route is 9 miles round trip.
Nobska Lighthouse

Coast To Coast: Going from coast to coast on the Cape can be long, like from Sandwich south to Mashpee, or short like near Pilgrim Lake in Truro. Going from Cape Cod Bay to the Atlantic Ocean in Wellfleet is close but just far enough to make it worthwhile. Parking at Mayo Beach is best. The route takes you on Long Pond Road over Rt. 6 and down to The Beachcomber on Cahoon Hollow Beach, then head back. This route is 7 miles round trip.
Mayo Beach

The Least Known Island: In Mashpee there is Monomoscoy Island tucked away from the ocean along Waquoit Bay. South Cape Beach State Park is a perfect starting point for this trip. Head away from the water and down Red Brook Road and down across a causeway. The island is a mix of old cottages and newer lush homes. This finger of land has tremendous water views on either side as you get toward the tip. It is a hidden gem that is better appreciated outside of a car. This route is 11 miles round trip.
The entrance to Monomoscoy

My 5th book, Cape Cod Nights, is on sale at and through Arcadia Publishing

View my previous blog postsIn Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Deacon John Doane

Photo Prints available here: Smug

Be sure to check out my website: Christopher

Thursday, April 23, 2020

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Sandy Neck Colony and Lighthouse

     Sandy Neck Beach in West Barnstable is one of the largest on Cape Cod and also one of the most historic. Those who pull into the parking lot and stare out at the ocean or over at the majestic dunes are getting much of what makes Sandy Neck unique, but not what makes it historical. The beach itself is amazing, yet it’s along the Sandy Neck Trails where the true heart and soul of the area is found. A permit is required for taking a vehicle out on these trails which lead around the south side of Sandy Neck’s impressive dunes. There are a few off shoot trails which bring you out to much more secluded sections of the 4,700-acre beach area.
A wide view of the Sandy Neck Colony
(Christopher Setterlund)

     Centuries ago, prior to 1702, the entirety of Sandy Neck Beach was considered part of the ‘common lands’ of the Town of Barnstable. This meant the whole of Sandy Neck was public property. In 1703 the beach was purchased and divided into 60 private parcels except for a minuscule 330-foot section of the north facing beach which remained public. Lot 60, located at the very tip of Sandy Neck was allocated to Joseph Lothrop and Ebenezer Lewis. It would become home to a group of summer cottages in the latter part of the 19th century.
     In the 18th into the 19th century whaling was a huge industry along the coast of New England. Along Sandy Neck the process of shore whaling took place. This included having the tryworks on shore, these were brick furnaces usually adorning whaling ships. A pair of cast iron try-pots would be placed on the bricks for the purpose of heating whale blubber to recover the oil. Sandy Neck became the first area of whaling on Cape Cod to open up its grounds to the public for whale watching as well.
     The whaling industry, along with the fact that Sandy Neck marked the entrance to Barnstable Harbor necessitated the construction of a lighthouse at its eastern end referred to as Beach Point. On October 1, 1826 Sandy Neck Lighthouse was illuminated for the first time. Erosion over the decades forced the construction of a second lighthouse in 1857. This is the current lighthouse. Made of brick it was susceptible to cracking and in 1887 a pair of iron hoops along with six staves were added around its center giving the lighthouse a unique look.
The current Sandy Neck Lighthouse prior to 1880
(Wikimedia Commons)

     Sandy Neck Lighthouse was decommissioned on October 1, 1932 due to Barnstable Harbor’s decreasing importance as well as the fact that the shifting sands of Sandy Neck moved the lighthouse further from the outer coast of the beach. There were attempts to dismantle and sell the entirety of the lighthouse but the oncoming Great Depression put that on hold. A skeleton tower was briefly erected closer to the water but it proved too costly and only was lit during the warmer months. In 1934 the lighthouse was sold to a private owner and the lantern was discarded. It remained ‘headless’ for more than seventy-five years until it was restored to its full working order with a new lantern in 2007.
     Sandy Neck is home to fifty-eight cottages. The first of which is a little more than a mile out on the sand. The cottages are mostly over a hundred years old; they are grandfathered into this historic district. New construction in the area was forbidden during the 1960’s. The main attraction is at the end of the trails is the Sandy Neck Colony. Located more than six miles out on the sandy trails is a cluster of more than two dozen cottages with the lighthouse supplying the border on the east.
     Many of the cottages dotting the spit of sand have interesting histories. There is the ‘The Barnacle’ cottage built by noted local historian Henry Crocker Kittredge out of an old garage in 1908. ‘The Hurricane’ cottage was a hunting camp originally built in 1898 by Jim Hinckley, Russell Hallett, and Arthur Coville. The ‘Parker/Poland’ cottage was originally built at the turn of the 20th century with the help of George Jamieson who was keeper of Sandy Neck Light at the time.
One of the cottages on the way out to the Sandy Neck Colony
(Christopher Setterlund)

     One of the earliest cottages of the colony also doubled as a restaurant. The Barnstable Harbor House, owned in the 1880’s and 1890’s by Benjamin Lovell, could seat up to twenty-five in the dining room. It became more widely known as the Chowder House due to the superb chowder created by Lovell. A wharf was built to allow for boats to dock in front of the restaurant/cottage. Lovell also canned his chowder for sale to customers. The kitchen ell of the cottage was removed around 1910 and became the Buck Cottage at the west end of the colony.
     During Prohibition the rolling dunes and relative isolation of Sandy Neck became the perfect landing and hiding spot for rum runners. Liquor would be stored in one of the summer cottages as it was prepared to be shipped to the Cape’s mainland.
A close up of Sandy Neck Lighthouse from Bone Hill Beach
(Christopher Setterlund)

     Since 1978, Sandy Neck has been designated an “Area of Critical Environmental Concern” by the Mass. Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs because several endangered species including piping plovers and least terns make their habitat in the area. As of 2015 the lighthouse which had been originally built at the point stood more than 2,000 feet from the point due to accretion of sand.
The colony and Sandy Neck Lighthouse are private though and the trails will not take you there. Many of the cottages have been passed down for generations through the same families. It is a very close-knit community. The Sandy Neck Colony is best seen either from a boat in the harbor or across the water on the shore of Millway Beach or Bone Hill Beach in Barnstable. However the beach itself is public and remains one of the most popular and unique natural beauties on Cape Cod.                                                 -----------------------------------------

My 5th book, Cape Cod Nights, is on sale at and through Arcadia Publishing

View my previous blog postsIn Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Deacon John Doane

Photo Prints available here: Smug

Be sure to check out my website: Christopher

Thursday, April 16, 2020

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Deacon John Doane

     In 1644 seven men and their families left Plymouth for Cape Cod. They arrived in an area known as Nauset for the tribe of Native Americans that lived there. The town they founded was called Eastham and at the time included present-day Orleans and Wellfleet. The men who became the town’s founders included: Thomas Prence, Nicholas Snow, Edward Bangs, Richard Higgins, Josiah Cook, and John Smalley. The final founder was Deacon John Doane, my 9th-great grandfather, and this his story and legacy on Cape Cod and in America.

     The man who would be Deacon has beginnings shrouded in mystery and obscured by time. The Doane Family Association of America has been working for decades to discover John Doane’s English roots. The story of his beginnings with the highest probability is as follows.

     John Doane (spelled Done by the man himself) was possibly born in the small village of Alvechurch in the Bromsgrove district of Worcestershire, England, on May 28, 1592. He was the son of Nicholas Done, and cousin to another John Done, this one a ‘whitebaker’ (baker of bread) from London.

Alvechurch, Worcestershire, England where John Doane was likely born.
(Lee J. Andrews/Creative Commons)

     The young John Doane likely found work as a cordwainer, a shoemaker that crafted footwear out of new leather. He likely moved to London in the time leading up to his departure for America.

     In 1628 a Bill of Complaint was brought against John Doane and others by Agnes Done, the widow of his cousin John the whitebaker, in the Court of Chancery. The complaint claimed that those named were trying to defraud Agnes Done out of her inheritance from her husband’s will.

     John Doane appeared in court on April 30, 1630 requesting that the estate of his cousin John the whitebaker be awarded to him. He was granted his request on May 6th after Agnes was excommunicated for failure to respond to a summons to attend the court.

     On August 10, 1630 the ship ‘Handmaid’ set sail for America likely with John Doane, his wife Ann, and eldest daughter Lydia aboard. This was the last of the Pilgrim ships to leave for America during the time of the Puritan Great Migration from 1620-1640. The ship arrived in Plymouth in October after 12 weeks at sea.

     Upon his arrival in the new world it was apparent that John Doane was seen as an important man. He was one of the few who bore the title of ‘Mr.’ which was a rarity the Pilgrims did not bestow upon those deemed unworthy. In Plymouth the General Court, comprised of all the freemen in the colony, was in charge of the laws and government. The men of highest rank were elected to the Council of Assistants to the Governor. The first records of the General Court appear from 1633. Governor was Edward Winslow and the Council was made up of seven men: Capt. Myles Standish, William Bradford, Stephen Hopkins, William Gilson, John Alden, John Howland, and John Doane. Doane was also made a Deacon of the Plymouth church in 1634. As he preferred that role to the role of government council his change in title began the Plymouth policy of separating Church and State.

     During his early years in Plymouth John Doane and Ann had four more children: Abigail, John, Daniel, and Ephraim. As the 1630’s ended there was a weariness by some families of life in Plymouth. A few families even wished to move the entirety of the church to Cape Cod, specifically the Nauset area where the Pilgrims had originally landed in 1620.  

     A scouting mission was held to find out about the potential sustainability of a colony at Nauset. It was determined that it would not be possible for a large population to move there. In the end seven families, mentioned earlier, chose to leave Plymouth for the relative unknown of a new, smaller settlement. Deacon John Doane, who had only recently built a house on present-day Wapping Road in Kingston, was among those who departed Plymouth in the spring of 1644. The highly influential Doane was more than 50 years old when he left Plymouth.

John Doane's house on Wapping Rd., Kingston c.1644
(Public Domain)

     Nearly 50 settlers, more than 30 of them children, sailed across Cape Cod Bay. They purchased a large tract of land from the Native Americans upon which to begin. The small number of adults at first made it wise to begin the settlement as one large unit. Deacon John Doane and his family lived in a small home on 200-acres of farmland around Salt Pond extending to present-day Pinecrest Drive in Eastham. The home was located a few hundred feet east of what is known today as Doane Rock.

The site of the Doane Family homestead in Eastham.
(Christopher Setterlund)

     Nauset was incorporated as a town in 1646. It officially became known as Eastham in 1651. The following year land in the town was made available to individuals after being one large lot for eight years. During the formative years of Eastham Doane’s duties were similar to those he held in Plymouth. He was Deacon of the Church, Deputy to the Court, as well as Selectman. Doane was also part of committees which lay out land boundaries and settled land disputes.

     In the mid-1660’s Deacon John Doane seemingly retired from town-related duties as he was by then in his mid-70’s. The Deacon’s children had all grown and began cultivating their own lives. Daughter Lydia married Samuel Hicks in 1645 and would end up living in Dartmouth by the 1660’s. Son John married Hannah Bangs and remained close to his father. Daniel married and moved south of Town Cove, succeeding his father as Deacon of the Eastham Church. Ephraim married Mercy Knowles and moved north to what would become Wellfleet. Daughter Abigail remained with her parents, likely becoming caretaker of her elderly father after her mother’s death.

     Deacon John Doane crafted his will in May 1678 among other things he deeded his home and the surrounding 12 acres to daughter Abigail. He died February 21, 1685 just shy of his 93rd birthday. A few years after his passing Abigail married Samuel Lothrop and moved to Norwich, Connecticut. John Doane was laid to rest in the Cove Burying Ground in Eastham. His exact resting place is unknown though so in 1907 his descendants placed a six-ton boulder adorned with a commemorative plaque close by to the grave of his son Daniel.

The boulder at Cove Burying Ground in Eastham
(Christopher Setterlund)

     The legacy of Deacon John Doane is immense in terms of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and New England history. His fingerprints were all over the early years of Plymouth and more so the early years of Eastham. The homestead where he first lived on Cape Cod is marked with signs and monuments. Many Cape Codders with long ties to the peninsula can trace their history back to Deacon John Doane one of early Cape Cod’s most influential people.



My 5th book, Cape Cod Nights, is on sale at and through Arcadia Publishing

View my previous blog postsHistoric Nightlife of Cape Cod: Rainbow Ballroom and Rollerdome

Photo Prints available here: Smug

Be sure to check out my website: Christopher

Thursday, April 9, 2020

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - The Man Behind the Long Point Cross

      Long Point in Provincetown is a sandy spit that makes up the ‘finger’ of the arm that is the shape of Cape Cod. It was once a thriving fishing community in the 19th century. Over time as the fishing began to diminish the people and even some of the homes migrated across Provincetown Harbor to take up residence in the main part of town.

     In the present day Long Point is a beautiful hike. From Commercial Street it appears so close yet so far. The reality is that in order to get to the fingertip of Cape Cod it is a nearly 2 ½ mile walk across the West End Breakwater and sandy Long Point Beach. Once out in the solitude of Long Point it is a fascinating step back in time.

     Long Point Lighthouse is the centerpiece of the spit, the current tower was built in 1875 with the first lighthouse erected on the spot in 1827. The brick oil house still stands there as well. In addition to the lighthouse are a pair of earthen forts. Constructed due to fear of the Confederate Navy blockading the harbor during the Civil War the pair of forts never saw any action. They were nicknamed by the townspeople Fort Useless and Fort Ridiculous.

     The final piece of interesting history that sits out on Long Point is a large wooden cross. It is not visible with the naked eye until getting relatively close to the lighthouse and forts. On it is a nameplate engraved with the name Charles S. Darby. Who was Charles Darby? Why is there a cross bearing his name located on the isolated Long Point?

     Charles S. Darby was born in Washington D.C. on February 29, 1908, one of three brothers. He studied at the Corcoran Art School. After his studies began summering in Provincetown, a noted spot for artists, along with his friend Fritz Fuglister in the late 1920’s. The friends began their time there by occupying a dune shack at Race Point for the first few summers before returning to Washington D.C. for the winter. Darby and Fuglister briefly ran the Pelican Club in D.C. at the time.

     The young artists immediately began assimilating into their new surroundings. Darby and Fuglister dipped their toes into the vibrant art community studying under E. Ambrose Webster. Webster, an iconic Provincetown landscape painter, ran his Summer School of Painting on Bradford Street from 1900 until his death in 1935.
Darby became a member of the Provincetown Art Association and soon his paintings and personality made him a well known resident of the community. He was by all accounts a handsome and quite humorous man. He also became a member of The Beachcombers. The group, started in 1916, is a social and professional club specifically for painters, etchers, poets, playwrights, and others. They held popular annual parties and events of which Darby was frequently involved.

     After Webster’s death Darby began using the Isaac Henry Caliga studio on Conant Street for his work. A skilled billiard and chess player Darby received exposure by advancing far in the Cape Cod Chess tournament of 1937. His greatest achievement in art would come shortly before an even greater call for his country.

Untitled painting by Charles Darby
(Provincetown Art Association and Museum)

     In 1941 Darby moved his work from the Caliga studio to a studio on East Bradford Street. There he crafted a painting of Long Point Lighthouse that was featured in unique shows of both young and older artists put on by the Provincetown Art Association. Darby’s work received praise from visitors with one critic saying his painting ‘made the show.’ He also became an able-bodied member of the Beachcombers, giving him full voting rights on club happenings. Darby to his credit though remained humble, despite some saying he bordered on genius, he claimed to not understand what quality he possessed that attracted people to himself and his work.

     In December 1941 the United States was thrust into World War II after the Pearl Harbor attacks. Charles Darby was enlisted in the Air Force and ended up training in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He was sent to Europe in 1943. Throughout the war the local newspapers would give updates on their men overseas with Darby frequently pining over missing his adoptive home of Provincetown.

     Darby helped storm the beaches at Normandy and eventually rose to the rank of Staff Sargent by 1944. He was a radio operator and member of the 435th Troop Carrier Group based in England. A transport plane he was on was shot down over the Netherlands in October 1944. Darby was able to bail out however he died a few weeks later in a hospital in Brighton, England from the burns he sustained on October 17, 1944 at the age of 36. In 1946 he would be posthumously awarded the prestigious Air Medal for his merit and valor during the war.

     Provincetown mourned the loss of a beloved and talented adopted son. Those who knew him wished to honor him and sought to do so. A motion to name the intersection of Commercial Street and Bangs Street, at the Provincetown Art Association, Charles S. Darby Square was approved. The Beachcombers looked to remember their former member as well.

     In June 1946 was decided to create a rustic 10-foot tall cross from driftwood and place it on the west side of the Provincetown Art Association. Noted bronze sculptor Bill Boogar designed a plaque which included words from Darby’s father William. The inscription read: “To Charles S. Darby, Gallant Soldier, Feb. 29, 1908 – October 17, 1944. This cross is placed in memory by his friends The Beachcombers.” It was dedicated on October 26, 1946. Famed ‘Vagabond Poet’ Harry Kemp wrote a piece dedicated to Charles Darby in October 1956 entitled The Good Fellow.

     The cross remained on the grounds of the Provincetown Art Association until the summer of 1960. After the bronze plaque was stolen it was decided to move the cross to a spot far more difficult to reach and deface, the dunes near Long Point Lighthouse. The cross is adorned today with a worn American flag and a much simpler plaque: “Charles S. Darby ‘Gallant Solider’ Killed In Action October 17, 1944” An understated memorial for an understated man that managed to leave a large impact on his beloved Provincetown.


My 5th book, Cape Cod Nights, is on sale at and through Arcadia Publishing

View my previous blog postsHistoric Nightlife of Cape Cod: Rainbow Ballroom and Rollerdome

Photo Prints available here: Smug

Be sure to check out my websiteChristopher

Monday, April 6, 2020

Historic Nightlife of Cape Cod: Rainbow Ballroom and Rollerdome

Taken from my 5th book Cape Cod Nights

Address: 174 Rt. 28, West Yarmouth
Years Active: 1930 – mid 1960's

In present time when one thinks of nightlife it inevitably comes down to one of two things, a nightclub or a bar. However in years past many more events were considered part of the nightlife scene. This was most certainly the case with the Rainbow Ballroom. This unique hot spot was not big on alcohol however it routinely drew many hundreds of locals and visitors inside its walls to partake in good fun after dinner and after sunset.
The story of this legendary establishment goes back to the Roaring Twenties when Ernie Baker and his Novelty Orchestra was making a name for himself all across Southeastern Massachusetts. Baker, a well known local in Yarmouth, would often set up gigs for his orchestra at the Mill Hill Pavilion, a popular live entertainment spot located in West Yarmouth. As the 1920’s went on Baker had a plan to create a more permanent home for his musical group.
In June 1930 Baker purchased six lots of land located opposite the Mill Hill Tavern. It was upon this land that he planned to build his very own dance hall to house his Novelty Orchestra. The work on the building was swift and it was ready for its debut within weeks. The dance floor was remarked as the largest east of New Bedford. The interior was decked out in pastel colors with white being the main shade, including a white stage and a pristine and unique white piano adorned with painted flowers. A contest would be held, with more than a thousand entries, to name the new dance hall. The winning name was the Rainbow Ballroom, the winning entry received $20 and two season passes to the establishment.

Opening night for the Rainbow Ballroom was Wednesday August 13, 1930. The crowd was so large that the enormous dance floor was packed cheek to cheek all night. It was a state of the art hot spot with the newest in electric lighting allowing for the lights hitting the dance floor to be changed to a variety of colors. The womens’ dressing rooms even including electric curling irons. Two orchestras would keep the music playing all night, the debut of Ernie Baker’s Rainbow Room was a rousing success.
From the start Baker maintain a high profile for himself as well as his club. There would be themed dances such as a Thanksgiving Puritan Ball and a Miss Cape Cod contest held on New Year’s Eve 1930. Miss Gilbery Kelley of Hyannis Port would be crowned the winner out of 250 entrants, receiving a silver cup. Baker would also continue to play gigs across the Cape and Southeastern Massachusetts with his orchestra, undoubtedly enticing more to come and visit the Rainbow.

Baker would up his game in 1931 by adding amateur basketball in the form of the Hyannis Wanderers. Teams from all over the state would come to play them. Typically the games were held on Wednesdays during the season, with dancing happening both before and after. Ahead of his time in marketing Baker would also give away a Sport Model Chevy automobile which he had been using for advertising the Rainbow in January 1932. His nightspot was gaining and maintaining its popularity through many different avenues. The following year even more would be added.
The Rainbow Ballroom would begin throwing midnight dances, typically running from midnight to 3am, they would be occasional occurrences which kept them as must attend events. Later in 1933 Baker would experiment with a new activity, rollerskating. This would become such a hit that it would take place three times a week, drawing many new faces. Baker would even rent out use of his building to others for charitable events and the like.

Word of mouth and positive experiences began to spread. In 1936 Chick Webb and his NBC Orchestra would make an appearance at the Rainbow being fronted by the one and only Ella Fitzgerald. It was during this year that boxing would debut to add to the already popular Hyannis All-Stars wrestling bouts which took place there. In 1938 Baker and his Rainbow Ballroom would see their greatest exposure as they would routinely be promoted on the national Old-Fashioned Cafe radio program. Show host Ken Singer had been playing at the neighboring Old Mill Tavern and began to frequent Ernie Baker’s popular establishment.
Despite housing rollerskating, basketball, boxing, and wrestling, the Rainbow would remain true to what its first event was, dancing. Throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s there would be themed dances, midnight dances, holiday party dances, charitable balls, and more. Ernie Baker knew what his customers wanted and gave it to them. Long after the Old Mill Tavern had gone out of business, replaced by the Mill Hill Club, Ernie Baker’s Rainbow Room was still going strong.
By the mid-1960’s, after around thirty-five years of ownership, Ernie Baker closed his Rainbow Room and took a well-deserved retirement. The building itself would remain dormant for several years before being sold in 1970. In the more than four decades since the familiar shell of the building has remained, housing such businesses as Quoddy Moccasins Shoe Factory Outlet, French Shriner Shoes, Clancy’s Restaurant, Reebok Outlet, and most recently a Salvation Army store.
However no matter what business resides on the property it will always be fondly remember by longtime Cape Codders as Ernie Baker’s Rainbow Room. It was a unique nightspot which relied on dancing, rollerskating, basketball, boxing, and wrestling everything but the alcohol to claim its spot as a forefather of the golden age of Cape Cod nightlife.
Despite not being known for cocktails, if one had frequented the Rainbow Ballroom during its heyday of the 1940’s for some dancing perhaps they would have made a drink afterwards at home such as the popular French 75.
French 75
- 3 oz Champagne
- 1 oz gin
- 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 oz simple syrup
Preparation: Add all of the ingredients except the Champagne into a shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into a Champagne flute. Top with the Champagne and garnish with a lemon twist.
My 5th book, Cape Cod Nights, is on sale at and through Arcadia Publishing

View my previous blog postsIn Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Bartholomew Gosnold

Photo Prints available here: Smug

Be sure to check out my websiteChristopher

Thursday, April 2, 2020

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - SS James Longstreet Cape Cod's Target Ship


     For more than five decades a giant rusting hulk loomed large over Cape Cod Bay. It was battered, beaten, and bruised yet remained a stoic relic to a bygone day. It was created for World War II and named for a Confederate Civil War general. Though not visible anymore it is still there lurking just below the surface. A Liberty Ship, a ‘target ship,’ a day-trip boating adventure, this is the story of the S.S. James Longstreet.

     The man behind the ship’s name was born in South Carolina on January 8, 1821. He graduated West Point in 1842 and would be given the rank of Brigadier General when James Long street joined the Confederate Army in 1861. He gained the trust of General Robert E. Lee however grew opposed to Lee’s strategic moves beginning with the frontal assault known as Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1863 at Gettysburg. In the end anywhere from 5,800-6,200 of the 12-13,000 Confederate soldiers were killed on that fateful day.

James Longstreet, the man
(Gamaliel Bradford, public domain)

     Longstreet held several federal offices after the war beginning ironically under former Union General Ulysses S. Grant. He was an ambassador to Turkey as well as a U.S. Marshal for the state of Georgia. Rumors of corruption led to his removal from the latter post in 1884.

     His post-war affiliation with the former enemy earned Longstreet some scorn from the Confederate loyalists. This was only exacerbated with his criticism of Lee and his memoir From Manassas to Appomattox in 1896. In 1897 Longstreet married Helen Dortch, a woman more than 40 years his junior. After being severely wounded in battle in 1864 Longstreet was told he would likely not live another decade. He persevered though and lived another forty years, finally succumbing to pneumonia January 2, 1904 just days shy of his 83rd birthday. His wife Helen lived until 1962, making her a living Civil War widow nearly a century after the war had ended.

     Known as the ‘Confederate War Horse’ James Longstreet’s name would not completely fade into the history books.

     After the outbreak of World War II in 1941 2,708 cargo ships, known as ‘Liberty Ships’ were built to help move supplies overseas. One such ship was a 417-foot long, 7,000 ton steel beast named after James Longstreet. It was assembled in Houston, Texas and put into wartime service in October 1942. The vessel would only make 3 journeys abroad though they did include stops in Australia, India, and England.

James Longstreet, the cargo ship, on active duty circa 1943

     The end of active service for the S.S. James Longstreet came during the fall of 1943. It was one of four ships to be forced aground at Sandy Hook, New Jersey on October 26, 1943 in gale force winds. The ship sat on the tidal flats for a month before finally being refloated on November 23rd. Upon being towed to New York for further repairs it was deemed a total structural loss and decommissioned. It was sent to a ship graveyard.

     In early 1944 the Navy acquired the Longstreet as a target ship for surface-to-air missiles. It sat in New York Harobr until another big storm ripped it from its moorings and sent it drifting away. For weeks the ship was missing but when found on December 4th it was towed to Norfolk, Virginia. It was around this time that the Navy began ‘Project Dove’ a guided missile project. They had been using areas of Monomoy Island and Camp Wellfleet, east of Lecount Hollow Road, for land tests and desired a target ship for water testing. The S.S. Longstreet provided the perfect answer.

    On April 25, 1945 just as World War II was coming to an end the former Liberty Ship was towed into Cape Cod Bay. It was anchored in shallow water off of Eastham on a spot called New Found Shoal, an oval shaped spit. The Longstreet was ballasted with more than 10,000 steel drums and scrap metal as it was partially sunk, becoming the newest Cape Cod resident.

     The bombings of the ship went on day and night during the summer. The times were never known to residents of the surrounding towns of Eastham, Wellfleet, Orleans, and Brewster, only the rumbles of approaching aircraft gave them any notice. Aircraft from as far away as Rhode Island came and lay waste to the behemoth in the shallows. July Fourth bombing raids were of particular thrill to tourists and children. Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s countless tons of ammunition was fired into and upon the vessel until it looked like steel Swiss cheese. The pilots prepared for the Korean War and later the Vietnam War by practicing on the Longstreet.

     Not everyone was enamored with the Cape’s oddest tourist attraction though. The noise and rumbling of windows of homes in the surrounding areas was bad enough. However the occasional errant bomb was a different problem. Most well known of those such incidents was when a bomb exploded near the front door of a home on Shurtleff Road in Eastham on Mother’s Day 1951. Nobody was injured but it was a jarring experience for a rural beach town such as Eastham.

     Time passed and the S.S. James Longstreet, rusted and full of holes, was retired in 1970. The reasons were both due to the proximity of the public to the bombings and the closing of the Quonset Point Naval Station in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. Despite it no longer being peppered with live rounds it remained a hugely popular attraction for photographers, painters, and even some graffiti artists who in 1966 spray painted a large Playboy bunny logo on the side of the ship. Slowly over time the Longstreet looked less and less like a proud wartime cargo ship. Some calls came to officially sink it fully underwater, however time did that on its own.

After decades of service as a target ship.
(Truro Historical Society)

     In a fitting piece of full circle irony, a large storm finally did in the Longstreet much as had ended its active duty in 1943. April 1996 saw a storm finally submerge the hull of the former Liberty Ship. Occasionally the ship comes back to the forefront, either at very low tides when it peeks its head above water, or more chilling when an unexploded ordnance is discovered either on the surrounding beaches or by divers and fishermen in the waters around the ship’s resting place.

The location of the SS James Longstreet in relation to First Encounter Beach.

     Outside of those moments the S.S. James Longstreet has been but a memory for nearly 25 years. It was once one of the most photographed locations on Cape Cod and thus has been immortalized in countless images. For those looking to perhaps catch a glimpse of this sunken legend it sits approximately two miles off the coast of Eastham, nearly due west of First Encounter Beach. Its GPS coordinates are: 41.8255416978 -70.0398798405.

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