Monday, September 13, 2021

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Shootflying Hill, Hyannis


    In the 21st century the geographical area known as Shootflying Hill is seen by thousands of people daily. At the same time it is passed by and given barely a moment’s thought. Standing 220-feet high it sits directly on the route of the Mid-Cape Highway. In between Exits 5 and 6, sorry Exits 65 and 68, vehicles traverse Shootflying Hill in heading through Barnstable. However for the better part of a century Shootflying Hill was a destination. From hiking and picnicking to scenic overlooks in the early days of the Mid-Cape Highway, this is the story of when Shootflying Hill was one of Cape Cod’s most popular attractions.

    In the 19th century and the time preceding it Shootflying Hill in Barnstable was one of the top places to go for hunters. It was given its name due to the fact that hunters scaled the hill to shoot ducks and other birds. Despite its status as Cape Cod’s most popular hill for activities Shootflying Hill is not the Cape’s tallest. Ahead of it are Pine Hill in Pocasset at 306-feet, Telegraph Hill in Sandwich at 289-feet, and Town Line Hill on the Bourne/Sandwich line at 277-feet.

The Shootflying Hill observation tower c. 1918(Henry Isenberg

    Being perhaps the only spot on Cape Cod from which someone can see both Nantucket Sound 3 ¼ miles to the south and Cape Cod Bay 3 ½ miles to the north it was naturally a place that locals and visitors congregated to in the late-19th century. As the Cape grew as a summer vacation destination Shootflying Hill did as well. While picnics along the grassy slope were commonplace some wanted to go to the next level. An idea to put an observation tower atop the hill was brought forth by an unnamed woman from the village of Wianno.

    In 1890 this woman sold newspaper subscriptions to the Barnstable Patriot to help raise the necessary $200 to erect a 20-foot tall wooden observation tower on Shootflying Hill. It was completed that August and was an immediate sensation. The Lookout, as it was often called, drew hundreds of visitors annually wither on foot or via the dirt carriage road which was nearby. Despite the success of the tower little was done to maintain it.

    Things came to a head in August 1904 when various complaints about the tower and carriage road were aired. Some of the damage to the wooden tower was related to the harsh New England weather. Much of it though came from carelessness or intentional damaging including people carving their initials into the green stain of the tower. The structure was in need of repairs amounting to more than $300.

    The Lookout took on a second purpose in October 1911 when it was designated a fire tower. An upper story, enclosed and surrounded by windows was added shortly thereafter. The first appointed observer for the fire tower was Calvin Benson of West Barnstable. Benson reported more than 2,300 visitors to the tower in 1912, sometimes as many as 40 in a day.

    Adding the responsibility of watching for forest fires made it easier to have a new tower built in 1914. It didn’t hurt that the existing tower was in dangerous risk of collapse. At a town meeting a unanimous vote was given to raise the necessary $350 for a new tower on Shootflying Hill. The new structure was completed in October 1914. This tower was made of steel, stood 40-feet tall, and 18-feet wide at the base. It was said to have been easily spotted from miles around.

    This new tower stood tall atop Shootflying Hill for more than 30 years. It grew in popularity as time went on. This included 1923 where visitors came from 29 states and 6 foreign countries to see the observation and fire tower. Over time it was eventually decided that a new tower needed to be built. However this one would not be on Shootflying Hill.

    In August 1947 construction began on a new tower. This one was to be located on Clay Hill only ¾ mile west of Shootflying Hill. When finished the new tower stood 68-feet tall. It was opened for duty on March 1, 1948. Subsequently the Shootflying Hill tower was torn down. For the first time in nearly 60 years there was no tower atop the hill.

The Clay Hill Tower seen from the eastbound lane of the Mid-Cape Highway(Google Maps).

    Only a few years after the tower came down Shootflying Hill became linked with the new Mid-Cape Highway. In 1954 the new roadway finished at a rotary just past the hill, what would become Exit 6(68). In the following years the highway eventually extended all the way into Provincetown. This made Shootflying Hill a perfect midpoint and prime real estate for a rest area.

    In the immediate area around Shootflying Hill became home to a large water tank in the mid-1960’s. It also became home to a transmitter tower in 1970 for the new WQRC radio station. In the Fall of 1988 the Shootflying Hill rest area was closed by the state due to safety reasons. This brought the tenure of the titular hill as an attraction for visitors and locals.

    After the closing of the rest area the land between the two side of the Mid-Cape Highway was allowed to grow over. Naturally being located in the center of a busy roadway it is nearly impossible, and unwise, to try to journey to where so many people used to hike and picnic. That being said, if one dared to cross into the area it is possible to find remnants of the bases of the former fire tower on top of Shootflying Hill.

The former location of the tower and rest area.(Google Maps)

    Today it is a geographical feature passed by thousands daily yet the vast majority likely have no idea of the popular attraction it once was. An area for hunting, an area for picnicking and sightseeing, and the home of an observation and fire tower, Shootflying Hill in Barnstable can lay claim to all of these things.


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