Monday, May 29, 2023

Photographer's America: Cape Cod - Beyond the Beach

Saturday, May 27, 2023

In Their Footsteps: Helen Keller and Cape Cod

    In life, most people have to deal with some sort of adversity. Only a rare few have a path uninterrupted by tough times. Now imagine being dealt several unimaginable tragedies. How would you react? Most would not be blamed for throwing their hands in the air and giving up.

    Young Helen Keller was robbed of her sight and hearing as a young child. Though incredibly difficult to comprehend to those with all five senses Helen not only navigated those rough waters but thrived in life. Helen Keller became a living miracle and an icon of perseverance.

    The journey from not being able to see or hear the world to writing twelve books was long and arduous. Some of that journey took place on Cape Cod in the town of Brewster. This is the story of Helen Keller and her time spent on the sandy peninsula.

    Helen Keller was born on June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Alabama. She was born a typical healthy baby. In the months leading up to her second birthday, Helen was struck with an illness. It is uncertain if it was scarlet fever, meningitis, or something else, but the results were catastrophic. Barely a toddler Helen was rendered both blind and deaf.

    Early childhood was tough for Helen. She had no formal education and was prone to fits of anger due to not being able to communicate. Without sight or hearing she also did not speak. Therefore Helen developed home signs to convey her needs and wants. It was clear to her family that Helen was extremely intelligent and simply needed a teacher to be able to help her reach her potential.

Helen Keller reading as a teenager.(Boston Public Library)

    Helen’s mother Katherine searched for help from experts including famed telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell. Ultimately Katherine was referred to a teacher named Anne Sullivan. She ended up being the most important person Helen Keller would ever meet.

    On March 3, 1887, Sullivan first met Helen at her home in Alabama. It seemed to be a match made in heaven. Sullivan was a graduate of Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts. She was also nearly blind herself. This gave Sullivan a great deal of empathy toward what Helen was coping with. However, their relationship started rocky.

    During the first few weeks of their relationship, Helen kicked, bit, and pinched Sullivan, even knocking one of the teacher’s teeth out. She could have easily given up on Helen but she didn’t. Through patience and consistency, Anne Sullivan began to earn Helen’s trust.

    Sullivan taught Helen the alphabet by drawing letters on Helen’s palm. This included giving Helen a doll and spelling d-o-l-l into her hand. Within a few weeks, she had begun to understand. The key turning point was when Sullivan spelled w-a-t-e-r while also pumping water over Helen’s hand. From there on it was off to the races. Helen wanted to learn as many words as possible.

    A year was spent working at Helen’s home in Alabama. In May 1888 Sullivan brought Helen to Perkins School for the Blind. This was where Keller learned to read braille and also type with a specially-made typewriter. Helen learned 1,500 words within a year thanks to the help of Anne Sullivan and the Perkins School. Her miraculous achievements began to be chronicled in newspapers nationwide.

    It was in 1888 while studying at Perkins that Helen Keller’s connection to Cape Cod came to be. During her own studies at the Perkins School, Anne Sullivan met Brewster, Massachusetts resident Sophia Crocker-Hopkins. Hopkins had gotten a job as a house mother at Perkins after the tragic death of her daughter Florence in 1883. A sea captain’s widow, Sophia brought Sullivan home with her to Brewster during the school’s summer break to stay at her home located at 1491 Main Street. Sullivan fell in love with the Cape and wanted to share its majesty with young Helen.

    In July of 1888, Sullivan brought eight-year-old Helen down to Cape Cod for the first time. The pair stayed with Sophia at her boarding house in Brewster. It was during this initial visit that Helen first ventured to the sea. She took a series of sandy paths along with Anne to the area of present-day Breakwater Beach.

Breakwater Beach in Brewster, the area Helen visited in 1888.

    In her first autobiography, The Story of My Life, written in 1903, Helen wrote that her first encounter with the ocean was a mixed bag. She was enraptured by the smell of the salty air and fascinated by the sheer enormity of the ocean. Helen admitted that she could sense how big it was.

    The eight-year-old jumped into the water full of exuberance. It was then that her foot struck a rock and plunged her underwater. Though she was never in danger the experience did make her timid around the mighty ocean. Fortunately by the end of her time on Cape Cod that summer Helen was firmly in love with the ocean again. She even wrote in her autobiography a story of Anne bringing her a horseshoe crab and her amazement at it.

    It was during this first visit to Cape Cod that a famous photo was taken. A local photographer named Cornelius Chenery snapped a brilliant photo of young Helen sitting in a chair and cradling a doll that had been given to her by Sophia Crocker-Hopkins. Kneeling beside the child is Anne Sullivan looking on with what can only be described as pride. Throughout their time together Anne would take up that role of beaming with pride at Helen’s achievements from the background.

The famed photo of young Helen and Anne Sullivan taken in Brewster in July 1888.(Wikipedia)

    The first trip to Cape Cod was such a joy that Sullivan brought Helen back in May 1890 for a week's stay. Again they stayed with Sophia on Main Street in Brewster. The local newspapers heaped praise on Keller upon her return. At that point, they remarked that her vocabulary was north of 3,000 words. She also could recognize people she knew by their scent or even the clothes they wore. The most spectacular news relayed in the article was Helen learning to speak herself.

    The incredible achievement was learned first by Helen placing her hands on Anne’s throat and lips. Sullivan would speak and Helen would try to mimic the words. Not only did she speak but she did an interview. It was here that Helen spoke to a stranger for the first time in her life. In time Helen would also be able to ‘hear’ music as well.

    The next time Helen Keller visited Cape Cod was in July 1894. She and Anne Sullivan stayed with Sophia for much of the summer. However, by this point, fourteen-year-old Helen was somewhat of a national celebrity due to her incredible achievements despite tremendous adversity.

    This could not have been made more evident than when a reception was held in her honor. It was no ordinary reception. This was a party thrown by First Lady Frances Cleveland, wife of the-President Grover Cleveland, at their summer White House known as Gray Gables located in Bourne. Over her lifetime Helen Keller went on to meet every United States president from Cleveland to John F. Kennedy.

    Anne and Helen continued to visit Sophia in Brewster including in 1896 and 1897. In August 1903 Helen brought her mother Katherine with her to visit Sophia in Brewster. This was due to the fact that in 1901 Anne Sullivan suffered a major stroke that left her completely blind and she was recovering.

    1904 saw Helen graduate from Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her friend Mark Twain had introduced Helen to Standard Oil magnate Henry H. Rogers. He along with his wife Abbie had paid for Helen’s education. She was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.

    In the fall of 1904 Helen and Anne purchased a house in Wrentham, Massachusetts. Located only an hour or so from Brewster meant that Sophia could visit her friends there during the winter. Not long after buying the house, Anne Sullivan married John A. Macy. He was a Harvard instructor and literary critic who had helped Helen in getting her works published.

The Iyanough House in Hyannis the site of Helen's last Cape visit in 1908.

    Macy moved in with Anne and Helen in Wrentham. He even joined them in staying at the then-new Iyanough House hotel on Main Street in Hyannis in September 1908. However, the marriage soon began to fall apart. That said, the couple would never officially divorce.

    Anne Sullivan’s health began to trend downward. Helen Keller’s celebrity and drive for social causes including disability rights and women’s suffrage only grew. This meant that visits to Cape Cod ended after the final trip in 1908. Helen remained in the spotlight on the Cape, just in the form of numerous newspaper articles about her amazing achievements.

Helen Keller's autobiography written in 1903.

    Sadly Anne passed away on October 15, 1936, at the age of 70. She and Helen had been inseparable for fifty years and Helen was there with her at the end. By the time of her own death on June 1, 1968, at the age of 87 Helen Keller was a legend.

    Helen Keller became a 20th-century icon with twelve books published and numerous articles. She championed social causes, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and was elected to the National Women’s Hall of Fame. All of this was done without the ability to see or hear the world around her. Helen Keller’s courage, intelligence, and unyielding determination, are the types of things that seem impossible.

    Over a period of 20 years, Helen made frequent visits to Cape Cod. She walked to the ocean and smelled the salty air. She soaked up the summer sun, touched the grass, and smelled the flowers. Cape Cod became a beloved part of her life much like it has for many who have lived and visited there.

1491 Main Street in Brewster where Helen stayed numerous times.

    The house Helen Keller stayed in numerous times over the years with Anne Sullivan still stands at 1491 Main Street in Brewster. Several artifacts from Helen’s time on Cape Cod can be viewed at the Brewster Historical Society in the Captain Elijah Cobb House at 739 Lower Road in Brewster.


Purchase a DVD copy of the Lady of the Dunes documentary here:

Purchase the new book Searching for the Lady of the Dunes written by 12th Generation Cape Codder Christopher Setterlund.


Sunday, May 21, 2023

Cape Cod Railroad History 1846-1873

    The history of rail travel goes back over two centuries. 1804 saw British engineer Richard Trevithick build the first full-scale railway steam engine. In the United States, the first railroad came in 1827. This was the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad which was chartered on February 28, 1827.

    After that, it was off to the races for the new mode of transport. By 1840 the U.S. had nearly 3,000 miles of rails. That number was set to more than triple by 1850 when the country saw more than 9,000 miles of rails. More and more were being built seemingly daily. Naturally, as more miles of tracks were laid more out of the way corners of the country became connected.

    This new mode of travel was far faster than the horse-drawn stagecoach. In the 1830s a steam engine typically averaged a speed of around 30mph. In contrast, a stagecoach averaged just over 4mph. Although nowhere near the top speeds of today (Amtrack trains regularly hit speeds of 125-150mph in the 2020s) it was a major upgrade for travelers of the day.

    In 1840 Cape Cod was rural, quiet, and disconnected. It had a population of only 32,548 over the entire peninsula. During the middle of this decade, talk grew loud for a railroad line that could connect Cape Cod to larger cities such as Boston and Providence. The push for rail service on the Cape began due to the increasing popularity of the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company.

    Cape Cod rail service finally became a real possibility with the formation of its first rail transport company. The Cape Cod Branch Railroad Company was created in the spring of 1846. There had been low rumblings in the previous months about bringing rail service to Cape Cod. The rumblings turned to concrete plans when a meeting was held on May 6, 1846, at the Barnstable County Court House. This meeting called by John Reed officially established the company.

    After approval, the first true meeting of the Cape Cod Branch Railroad Company was held on August 19, 1846. The location was the hotel of W.D. Burbank in Wareham. The meeting elected officials and also ironed out the details of getting rail service to the Cape. By the time the meeting ended, the company had its first president Col. Richard Borden of Middleboro. It had its first treasurer in Southworth Shaw Jr. of Boston. Most importantly the company decided that it would connect Cape Cod to the larger world with a twenty-seven-mile stretch of track from Middleboro to Sandwich.

    This new stretch of track would allow freight service to carry the popular Boston & Sandwich Glass products off Cape far faster and safer. The company tasked with building the first train to visit Cape Cod was Boston Locomotive Works. Based out of Boston the company was created in 1831 and had been known as Hinckley Locomotive Works until 1848. The specifics of the train were that it was a 25-ton 4-4-0 American steam engine. The 4-4-0 distinction referred to the wheel arrangement. Four leading wheels on two axles, four powered and coupled driving wheels on two axles, and a lack of trailing wheels.

    The first section of the Cape Cod Branch Railroad was opened for business on January 26, 1848. It was a 14.7-mile track length connecting Middleboro and Agawam, a village of Wareham along the Agawam River. The next step was building a bridge across Cohasset Narrows in Buzzards Bay. Development was swift and soon it was time for a big celebration.

    On May 26, 1848, the final 12.9 miles of track was completed. The Cape Cod Branch Railroad was officially opened. The tracks ended at present-day Jarves Street in Sandwich only a few hundred feet from the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company.

    The historic day saw the first train arrive at 1pm carrying roughly 1,000 passengers. A throng of people had gathered in inclement weather to cheer as the steam engine made its final approach. There was a function after with seating for 1,200, glassware from Boston & Sandwich Glass, and appropriately sandwiches to eat.

The East Sandwich Railroad Station

    Dignitaries on hand wondered about when the railway would connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (it would come in 1869). Locals wondered when the railway would connect both to the tip of Cape Cod in Provincetown. For Cape Cod, the progress was slow going.

    Although the railway had two arrival times daily in Sandwich and stagecoaches shuttling passengers all the way into Orleans the desire to extend the tracks existed from Day One. The main sticking point was where the extended track would end. It was a battle between Barnstable and Yarmouth.

    The popularity of rail travel was evident from the beginning. Hard numbers from the time show that profits for the Cape Cod Branch Railroad doubled from July 1849 to July 1852 from $1,961 per month ($77,259) to $3,823 per month ($150,617). This worked out to just over $1.8 million per year in today’s money.

    Work on the track extension began in 1853. It reached West Barnstable around Thanksgiving and a depot was erected there along Meetinghouse Way (Route 149). It was decided to ultimately extend the tracks into Yarmouth. During this construction, another significant change happened. The Cape Cod Branch Railroad became known simply as the Cape Cod Railroad in early 1854.

    While construction of the new track extension was ongoing there was a series of donations from Nantucket residents that directly led to another transportation institution. This influx of cash to the Cape Cod Railroad came with a catch. When the tracks made their way to Hyannis a spoke of track had to be built south to Hyannis Port. There a wharf would be built. It would serve as a disembarking point for a new steamboat ferry service. The steamboat would connect Cape Cod to Nantucket Island via the Cape Cod Railroad. This would supplant New Bedford as the nearest ferry location.

Yarmouth Port Railroad Depot(Wikipedia/Public Domain)

    All of this came to pass during the spring and summer of 1854. The extension of the Cape Cod Railroad line was 18 miles in length and cost $824,058(29.7 million in 2023). The first passenger train ran on the tracks on May 19, 1854. From that point, all remained quiet on the railroad front until 1860.

    It was at this time that talk turned to either extending the tracks east from Yarmouth into Harwich or Orleans or creating a stagecoach road running the same length. Easier access to the Outer Cape was the overriding point. It was also around this time that a new railroad company was formed. It became known as the Cape Cod Central Railroad. Although it has the same name in the 2020s the companies are in no way related.

    Local newspapers were surprised at the lack of public discourse about extending the railroad. Lack of interest notwithstanding surveying of a future extension lasted from January through April 1861. Progress on raising the funds to begin the project was slow for the Cape Cod Central Railroad. The main sticking point was getting each town that would see the tracks pass through it to pay its fair share. It was more than three years until the extension of the tracks into Orleans became more than empty words at meetings.

    Finally, on June 29, 1864 ground was broken at the Yarmouth Port terminus of the railway. The plan was for 18 miles of track to be laid, ending in Orleans. As the way was being laid Woods Hole and Provincetown, the two furthest apart points on the peninsula, started talking about rail access.

    Petitions were sent to the Massachusetts State Legislature to extend the tracks into Provincetown. Before that though the railway had to get to Orleans. The route was graded by June 1865. On October 5, 1865, the Harwich section of the track was opened to much fanfare. It was a gala event that included a visit from Governor John Andrew. It marked the halfway point of the extension with 9 more miles to go to Orleans. That destination was reached on December 6, 1865. The Cape Cod Central Railroad had succeeded in extending the reach of the rails nearly to the Outer Cape.

    The Cape Cod Railroad, perhaps seeing the competing company’s progress, bought the Cape Cod Central Railroad in May 1868. This consolidated organization listened to the public and started working on another track extension.

    In April 1870 talks began to extend the tracks into Wellfleet. Bids were taken from some of the largest and most respected contractors in Massachusetts. The new 11.6-mile extension took from May to December to construct. The depot was erected near the present-day intersection of Commercial Street and Railroad Avenue along Duck Creek. December 28, 1870, saw the first passenger train arrive to crowds of cheering locals.

    While Wellfleet celebrated Woods Hole and Provincetown continued to clamor for their own railroad depots. Provincetown raised the funds necessary on its end to get the tracks built, however, a delay came in getting neighboring Truro to do the same. In Woods Hole, it was a different story as the track continuation needed to come south from Buzzards Bay.

    The ground was broken on the spoke of the track to Woods Hole on September 12, 1871. It began at Cohasset Narrows in Buzzards Bay. 17.5 miles of track were laid south. Several depots were built along the way in Falmouth before ending at the water in Woods Hole. The first passenger train arrived at the Woods Hole depot on July 18, 1872. For the Cape Cod Railroad, it would be their last successful venture.

    Overtures about a potential takeover of Cape Cod Railroad began in earnest in late 1871. Meetings were held throughout the first half of 1872. It became obvious that the far larger Old Colony Railroad was going to make a bid. On March 27, 1872, Old Colony Railroad’s bid was approved. Later in the year on October 5th, the purchase of the Cape Cod Railroad became official and a celebration was held. It became known as Old Colony’s ‘Cape Cod Division.’

    1873 dawned with final preparations being made to extend Cape Cod’s railway into Provincetown. With the funds secured the progress was quick. 14 miles of track were laid in only seven months to connect Wellfleet to Provincetown. The track terminus was a depot along the newly created Bradford Street. The actual tracks ended at Railroad Wharf (where MacMillan Wharf is today) some 1,200 feet out into the water. This extra distance was to make it easy for fishermen to load their catch onto train cars.

    July 22, 1873, was a day of great celebration. The Old Colony Railroad’s Cape Cod Division had succeeded in connecting 14 of the 15 towns on the Cape with the greater world. Chatham would have to wait to become the 15th in 1887.

    A train departed the Yarmouth station loaded with more than 1,000 passengers, many of them famous dignitaries of the area, bound for Provincetown. At around 3pm the train arrived at a festive scene. A tent on High Pole Hill was the site of a gala dinner filled with speeches from dignitaries. People spoke of how now Cape Cod was connected to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Only twenty-five years after the Cape Cod Railroad was founded the tracks extended all the way to the tip of the Cape.

The view of Provincetown from Railroad Wharf with the old Town Hall on High Pole Hill in the background. (Boston Public Library)

    President Ulysses S. Grant took a ride on the railroad into Provincetown one year later in August 1874. From this point forward Cape Cod grew into the vacation destination it remains to this day. Ease of access to virtually all places on the peninsula gave potential visitors all the motivation they needed.

    The railroad dominated travel for the next thirty years. However, a new invention came about in the latter years of the 19th century that would eventually topple the train as the premiere mode of transportation. The automobile would change the world as it became more readily available.

    Today there is still a fair amount of railroad tracks on Cape Cod. However, less than half of the Cape is accessible via rail. For those curious as to where the tracks used to run one only needs to hop onto the Cape Cod Rail Trail beginning in South Yarmouth and follow it out to Wellfleet. It follows the old path the trains followed. There is even a segment of the rail trail that travels into Chatham that is named the Old Colony Rail Trail. It is named after the company that helped finish the job of bringing the railroad to the entire Cape that the Cape Cod Railroad began.

    A follow-up to this article will cover the gradual decline of Cape Cod’s railroad throughout the 20th century.

Color Images Created with Bing AI


Purchase a DVD copy of the Lady of the Dunes documentary here:

Purchase the new book Searching for the Lady of the Dunes written by 12th Generation Cape Codder Christopher Setterlund.


Friday, May 12, 2023

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod Summer Vacation 1923

    You’ve finally made it. After a long cold winter, the warm weather has arrived. It is time for a trip to Cape Cod for a summer vacation. You pack up the car and the kids and head for the Cape but this is not 2023. No, you are heading for a vacation on Cape Cod in 1923, one hundred years ago. What did a trip to the Cape look like back then? Let’s find out.
    First and foremost do you have your own vehicle or do you take a train? If you have an automobile you are one of the lucky ones. It would take until 1930 for more than half of American families to own automobiles. If you had a vehicle it was most likely the Ford Model T as 1923 was its best year for sales with more than two million units produced in that year alone. Other popular vehicles included the Chevrolet Superior and the Dodge Brothers Touring Car. These cars were quite different from the vehicles of today, with their exposed engines and spartan interiors.

    As you approach the Cape Cod Canal it looks different. The canal, which by 1923 had only been in operation for nine years, was still at its original width of 100 feet. It would not reach its present-day width of 480 feet until 1940.
    Naturally, with a narrower canal, the three bridges that crossed it were also different. The Sagamore and Bourne Bridges were drawbridges in 1923. Both bridges consisted of two 80-foot cantilever sections that rose to allow vessels to pass through. The railroad bridge was a 160-foot cantilever bridge that pivoted upward on its north foundation. These three bridges remained in use until 1935 when all three were replaced with the current bridges.
    You have now made it onto Cape Cod. There are fifteen towns and 143 unique villages. A major difference you will notice after crossing a bridge is that there is no Mid-Cape Highway. It won’t be until 1950 that the highway opens from the Sagamore Bridge to West Barnstable. This was Exit 6, present-day Exit 68. It is a slower go of things getting around on the Cape in 1923. Luckily Route 6A, then known only as the Old King’s Highway, existed to bring people all the way out to Provincetown.
    The big question now is where are you going to stay during your summer vacation? One thing Cape Cod did not lack in 1923 was popular resorts and hotels. In fact, the world-famous Chatham Bars Inn existed back then, although on a far smaller scale. If you couldn’t find room at CBI there was no need to despair.

    Some of the iconic hotels that you could have stayed at in 1923 included Aberdeen Hall on Great Island in West Yarmouth, Terrace Gables in Falmouth Heights, Chequesset Inn in Wellfleet, The Pines in Cotuit, and Hotel Belmont in Harwich. It was common in those days to vacation in the same place for weeks or even the entire summer. Hopefully, you enjoy your surroundings.
    If you were lucky enough to stay at one of these fine hotels perhaps your room would have the hot new technology known as a radio in it. Although there were no broadcast radio stations yet on Cape Cod the medium would explode in popularity over the rest of the 1920s. The majority of what would be heard in 1923 would be from tiny amateur stations that would broadcast at random hours.
    So you have found a place to stay. What next? It’s probably a good idea to find somewhere to get a bite to eat. Don’t go looking for franchises like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, or KFC though. Franchises as a concept don’t even exist yet. The first restaurant franchise was a Howard Johnson’s which opened in Orleans, Massachusetts in 1935. Not to worry though, there were plenty of great places to eat on Cape Cod in 1923.
    Driving around Cape Cod you will find an abundance of tearooms. These were Victorian-era establishments that functioned as small restaurants that served light meals, snacks, and of course tea. Some of the popular tearooms in 1923 included the Whippoorwill in Bourne, the Chatham Tea Room, and the Grey Gull in Falmouth. The Grey Gull would go on to become an infamous speakeasy during the waning days of Prohibition as The Hangar tearoom.
    Of course, if you were looking for some names familiar to longtime Cape Codders there were a few. You could grab a bite at the East Bay Lodge in Osterville, the Old Yarmouth Inn (then known as the Yarmouth Tavern), or the Daniel Webster Inn in Sandwich.
    If you were looking to make yourself a home-cooked meal, or just grab some necessities, it might have been easier to go to the market or drug store. Megathlin’s in Hyannis was the tops as far as drug stores went. There were no supermarkets to speak of in 1923. You could venture out to the local Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. (A&P), with locations in Falmouth, Provincetown, and Dennis Port among others. This was not the mammoth supermarket we see in the 21st century though.
    When looking for familiar brands to purchase there were many that are still prominent today. These include Coca-Cola, Heinz ketchup, Wrigley’s gum, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Bayer aspirin, Campbell’s soup, Hershey’s chocolate, Kodak film, Colgate toothpaste, and many more.
    Accommodations have been set, and you have had lunch or dinner, or at least visited the local market. What do you do for fun?     Obviously, Cape Cod has always been known for its miles of sandy beaches. It was no different one hundred years ago. You could spend the day at one of the beloved ‘bathing’ beaches like Craigville, Sandy Neck, Nauset, Race Point, and countless others. There was no option to drive over the sand to find a private spot so you would need to either walk through the dunes or learn to love the crowds.

On rainy days you could go and see a motion picture. These were still a part of the Silent Era and thus there was no dialogue, only music. Seats were available for matinees at the Idle Hour Theatre in Hyannis, Empire Theatre in Falmouth, and the Orpheum Theatre in Chatham. Tickets cost 35 cents for adults and 10 cents for children. What were the big summer films of 1923? They included The Covered Wagon, Safety Last!, Main Street, and a re-release of Monte Cristo.
    Perhaps you came to the Cape without children and wanted some fun nighttime adventures. Unfortunately, Prohibition was in effect so alcohol was illegal. This did not mean it wasn’t on Cape Cod though. Law enforcement was having a hard time stopping illegal ‘rum running’ that occurred along the Cape’s coast, specifically the beaches of Provincetown and Truro. There is a reason why Yarmouth’s Bass River Beach is more commonly referred to as ‘Smuggler’s’ Beach.
    Even without easy access to alcohol, there was no shortage of fun nightlife. The Mill Hill Pavilion in West Yarmouth, Chatham Pavilion, and Bournehurst On the Canal in Buzzards Bay offered nightly entertainment while many towns had dancing events on special dates throughout the year.
    Of course with the relatively new development of the automobile, coupled with the ‘Summer Playground’ that Cape Cod was referred to at the time by the Boston Globe, it might be a fun time to simply take a drive and enjoy the scenery.

    What would you see as you drove around Cape Cod in 1923?
In short, a whole lot of open space. In the 1920 census, Barnstable County had a population of 26,670. To compare, in the 2020 census the population was 228,996. That’s more than ten times the number of people. 

    As mentioned before there was no Mid-Cape Highway. There was no Cape Cod Mall. Route 28, typically the most congested roadway on the peninsula, was unpaved and still consisted mostly of residential homes and swaths of open land and forest.
    All of this open space would allow you to hear the unending hum of the 17-year locusts that had made Cape Cod their home in 1923. It was mostly contained between Falmouth and Hyannis though. In addition to locusts, a scenic drive along the Old King’s Highway might look different. In 1923, 97 large billboards dotted Cape Cod roadsides. These would slowly but surely be removed over the coming years due to fervor from residents.
    Perhaps while motoring along the Old King’s Highway you could stop for a few minutes to watch the bricks being made at the legendary West Barnstable Brick Factory. It was owned at the time by Cape Cod’s ‘cranberry king’ Abel Makepeace. In the 1920s it was reported that the factory could produce more than 100,000 bricks per day and more than thirty million per year. They were widely popular not only on Cape Cod but throughout the state of Massachusetts and even further.
    Driving to Chatham you will see a lot of construction happening. The big news in the town in 1923 is the dismantling of one of the Chatham Twin Lights. The north tower was shipped up to Eastham. There it replaced the final diminutive wooden tower of the Three Sisters. The former Chatham Twin was rechristened Nauset Lighthouse, although it would not receive its distinctive red and white coloring until 1940.
    At Mayo Beach in Wellfleet, you could gaze upon the recently deactivated Mayo Beach Lighthouse. Within a few years, it will be removed and ‘lost’ for more than eighty years. It will be ‘found’ in 2008 living a new life as Point Montara Lighthouse in California.
    You might take a drive to the ocean side of Wellfleet. There you could gaze upon the abandoned remains of Guglielmo Marconi’s revolutionary wireless station. It was here that the first transatlantic wireless communication took place in 1903. However much like today erosion was an issue in 1923. The station’s four towers had already been dismantled but their foundations and a few buildings remained.
    If you enjoyed shellfishing and a good adventure, you could take a day trip over to Billingsgate Island in Cape Cod Bay. Located about 2.5 miles west of Sunken Meadow Beach in Eastham this formerly thriving community was on its last legs. Erosion had wiped much of it off the map, with homes being floated across and assimilated into Eastham and Wellfleet. Its lighthouse had crumbled, replaced by a skeleton tower, but in 1923 it still had some of the best shellfishing on the Cape. Within twenty years though the island would be fully washed over and rechristened Billingsgate Shoal.

    A journey to the tip of the Cape in Provincetown was as wondrous then as it is today. The Portuguese fishing boats were aplenty, the Town Crier would keep you informed of all the local news, and if lucky perhaps famed poet Eugene O’Neill would come into town from his shack on the Peaked Hill Bar to say hello.
    If the journey called to you it was possible to take a visit to either island of Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket via the New Bedford, Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket Steamboat Line. This was the predecessor of the Steamship Authority. Several trips were leading out of Woods Hole daily.

    Excitement was in the air on Cape Cod when in June 1923 the Cape Cod Baseball League was formed with William Lovell of Hyannis serving as its first president. Four teams, Falmouth, Hyannis, Osterville, and Chatham would play a total of twelve games each. Opening night was July 10th as Falmouth defeated Osterville 11-7. It was not to worry for Osterville however as they would become the inaugural Cape League champions.
    As it is in present-day the crown jewel of Cape Cod summer in 1923 was the Barnstable County Fair. It opened Tuesday, August 28th, and was held for three days rather than a week like today. The fair was known as the Cattle Show and Fair of the Barnstable County Agricultural Society. It was held in Barnstable at the time near the County Court House. There were horse shows that drew upwards of 15,000 people. Also on the grounds were cattle shows, electrical appliance exhibits, swings, a merry-go-round, floral arrangements, and more.

    If unable to come to the Cape for the fair the next best thing was the annual Fourth of July festivities. There were town-sponsored fireworks displays. However, if you wanted to create your own show you could find ads in the local newspapers for stores like B.T. Gorham’s in Yarmouth Port, and A.C. Ryder’s in South Yarmouth selling all of the fireworks you could need. There were numerous special events including dinners, dancing, and more to celebrate Independence Day on Cape Cod.
    Before you know it time is up. Your vacation on Cape Cod during the summer of 1923 is now over. Hopefully, you enjoyed your time on the Cape’s shores. Before crossing back over the Canal be sure to gas up your vehicle. Also, stop by T.T. Hallet’s in Yarmouth Port to take with you some classic Cape Cod cranberries or other gifts and novelties to remind you of your trip. We hope it was the cat’s meow!

All Images created with the help of Bing AI


Purchase a DVD copy of the Lady of the Dunes documentary here:

Purchase the new book Searching for the Lady of the Dunes written by 12th Generation Cape Codder Christopher Setterlund.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

In My Footsteps: Hiking Cape Cod

With spring and summer comes the increased desire to get out and enjoy the beautiful weather. Living on Cape Cod there is no shortage of places to see and explore. Hiking is a fantastic way to get out into nature, get some exercise, and explore the great outdoors. However, hiking can also be dangerous if you're not prepared or don't take the necessary precautions.

What I am going to do here is share some amazing places to go exploring on Cape Cod and also give some tips on how to enjoy hiking outdoors safely.

1. Plan your route: Before you start your hike, it's essential to plan your route. Luckily Cape Cod is a peninsula and the odds of getting lost in somewhere truly inhospitable are small. However, it is important to have a general sense of where you are and where you are going. Doing a little research won’t hurt. Choose a trail that is suitable for your fitness level and experience. For the most part, Cape Cod is a series of beginner to moderate hiking trails.

2. Bring the right gear: This is a given. Make sure you have appropriate footwear that provides good support and traction. Wear comfortable clothing that is appropriate for the weather conditions. If the hike is long enough bring a backpack with essential items such as water, snacks, sunscreen, a hat, and maybe a first aid kit. There are plenty of short hikes on Cape Cod, but there are also some that can be up to ten miles or longer.

3. Check the weather forecast: This is true for any time of year. Hiking is fun, but hiking in the pouring rain, wind, or snow is not. That’s not to say that some inclement weather can’t make for a fun adventure. The main point is to think ahead. A little drizzle or hot temperatures might not ruin a hike, but a downpour can change the complexion of a trail turning packed dirt to slippery muck.

4. Hike with a buddy: It's always a good idea to hike with a buddy or a group of people. Not only is it more fun to hike with others, but it's also safer. If you get lost or injured, you'll have someone there to help you.

5. Stay on the trail: When hiking, always stay on the trail. Don't wander off the path, as you can damage the environment and get lost. There is also a prevalence of ticks that can cause Lyme Disease. Most trails are crafted to make sure you get the best experience so diverting from it shouldn’t be necessary.

6. Pace yourself: Hiking can be physically demanding. Don't push yourself too hard and listen to your body. If you feel tired or lightheaded, take a break and have a snack or drink some water. It also gives you ample time to take in the scenery and even snag a couple amazing photos.

7. Respect wildlife: Remember when hiking, you’re in nature’s house. Keep your distance from animals and don't disturb their natural habitat. Don't feed animals or leave food out, as this can attract wildlife and create dangerous situations.

8. Leave no trace: This is most important. Don't leave anything behind, and don't damage the environment by carving your name into trees or rocks. Take out what you take in. We only have one environment and it is important to leave its beauty for future generations.

     That’s a pretty comprehensive list, but it’s all common sense stuff. Be smart, be respectful, and be prepared. Now that you know how to properly enjoy a good hike on Cape Cod it’s time to share a few places to implement the tips. They will also be designated as easy, moderate, or difficult so that all experience levels can find somewhere incredible to visit.

1. Great Island Trail: Wellfleet – Moderate: This trail can be easy or moderate depending on the path you take. It is anywhere from 3.9 – 8.8 miles in total length. There are spectacular views of Cape Cod Bay and Jeremy Point. The uplands take you past the 17th Century Samuel Smith Tavern Site.

Great Island Trail

2. Nauset Marsh Trail: Eastham – Easy/Moderate: This trail can be easy or moderate as well. There is a marsh loop trail that is 1.2 total miles but for more of a challenge you can add in the Nauset Bike Trail to bump the total distance up to 4.1 miles. You circle Salt Pond and can venture out to Salt Pond Bay. The bike trail leads you all the way out to the iconic Coast Guard Beach as well.

Nauset Marsh Trail

3. Long Point Lighthouse Trail: Provincetown – Moderate: One of the most visible yet least traversed trails on Cape Cod. The approximately 5.9 total mile hike begins with a somewhat challenging walk across Provincetown’s West End Breakwater. It continues with a sandy stroll out onto Long Point to the eponymously named lighthouse. The views of Provincetown’s waterfront along with the boats that dock on Long Point make this a wonderful way to spend a day.

Long Point Lighthouse

4. Waquoit Bay Trail: Mashpee – Easy: A beautiful out-and-back walk along South Cape Beach leads you from the parking area to the shores of Waquoit Bay. At a little over 2 miles, it is a relatively easy hike although some soft sand can slow your progress down at times.

South Cape Beach State Park

Wing Island Trail: Brewster – Easy: Be sure to keep an eye on the tides before you go. Once the timing is right though this is an easy hike with a panoramic view of Cape Cod Bay at the end. It can be anywhere from 1.5 miles to slightly longer depending on how much of the beach you choose to explore.

Wing Island Trail

    These are but a few of the incredible hikes on Cape Cod. There are so many hidden gems, not to mention more than one hundred miles of paved bike trails. Whether you choose to explore one of the mentioned trails, or you choose your own adventure, be sure to have fun and be safe!