This hook shaped peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic was discovered in 1602 by English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold. He anchored just inside the curve of the peninsula just off the site of modern day Provincetown. His crew caught huge quantities of cod at the anchorage, so Gosnold named the peninsula Cape Cod. In 1620 it was also the first landfall for the Pilgrim Fathers. Bad weather delivered them to this narrow peninsula occupied by hostile Indians. They soon moved on to the mainland and founded Plymouth Colony. Today the hostile Indians have gone and the beaches and seascapes have made Cape Cod prime vacation territory. This is bad news if you visit in peak season as the shape of the peninsula severely limits access. We have visited three times, but always out of peak season. The weather may not not have been too kind to us, but at least we did not have to sit in a traffic jam!
Marconi Station, Cape Cod National Seashore
Guglielmo Marconi was, of course, the father of radio. In his home country of Italy, Marconi had succeeded in sending wireless signals over distances of up to 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles), but he dreamed of sending wireless signals across the Atlantic. In 1896 he moved to England and was granted a patent for Wireless Telegraphy. In 1901 he successfully sent a signal from Poldhu in Cornwall to St John’s, Newfoundland. He set up a site here on Cape Cod and in 1903 for the first time the UK and USA were in communication by radio.
Old Harbor Lifesaving Station, Race Point
Up at the northern tip of Cape Cod near Provincetown is an unusual historic building. Old Harbor Lifesaving Station was built around 1897 at Nauset Beach in Chatham. It served as a base for US Coast Guard lifesaving crews and also provided temporary shelter for people who had been rescued. There were once 13 lifesaving stations along the coast of Cape Cod, but the sea has claimed most of them. Old Harbor Lifesaving Station was threatened by erosion at Nauset Beach, so in 1977 the National Park Service moved it to Race Point. Click Tab 2 to see the Rescue Boats housed in the Lifesaving Station.
Atwood House Museum, Chatham,
Chatham sits on the outside of the bend in Cape Cod. Although Samuel de Champlain landed here in 1606, it was the English who first settled here in 1665, naming their town after Chatham in Kent, England. One house in Chatham particularly represents the long history of the town. Atwood house was built in 1752 by Joseph Atwood, a sea captain who described himself as a ‘navigator of unfrequented parts’. The house has been preserved largely in its original form and is looked after by the Chatham Historical Society. It is open for tours between June and October.
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Cape Cod Canal at Bourne
The Pilgrim Fathers found out just how rough the waters off Cape Cope can be when they tried to continue there voyage on to Virginia. They were forced to turn back and settle in Massachusetts. The only alternative was portage across the peninsula which was time consuming and laborious. It is not surprising that the Pilgrim Fathers came up with the idea of a canal, but their small colony lacked the resources to create a canal. In 1776 George Washington ordered the first of many feasibility studies, but nothing happened until 1904 when wealthy financier August Belmont II got involved. In 1899 the Boston, Cape Cod and New York Canal Company have been given a charter to build a canal, so Belmont bought the company and engaged civil engineer William Barclay Parsons to conduct yet another feasibility study. Armed with a favourable study, Belmont dug the first shovelful of earth on June 22, 1909. Progress was slowed by huge glacial boulders that had to be blasted to pieces, but the canal finally opened on July 29, 1914. At opening the canal was only 4.5 metres (15 feet) deep and it took another 2 years to achieve its intended depth of 7.6 metres (25 feet). During the last months of World War I, the operation of the canal was taken over by Federal Railroad Administration then in 1927 the Federal Government bough the canal. The US Army Corps of Engineers replaced some of the opening bridges with high level bridges. In 1935 work started to widen and deepen the canal, and this work was completed in 1940.
Sunset over Falmouth Beach
Just to show that the weather was not totally dismal during our early visits to Cape Cod, here is a view with just a touch of sun in it. Falmouth sits in the south west of Cape Cod, close to Woods Hole and the chain of Elizabeth Islands. This area was originally settled in about 1660 by Quakers, the town taking its name from Falmouth in Cornwall. In the 19th century Falmouth boomed as a whaling port, but now the area is used primarily for recreation, tourism and summer homes for the wealthy.
Hyannis Port, Cape Cod, MA, USA
The town of Barnstaple was founded in 1666 and spans the breadth of the east-west part of the peninsula. Barnstaple is actually made up from seven villages, of which one, Hyannis, is now known primarily for its association with the Kennedy family. John F Kennedy’s father Joseph and mother Rose bought Malcolm Cottage in 1928, having previously rented it. As the Kennedy children grew up they purchased properties in Hyannis and established the ‘Kennedy Compound’. In 1956 JFK purchased the house that became the summer White House during his presidency. The properties are not open to the public but there is a John F Kennedy Hyannis Museum that tells the story of his time in Cape Cod.
To move forwards or backwards through the Massachusetts trail click the arrows above. We have other pages on Cape Cod. Click below or on the Minimap: