By Saul Schwartz
Due to pandemic restrictions, my wife Fern and I had not left the DMV (DC/Maryland/Virginia) metropolitan area since March of 2020. We had never been to Cape Cod. We chose this as the location for our first trip since COVID-19 altered our 2020 travel plans. The drive from Alexandria, Virginia, took about 9 hours, including short stops along the way. Traffic was heavier than we anticipated, due to construction and higher volume.
Day One: Sandwich
One of the oldest towns on Cape Cod, Sandwich (population 3000) was the site of one of the largest glass factories in the United States. We spent our first day in this town on the western part of the Cape. A prominent sign on Main Street stated that the town was twinned with Sandwich, Kent, England.
The Sandwich Glass Museum is located at 129 Main Street in Sandwich, opposite the Old Town Hall. A free parking in a lot is at the back of the museum. We first strolled through the museum’s galleries which display in chronological order the various types of glassware produce in Sandwich by the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company from 1825 until the company’s closing in 1888. The galleries contained videos, drawers with glass samples and an extensive collection of displayed glassware. More than 6000 pieces of glass are preserved and displayed. Of particular interest, a spiky glass chandelier hangs from the ceiling, radiating with purple, orange and yellow glass. The special exhibition gallery reminded us of the works of Chihuly, with works of multi-dimensional light paintings with radiating glass in the shapes of sea animals, flowers and abstract people.
Then we attended one of the glassblowing demonstrations where a glassblower showed different glassblowing techniques as he shaped and tolled glass into a decorative shell. We could feel the heat from the museum’s glass furnace, as he turned and twisted the glass into wonderful forms! The museum shop offers hundreds of glass items (e.g., the work of Cape Cod and national glass artisans as well as reproductions). The price of admission is $12 for adults which helps support the museum and the Sandwich Historical Society. Several contemporary sculptures sit outside the museum building on the grounds. More information is available at sandwichglassmuseum.org.
We had a picnic lunch outside the Sandwich Town Hall, 130 Main Street in Eaton Square. Built in 1834, the building was beautifully and accurately restored in 2009. The attractive front of the Greek Revival building features a series of massive white columns underneath the triangular roof. The town hall continues to serve as the seat of town government and is one of the oldest town halls in New England. The building received the Preservation Award for rehabilitation and restoration.
We sat on benches across from the town hall by the Vietnam War Monument, which was dedicated in 2018. The stone monument includes the emblems of six branches of the military. Also on the same grounds, sits the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, dedicated in 1911 by businessman William Eaton. The monument states that it was “erected in memory of the soldiers and sailors from this town, brave defenders of the Union and the Flag, we honor their noble deeds, let us have peace.” The statue of a solider in uniform with his rifle stands high atop a column which bears this inscription.
After lunch we wandered through Sandwich, first stopping on Main Street to get water at the Old Grist Mill Spring. Here water bubbles out of the ground through a wooden container. People from all over the Cape come here to fill jugs with the water. The spring is located between the Town Hall and the Grist Mill. There is no fee to fill up your jug to drink this tasty water.
Dexter’s Grist Mill on Main Street was not open for tours in early May. We walked around the restored mill. The first mill started operating in 1654 and was rebuilt in 1854. Signage indicated that the mill was then restored in 1961. Early settlers brought their corn to the mill to be ground into meal, their most important food. Along with the blooming tulips, the pond and the wheel on the side of the mill, this is a very picturesque spot to enjoy. Mill Creek powers the Mill which is still operational as a tourist exhibition, in season.
The Hoxie House was also not open for tours during our visit. We walked around the house. This nearby attraction on Water Street is a restored 1675 saltbox house. Its thatched style roof reminded us of houses in Ireland. It is one of the oldest surviving houses on Cape Cod. This grey house was built by a local pastor, Reverend John Smith, and then later owned by a whaling captain, Abraham Hoxie.
Later in the day we spent several hours at the Heritage Museums and Gardens, 67 Grove Street. The complex contains 100 acres of gardens and several miles of nature trails, as well as buildings housing antique American automobiles in the J. K. Lilly automobile library. Garden features include sculptures, water features, a labyrinth and a maze. One of the highlights is the flume field with its dramatic eighteen-foot waterfall and the surrounding collection of daylilies. The Old East Windmill (built in 1800) was transported 30 miles onto the garden grounds. The cost of admission is $20 per adult. A large parking lot is available outside the gardens. Additional information is available on the web site, heritagemuseums.org.
Day 2: A Day on Nantucket (Cape Cod Islands)
By day two, we were joined by my brother-in-law Paul and sister-in-law Karen. We spent this day on Nantucket Island (population 7450).
The high-speed ferry to Nantucket from Hyannis takes about 1 hour and travels 26 miles. We choose to take the Hy-Line. The roundtrip cost was $81 per person, plus $15 per vehicle to park in a lot within walking distance of the terminal. In early May, we had two choices in each direction, so reservations were highly recommended. The ride was comfortable, as the stabilizer kept the ferry very smooth. The schedule is published on-line at hylinecruises.com. One additional cruise line (Steamship Authority) offers high speed cruises from Nantucket to Hyannis. Ferry service is year-round. This is no bridge from the mainland to this island.
We started our day on the island by walking from the harbor to the visitor information bureau on 25 Ferry Street where we picked up brochures and asked for recommendations. The web site also contains links to suggestions for a day on Nantucket. www.nantucket-ma.gov.
We then followed a portion of the Nantucket self-guided Historical Walking Tour of the island’s historic and architectural heritage. Nantucket’s historic core was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1966. The island community has preserved some of the finest eighteenth and early nineteenth century architecture in the nation. As we wandered the historic district, with its charming cobble-stoned streets, we noticed a wide variety of architectural styles, including Federal mansions, Greek Revival mansions and Victorian homes. Starting at the Pacific Club (circa 1818) at the foot of Main Street, we admired the outside of the homes on upper Main Street. The majority of these buildings date from the 1820s, 1830s and 1840s and constitute a fine collection of residential architecture. These homes are private residents are not open for public tours. We were able to view the inside of one Victorian home which is now a bed and breakfast (76 Main Street), the former William Swain House (circa 1883). The brochure obtained at the visitor information bureau contained a wealth of data on each historic home such as the oldest house (Jethro Coffin House on Sunset Hill).
Fern and I had an informal lunch at the Lemon Press café at 41 Main Street. The menu included a variety of flavorful vegan and gluten free options, along with healthy organic foods. The food prices were reasonable and the server was both friendly and efficient.
After lunch, we walked through the town down South Beach Street to the Brant Point Lighthouse off of Easton Street. This allowed us to see some beautiful modern homes with water views. Although not open to the public, Brant Point (established in 1746) is the second oldest lighthouse in the United States. This lighthouse is a small charming white structure near the keeper’s house and Coast Guard station, with a commanding view of the beach.
We also walked down the narrow streets by the Nantucket Atheneum which opened in 1847. This beautiful Greek Revival building is fronted by a series of white columns leading up to the white triangular roof. Located at the corner of Pearl and Federal streets, this lovely building now houses a library. I thought this was the most attractive building on the island.
We ended the day at the Whaling Museum at 13 Broad Street. The museum building is contained within a candle factory built in 1847. Upon entering the museum, we first viewed a magnificent 46-foot whale skeleton. We then wandered through the galleries and particularly enjoyed watching an historical video of how Nantucket developed over the years, including whaling. Although adult admission is normally $20, on the day of our visit the admission was free. There are amazing views from the roof deck of Nantucket harbor. More information about the museum and the Nantucket Historical Association is available at https://nha.org.
Day 3: Spending a Rainy Day in Chatham
The next day we met up with friends we met on a Danube River cruise several years ago (Alan, John, Maureen and Teresa). Chatham (population 1400) sits between Nantucket Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.
Within a one-mile stretch on Main Street, window shopping in these boutique stores was a pleasant activity on a rainy day. One of the most interesting stores was Yankee Ingenuity, located at 525 Main Street, which contained many whimsical folk art items, along with works by Cape Cod artists and items you didn’t realize you needed until you purchase them.
We thoroughly enjoyed lunch at Chatham Squire, 487 Main Street. Fern and I ordered salads topped with grilled salmon. Both the garden salad and the fennel citrus salads featured tasty vegetables. The menu featured a wide variety of seafood at moderate prices. The restaurant is well-known enough to have a gift shop featuring Chatham Squire items across the street! The décor featuring license plates from throughout the world led to interesting conversations. Parking was easily available behind the restaurant.
In the center of town, the Chatham Bandstand in Kate Gould Memorial Park is the site of summer concerts. The grounds are well-maintained and the park was empty on this rainy day. Bathrooms within the park were clean.
After a short drive, we briefly stopped by the Chatham Pier Fish Market located at 45 Barcliff Avenue Extension. With seawater pumping directly through the tanks, this clearly is an authentic New England fish market with fish to take home and eat or to eat on premises. Sassy seals popped their heads through the water just beyond the pier. This landmark market was founded over a half-century ago.
Our final stop of the day was at the Chatham Light. This white lighthouse was first built in 1808. Installed in 1994, the present light displays two white lights every ten seconds and can be seen 24 nautical miles out at sea. The complex also serves as a Coast Guard headquarters. Tours were not available. This was one of the most attractive lighthouses on Cape Cod.
Day 4: From Dennis to Wood’s Hole
Dennis (population 2400) is almost at the midpoint of Cape Cod. To adjust to a second rainy day on Cape Cod, we started the day inside at the Cape Cod Museum of Art, in Dennis at 60 Hope Lane. Founded by artists in 1981, the museum has an extensive collection of sculpture and art works inspired by Cape Cod or the Cape Cod islands. In addition, outside the museum we walked through the lovely sculpture gardens contained within greenery and gardens. The museum site has more information at www.ccmoa.org. Adult admission is $10.
During our visit, we viewed the three exhibits: (1) Insight – a national juried exhibition reflecting artistic interpretations of the word insight; (2) Enough – Jane Lincoln’s focus on mass shootings using spikes hammered through black paper; and (3) Visions/Revisions – women artists who returned to the same location as an earlier work and created a new work of art. Although the museum is modest in size, it is a good regional art museum.
We spent the afternoon in Wood’s Hole (population 800), on the southwest tip of Cape Cod. Although the oceanographic research center buildings were still closed for public visits, we had fun walking through the tiny town with its cute little draw bridge. For a snack, we stopped at the Pie in the Sky Bakery & Café, located at 10 Water Street, which had excellent views of the great harbor and featured freshly ground coffee being roasted while we watched. The homemade vegan peanut butter chocolate chip cookies were simply amazing. As we looked out from the café, Fern and I were surprised how crowded the area was around the Steamship Authority ferry terminal, which was one reason we decided not to take the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard from this location later in the week.
We ended the day at the restored Nobska Lighthouse located at 233 Nobska Road in Wood’s Hole. Currently under construction, Fern and I were only able to view the outside 42 foot tall white iron tower and red lighthouse keeper’s house. First established in 1828, this attractive lighthouse is now automated and no longer houses a lighthouse keeper.
Day 5: Provincetown
From Hyannis, it took us about one hour to drive to Provincetown (population 2650) on the northern end of the Cape. Four hundred years ago, Pilgrim settlers first set foot on Cape Cod. The Pilgrim Monument is the tallest point on Cape Cod, but in early May it was not open to the public. It is located at 1 High Pole Hill Road. Also, the Provincetown Museum, next to the Monument, was being renovated and was not open either. The monument commemorates the Mayflower Pilgrims first landing in Provincetown. At the base of the monument, there is an inscription from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts explaining that the Monument commemorates the compact of government singed by the Pilgrims on board the Mayflower in Provincetown Harbor on November 11, 1620. Next to the inscription there is a bronze relief picture signifying this important event.
Fern and I spent most of the day walking up and down Commercial Street. There are quite a few LGBT businesses because Provincetown has become a mecca for this community. Many of the stores were once cottages. We also spent a few minutes looking out at the handsome waterfront.
Inside the Provincetown Town Hall there are a series of two large murals painted in 1934 as part of the New Deal. Entitled “Spreading Nets” and “Gathering Beach Plumbs,” they were painted by Ross Moffett. The Town Hall had nice public bathrooms. Built in 1885, the Town Hall is Provincetown’s seat of government. This impressive Victorian building is beautiful inside and out, with its Victorian era colors. The building is located at 260 Commercial Street.
There were various displays of street art along Commercial Street. A different piece of art is Chaim Gross’ six-foot bronze statue Tourists which stands outside the Provincetown Library, at 356 Commercial Street. The statute is a satirical and whimsical depiction of pair of strolling sightseers. Although the library was not open, the tower of the Italianate-style building is part of the Provincetown skyline and it is a lovely white structure.
We ended the day at the Cape Cod National Seashore. Near Provincetown, we enjoyed this relaxing at portion of the national seashore. We admired the natural beauty of the Atlantic Ocean and these pristine sandy beaches at the Province Lands entrance. Coastal dunes were visible. Restrooms were open, but the visitor center was closed. We saw a few folks on the bike trail, but otherwise this area was very quiet and peaceful.
Day 6: A Day in Martha’s Vineyard (on the Cape Cod Islands)
We spent this day on the larger of the Cape Cod Islands. The high-speed ferry from Hyannis takes about one hour. Without a stabilizer, this ferry was not quite as comfortable of a ride. We again chose to take Hy-Line. The round-trip cost was $62 per person, plus $15 for reserved parking per vehicle at a lot within walking distance of the ferry terminal. In early May, we had two choices in each direction per day, so reservations were recommended highly. Alternatively, the Steamship Authority ferry from Wood’s Hole had more options. Hy-Line takes you to the village of Oak Bluffs, whereas the Steamship Authority arrives in the village of Vineyard Haven. There is no bridge to Martha’s Vineyard from the mainland.
We began our day with a walk from the harbor to a self-guided tour of the historic Oak Bluffs community. Our tour began at The Flying Horses Carousel, at 15 Lake Avenue. Although not open on this day, we were able to peek in at the oldest continuing operating carousel in the United States, built in 1876. The hand carved horses boast real horsehair tails and the tiny lead animals have glass eyes. The carousel was restored by and is operated by the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust.
We spent several hours within The Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association Grounds & Trinity Park, the center of the former Wesleyan Grove community. Today there are more than 300 colorful cottages that can be seen on the 36-acre site. Oak Bluffs is well-known for these Carpenter Gothic gingerbread cottages. These brightly painted wooden houses were built by Methodists in the nineteenth century. These lovely tiny residences are privately owned, so we could only view the outside of the homes. Upon entering the community, signage indicated that this has been a religious community since 1835 and a national historic landmark. As we strolled through the streets, no two houses appeared to be alike. More information about some of the cottages was contained in a brochure handed out by the Oak Bluffs Historical Commission.
The Tabernacle is the centerpiece of the campground community with its octagonal cupola and wrought iron arches. It is home to religious services, along with other community events. Signage indicated on the structure indicated that the regal structure of today was completed in 1879. Although not open, we were able to look in to see the colored stained-glass windows. The building is one of the largest wrought iron buildings of its kind in the country today and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
At midday, we had a snack at Sharky’s Cantina, 31 Circuit Avenue, just outside the cottage community. The house made tortilla chips were addictive; the portions were large, and the prices were reasonable. Nearby, the Reliable Market, 36 Circuit Avenue, supplied us with lunch items for our picnic on a bench nearby.
We walked over to the Arts District on the corners of Vineyard Avenue and Dukes County Avenues, but the art galleries were not yet open for the season. Our day ended with a stroll through Ocean Park which is a grassy space surrounded by Victorian mansions, features a colorful gazebo bandstand and ocean views. We then returned to the ferry in the harbor. With more time, we would have gone to one of the other villages, perhaps Vineyard Haven.
Day 7: Hyannis and the Cape Cod Rail Trail
Our Airbnb in Hyannis (population 14000) was located midway between the town and Keyes Memorial Beach. The beach, at the southern end of Sea Street, was a small quiet community beach. We enjoyed walking along Main Street several times throughout our trip. Our favorite stop on Main Street was at Katie’s Homemade Ice Cream, 568 Main Street, with its extensive and innovative flavors and options. We sat on the porch several times during the week. Hyannis had an excellent variety of food markets (including Whole Foods and Trader Joes), as well as restaurants (e.g., Not Your Average Joes, Panera Bread, etc.).
Hyannis was a great location for our stay with its central location, which allowed us to go in different directions on our daily journeys throughout the Cape. An additional plus was its convenience to the island ferries. At a few times, we felt concerned about noisy locals.
The modest JFK Memorial is off Ocean Street in Veterans Memorial Park in Hyannis. Fronted by a small pool and fountain, a fieldstone wall features a large medallion with JFK’s likeness. Given the link between Hyannis and the Kennedy family, we were surprised at the modest size of the memorial. Just down the path, the Korean War Memorial at 480 Ocean Street, is a soldier statute based on a design by a local resident who served as a combat photographer during the Korean War. There is not a lot to see at either memorial. There is no fee for admission.
The sidewalks of Sea Street were wide enough for short bike rides and walking during the week. As our final activity, we wanted to take advance of one of the Cape’s bike paths.
The Cape Cod Rail Trail goes from Dennis to Wellfleet. Before leaving the Cape, we rode our bikes on the flat, well-paved trail, starting at the Dennis trailhead. Signage indicated that that this had been the site of the Dennis Railroad. The multi-purpose trail is 25 miles long. On this morning, we only saw a few other bikers, walkers, and runners. Although this portion of the trail was not particularly scenic, it did pass a few meadows and wetlands.
After a week in Cape Cod, Fern and I felt we had a good feel for the essence of the Cape, with its wide variety of attractions, beautiful architecture and the aura of its nature. There were plenty of things to do to occupy us for one week, regardless of the weather.