The Oldest Town on the Cape - Sandwich Mass.

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The Oldest Town on the Cape - Sandwich Mass.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

By Christopher Setterlund, Sandwich: In My Footsteps

Located next to the Canal and running east until it hits Barnstable, Sandwich can lay claim to being the first town established by the European settlers in 1639. The history in Sandwich is so palpable that all one has to do is park in the remarkable center of town and walk in any direction. Each building it seems is right out of the past, some of them are over 300 years old.

In the warmer months it may be harder to simply park and walk, but on this cold winter’s day I was able to find the lot empty at the Hoxie House. Located along the Shawme Pond on Water St. on the outskirts of the historic district, the Hoxie House is a restored ‘Salt Box’ home; the oldest home on the Cape. Though the exact date is not known the general consensus is that this house was built in 1637. It can be toured daily from June through mid-October.

The Hoxie House is just the beginning however of the wonders that Sandwich’s historic district has to offer. The next house on the left side of Water St. is the Silvanus Tobey house built in 1675 and right after that is the Deacon Eldred house, built in 1756, which is now home to the Thornton Burgess Museum. Burgess was a local author and naturalist and the museum houses many artifacts of him and his work. The museum can be toured from late-May through Columbus Day.

A favorite spot to visit in Sandwich is the old Dexter Grist Mill(left). Originally opened in 1654 residents of the town brought their corn to be ground by Thomas Dexter. The mill, restored most recently in 1961, still grinds its own cornmeal which is available for purchase. Located at the intersection of Water & Main St., and at the end of Shawme Pond, this site is a must see. Also a must see is the fresh water fountain located near the road. It is free to use and on many days people come from all over town and further away to fill up their bottles and jugs with the fresh water. It is an amazing, and refreshing, spot to visit on a hot summer day!

Sandwich’s Town Hall is located next to the mill and at the time of this visit was being renovated. Across the street from the Hall is the quaint and popular Dunbar Tea Shop which is a living breathing trip back to 18th Century life. It is a definite must see.

Located around to the other side of Shawme Pond is the Newcomb Tavern, built in 1693. Originally a lodging house for dignitaries during the Revolutionary War, the Tavern is now a rental property that sleeps up to fifteen people in its seven bedrooms.

Located across the street from the Town Hall is the First Church of Christ(right) which is one of the most photographed churches in the United States. The current structure, built in 1847, can be seen on the cover of Elvis Presley’s 1960 album How Great Thou Art.

Grove Street, on which the Newcomb Tavern sits, can be used as a back route to two more amazing historical and natural wonders of Sandwich. Near the end of Grove Street which ends at the highway there is the Shawme-Crowell State Forest on the right and the Heritage Museum & Garden on the left. The Heritage Museum is closed until April so I did a little touring of the garden area(below, right). Magnificently manicured trees, plants, and flowers are spread out along hillsides; even in the dead of winter where nothing was blooming it was still a beautiful scene. Each tree and plant is clearly labeled to make them easy to identify. The Museum part is home to a classic automobile exhibit, a hand-carved carousel, a folk art gallery, as well as the Old East Windmill which was moved to the grounds from Orleans.

The Shawme-Crowell State Forest which can be entered through trails across the street from the Heritage Museum & Garden is a great hike through over 700 acres of forest. It is a year-round campground with 285 sites available; it is also filled with lots of picnic areas with tremendous views. The trails leading from Grove Street have clever names such as the Coyote Den, Raccoon Den, Sherris Berries, and Mayflower trails. The trails also parallel the highway at spots so it is difficult to get lost.

Finally located on the other side of Sandwich along the beach near the mouth of the Cape Cod Canal is another amazing site. It is not a natural site per se, although it does give some great views of the salt marsh and Boardwalk Beach. This boardwalk(left) which begins at the end of Boardwalk Rd. is special because nearly all of the boards that make up the walkway are adorned with messages. From memories of 9/11 to well wishes for America, from local business names to couples celebrating their love, the boardwalk in Sandwich is less of a way to reach the beach and more of a slice of American life. It is very hard not to stop and read each of the messages adoring the 1,000 feet of boards carrying you across the marsh.

Sandwich is the oldest town on Cape Cod and the vast array of historical places shows it. Nearly every house in the historic center of town is a piece of history. However it goes deeper than that as the natural beauty of this town is all around you as well. From forests and gardens to beaches and a boardwalk filled with love and memories, Sandwich is a spot that needs to be visited often in order to fully appreciate its importance to not only the Cape but American history as well. Have fun and happy traveling!

Directions: Sandwich Historic District: From the highway take Exit 2 to Rt. 130 also known as Water St. Follow it north just over a mile, the Hoxie House is on the left and is a great spot to start a walking trip around the center.

Heritage Museum & Gardens: From Water St. turn right down Grove St., Follow it for a mile until you reach the Museum on the left. Trails for Shawme-Crowell State Forest lay on the right.

Shawme-Crowell State Forest: For the main entrance of the Forest follow Rt. 130 through the historic district for a little over a mile. Take the left turn onto Flatrock Rd. this is the entrance and is designated by signs.

Boardwalk Beach: From Sandwich Center take Rt. 130 , turn right onto Tupper Rd., turn right onto Rt. 6A. Take 1st left onto Jarves St., and then 2nd left onto Church St. Take the 1st right onto Harbor St. and follow it to the boardwalk parking lot.

About the Author: Christopher Setterlund is a writer and photographer currently living in Centerville Massachusetts. For more information about him and his work visit his website at

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