Location: Eastham, Massachusetts
Webpage: National Park
General Description: The first landing of the Pilgrims in 1620 was actually at the tip of Cape Cod, near present day Provincetown and near Eastham is where they had their first encounters with Native Americans. Although Cape Cod was one of the first English settlements, it developed slowly, Provincetown begin a series of huts until the 18th century. Because of early settlement and extensive land use, Henry Thoreau described Cape Cod as desolate with few trees. As the vegetation was removed and the thin glacial soils used up and blown away from intensive cultivation of wheat followed by cattle, the dunes on the outer cape became more numerous and the moving dunes filled in the harbors. The early industrial revolution in the mid-1800s mostly bypassed Cape Cod since it had no water source for power. However, it did have a brief history as a large fishing and whaling center due to its location. By 1860, all agriculture had been abandoned and forests had begun to reclaim the land. Beginning at the end of the 19th century it became a summer haven for city dwellers which continues to today. It’s other claim to fame was the terminus of the trans-atlantic cable and the site where Marconi made the first trans-atlantic wireless communication. Today most of the east coast of Cape Cod consists of wide sandy beaches and President Kennedy saved the beaches from private development by establishing the Cape Cod National Seashore in 1961.
1) The Cape Cod National Seashore includes all of the eastern shore of the cape covering nearly 40 miles of shoreline and over 43,000 acres. There are two Visitor Centers located at the southern end at Salt Pond and the northern end outside of Provincetown at Province Lands.
2) There are numerous hiking and biking trails throughout the National Seashore. The first trail we went on was Nauset Marsh Trail at the Salt Pond Visitor Center. This is an easy trail that goes through the freshwater and tidal marshes. The most interesting view is of Salt Pond, which is a Kettle. Kettles are natural depressions formed by receding glaciers where pockets of ice slowly melted. This creates nearly circular depressions that become filled with freshwater, unless there is access to the ocean as is the case with Salt Pond.
3) We also hiked from the picnic area down to the beach near the Salt Pond Visitor Center, however, it was still too cool in the spring for any swimmers. In fact, we had on jackets to block the wind.
4) A quick drive from the Visitor Center ends at the Nauset Lighthouse which was originally erected in Chatham, MA in 1877. In 1923 it was moved to Eastham where it was reassembled 275 feet from the bluff. The lighthouse is 48 feet tall and constructed with cast iron plates lined with bricks. With the help of the Nauset Light Preservation Society it is still functioning today, although it is now obsolete according to the US Coast Guard. Nearby is also the shack which was the terminus of the trans-atlantic cable.
5) Marconi Station Site is the location of the tower used by Marconi to transmit the first trans-atlantic wireless communication in 1903 used by President Theodore Roosevelt to send greetings to King Edward VII in England. As the tower was lost to the ocean many years ago, this accomplishment is commemorated with a plaque near the site. We did not visit the site as we wanted to continue to the north end.
6) Provincetown has been an artist community since the end of the 19th century being the home of many well known American artists over the years. Since the streets were very narrow and parking was at a premium, we only drove through the town. The most impressive feature is the Pilgrim Tower, which is the tallest all granite tower in the US at 252 feet tall. Built in 1907 by Willard Sears in 1907-1910 to commemorate the landing of the Pilgrims. It is an impressive structure, even though it does not seem to have anything to do with the Pilgrims and certainly dominates the sky line.
7) The Province Land Visitor Center is essentially an observation tower from which you can see out over the top of the pitch pine forests that are slowly reclaiming the dunes. There is also suppose to be a beach forest, but I could not pick it out. You also learn about the over 3000 shipwrecks that have occurred just off shore along the cape, including the HMS Somerset that was destroyed in a storm in 1778. The HMS Somerset was a 70-gun third rate Ship of the Line and was much feared by the Patriots during the Revolutionary War. Most notably it allowed the English soldiers to escape from the Patriots at the end of the disastrous retreat from Lexington and Concord at the beginning of the war. It also served as the flagship of Admiral Samuel Graves at the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775.
8) Be sure to take advantage of the tour of the Old Harbor Life-Saving Station near the Visitor Center. Our tour guide gave an excellent explanation of the life of the men stationed at the life-saving stations along the cape. Beginning with how rescues were done either by boat or by lifelines secured between the ship and shore, they did an amazing job during the worst weather when a ship wrecked or went aground off shore. The tour then covers the daily life of the men doing nightly patrols between the stations that had telephones at each of the stations and shacks located at the half way points between the stations. During the day they would watch for ships from the top of the station, but at night and during storms or fog they would have to walk along the shore. A miserable existence, but it saved many lives.