Cape Cod - Old Colony Names And Towns
( Originally Published 1920 )
IN a brilliant August morning by the shaded grave of Joseph Jefferson, a summer visitant met by chance, spoke of those who were "sympathetic with the Cape." If she had been anywhere else in Massachusetts, and had said "the Cape," there could have been no mistake and no one would have thought she intended Cape Ann or Cape Elizabeth. What the gentle lady meant by "sympathetic," is not easy to define, but it is not difficult to know.
No name of royalty clings to this best-known and best-loved of New England forelands, though Captain John Smith tried to make it Cape James. Those who have the quality of sympathy are glad that here is no Wonder-strands of the Norse, no Cap Blanc of Champlain, or New Holland of Henry Hudson. Gosnold at first sought to fasten Shoal Hope upon the Cape, but had a better thought, and from him it gained the plain and worthy name which may last as long as the waves wash its sandy shores.
John Smith had a keener sense when he gave to the great region whose shores he explored and mapped the name New England, for in surface, climate and shoreline, as well as in the industries and principles of its people, the new country compares in manifold ways with the old. With all suitableness therefore, the map of New England is sprinkled everywhere with English names. They are spread in a sort of historical layer over the older deposit of Indian designations.
This overlapping stratification of names is carried far in New York. Witness the Dutch wave of migration in the Hudson and lower Mohawk valleys, the Palatine German on the upper Mohawk, and the English names coming by way of New England to central, western and northern New York. The Empire State goes far also in the appropriation of the names of early federal and local statesmen.
The Old Colony, in contrast, got its outfit of names before there were any federal states-men and the early comers did not so freely as in New York burden the towns and villages with family or first-settler names, with the suffix ville. Nor did the Old Colony catch a shower of Romes, Scipios, Uticas, Ithacas and other classic cognomens. Mainly therefore, on the Cape and around Plymouth, we find Indian and English names with here and there a memorial of some name of honor in the church or in civil life.
In the roll of towns, English adoptions are far in the majority. Off the Cape we have Duxbury, Kingston, Plymouth, Halifax, Wareham and Middleboro. One would not like to think of Plymouth as Saint John Harbor, Port of Cape St. Louis, or Crane Bay.
On the Cape are the English place names, Sandwich, Falmouth, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Harwich, Eastham and Truro. Barnstable gets its name from Barnstable, a market town of Devonshire. The latter is on a small navigable river a few miles from the sea and is thought to be the port from which some early settlers in the Cape town sailed. Regarding Yarmouth, Swift, its historian, thinks the town may have been named from old Yarmouth of England, not because any group of colonists came from it, but because it was known to the settlers as the chief English port for Holland.
The elder Truro is a very ancient city, not far from Falmouth in Cornwall. The Cape Truro was first Pamet, then Dangerfield, and became Truro in 1709. The historian of the town, though his studies produced a large volume, does not appear to have found the connection, if any, between the old town and the Cape Truro.
Chatham bears its name in honor of William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham. The newcomer on the Cape learns after a time not to scant the second syllable, but to pronounce with the accent about equally distributed and the vowel brought out in both parts—Chat-ham-the same usage applying to Eastham. Some old Cape people seem to hit the second syllable a little harder than the first, but on the other hand, the trainmen, who may not be natives, are likely to call—Chatum.
In aboriginal days, the region of Falmouth was Succanesset, Yarmouth was Nobscusset, Chatham was Monamoyick and Eastham was Nauset. Mashpee is the only Indian name which has been retained by a town on the Cape. Three towns do honor, in their names, to early settlers. One of these is the first town to be crossed as we go upon the Cape, the youngest member of the family in Barnstable County, the town of Bourne. An ancient and honorable family went to the Old Testament and called various of its offspring, Jonathan, Bathsheba and Shearjashub, but the town. name was given in special honor of the saintly friend of the Indians, Richard Bourne. Dennis recalls the Reverend Josiah Dennis, for thirty-seven years minister; and Brewster carries down the name of Elder William Brewster of Scrooby, Leyden and Plymouth.
Provincetown is the Town of the Province lands. The name of Wellfleet is traced, perhaps conjecturally, to Whale fleet, and Orleans is the only town in the county which has what may be called an alien designation. It was the good fame of the democratic Duke of Orleans, which, in 1797, when the town was set off from Eastham, led to the choice of the name. A part of Wellfleet is said to have acquired the name Billingsgate, because of the planting of oysters in the neighborhood. It was not altogether fanciful to adopt the name of the great fish market of London. It still appears on the map attached to the island and the light at the outer opening of the harbor.
Most of the towns have in addition to their principal village, their satellite Easts and Wests, Norths and Souths, but they are not located so far as one can see, with much regard to the points of the compass, at least in several of the towns. Other village names show a good deal of variety in their origin. Indian names abound in Bourne and Falmouth, as Pocasset, Cataumet and Waquoit.
The Indian chief, whose name is variously spelled, and may be something like lyanough, comes out in two village names of the town of Barnstable as Wianno and Hyannis.
Marston's Mills adds one to the list of old settlers' names and some villages have descriptive designations, as in Forest Dale in Sandwich and Osterville—Oysterville—in Barnstable. According to Freeman, Grand Island was once Oyster Island and the settlement was Oyster Island village. A flag-bordered lakelet in North Truro gave to this snug village the early name of Pondsville. A hole, being a short word for a narrow passage swept by runs of the tide, gives us appropriately a name for one of the Cape's frequented harbor villages, Woods Hole.
Unless we except shore forms no natural features put such a profuse assortment of names on the map as the lakes and ponds. Many names are derived from their size and shape. In Great South Pond in Plymouth we find recorded both size and position. There is also Great Pond in Barnstable, known now to the tourist, more takingly perhaps, as Wequaket, Eastham and Wellfleet each has its Great Pond. The name Long Pond solved the naming problem in all parts of the Old Colony. Plymouth has its example, likewise Falmouth, drawing its water supply from the lake that stretches its waters and its bordering slopes far back into the great Falmouth moraine. The Long Pond which is the largest fresh water on the Cape lies between Brewster and Harwich. Wellfleet has two Long Ponds, though neither deserves the name, and Barn-stable, Bourne and Yarmouth have each one.
A triple group of beautiful kettle-hole waters gives us Triangle, from its shape, Lawrence, from an old family, and Spectacle Pond, a descriptive name. Falmouth also has a Spectacle Pond. One of the Wellfleet Long Ponds is grouped with five others showing a sufficient assortment of naming motives—Gull, Higgins, Herring, Newcomb, and Round Ponds.
Herring ponds, drained each by a Herring River, we find in Wellfleet and Eastham. Harwich has its Herring River, and Monumet River in Bourne drains Great and Little Her-ring Ponds in Plymouth. Eel River in the latter town recalls one safeguard of the May-flower people, who could, if need be, save themselves from starvation by the suggested kind of fishing.
Remembering the hundreds of lakes little and large within the Old Colony there is no need for wonder that the vocabulary of the pioneers was sometimes taxed, that names were duplicated and that some are highly fanciful. The marsh. at the border, the water, transparent or turbid, the bird that flew over, the lily pad on the surface, the oyster in the landlocked bay—all offered themselves to the settler or the surveyor and he placed them in his memory or on his map. If resources failed, he could call a water great, or long, or round when it was none of these, or fall back upon Lawrence, or Jenkins, Hinckley, Wakeby, Lewis or Shiverick. The Cape has at least four Flax Ponds, three of them inside a five-mile radius.
Remembering Oneida, Seneca, Cayuga, and Canandaigua of the New York lakes, or listening to gently flowing waters in Genesee, Susquehanna, Chenango, and Unadilla, the waters of the Old Colony are poor in Indian names though we do find Cotuit, Santuit, Mashpee, Ashumet and Coonemossett. If we go to the shore features, the Indian heritage is larger—Saquish, Manomet, Scusset, Nobscusset, Namskaket, Pamet, Monomoy, Quamquisset, Cataumet and Wenaumet.
Shoot Flying Hill is now no doubt more sought for views of Bay and Sound, than for the destruction of migrant wild fowl. Clay Pounds, used sometimes of the recessed cliffs by Highland Light, has been interpreted as derived from the pounding of wrecks upon the hard sea banks, but this sounds rather mythical and sends the curious on further inquiry. Not many hills have received a name; but a few have become landmarks—Manomet and Telegraph Hill in Plymouth, Bourne's Hill in Sandwich, German's Hill in Yarmouth and Scargo Hill in Dennis.
Old Colony life planted itself on the sea-border and there it has remained. South of Marshfield are Duxbury, Kingston, and Plymouth, all reached by the tides. From Plymouth along the shore to Sagamore, the country is a wilderness, holding a few ancient cottages and invaded here and there by summer folk. All the back part of Plymouth Town, save for scattered hamlets and cranberry bogs, is forest country.
The upper Cape has a fringe of settlements on all its shores. We go by easy reaches from Sagamore to Sandwich and West Barnstable and then there is an almost continuous village from Barnstable through Yarmouth Port, Yarmouth and Dennis to Brewster. The Buzzards Bay shore has an unbroken panorama of villages and cottage grounds, from Buzzards Bay to Woods Hole, and a score of villages line the south shore, for forty miles from Woods Hole to Chatham. More commonly the latter are not directly on outer shores, but at the inner end of tidal bays as at East Falmouth, Waquoit, Marston's Mills, and Hyannis. There is scarcely a break in the long grouping of summer homes and village streets, from Osterville to Chatham.
Between the Bay chain of settlements and these on the Sound, is a wilderness which includes the summits and south slopes of the great moraine and the wide inner belt of the outwash plain. One drives from Falmouth to Sandwich through more than a dozen miles of almost unbroken forest. Here are the oaks and pines framing in the lakes, a country that is now invaded more and more by the Portuguese gardener, the farms of a few opulent agriculturists and the homes and camps of those who feel no compelling bent toward salt water.
On the lower Cape the villages are either in the interior or on the shores of Cape Cod Bay. There is escape from the severity of oceanic storms but in no case is there a separation from tidal waters. Orleans is on Town Cove, but is nearer to the Bay than to the ocean. Well-fleet at the head of its spacious harbor waters, is midway between the Bay and the Atlantic. The Truros open to the west shore and Provincetown is on the protected inner strand.
Chatham is the only village on the ocean side of the Cape. From Chatham to Province-town, a distance of more than forty miles following the beach, the shore wilderness is broken only by lights, life-guard stations and a few summer cottages. One could follow Thoreau's track from Nauset northward, and only at intervals of several miles find interrupted the solitudes which he describes.
Every village, after the manner of Plymouth, will yield reasons why a particular site was early chosen as a center of homes. Settlers want a decently good soil, they want water, and trees and protection from storms. And in a maritime neighborhood, they want the easiest access to the sea. Thus Sandwich grew by a small stream, whose water invited the herring and turned the first millwheel on Cape Cod. This stream flows down through a snug recess in the northern border of the moraine. The homes are among the hills and the business part reached down to the old harbor in the marshes. The comely old homes, once deeply secluded now bordered by the busy highway from Boston, stand pocketed between the main masses of the moraine on the south, and ridges of recessional moraine that rise steeply at the north.
The villages of Barnstable, Yarmouth Port and Yarmouth are on the borders of Barn-stable Bay, and their sites were no doubt chosen for harbor protection, favorable conditions for fishing and clamming, soils better than the average on the Cape, and for those seemingly endless stretches of the Great Marshes, which in old times supplied large gatherings of salt hay. The Brewsters and the northern Dennises stand within easy distances of the north shore on the route which must always have been traced in going down the Cape from Plymouth or Boston.
The compelling condition of concentration at Woods Hole is its harborage. Always open to whalers and fishermen, it is the natural calling point between New Bedford and the outer islands, and in these days of the railway and the motor car, it transfers a multitude between land and sea during the summer period, and has charms of its own, waters, passing ships, the views of the Vineyard shore, and backgrounds of glorious hill and forest.
Across these hills and on the other side of the forest is Falmouth. The early settlers landing between Oyster and Fresh Ponds, went about a mile back from the shore and built their permanent homes on the fertile plain at the eastern base of the moraine. At the railway station one is at the foot of the morainic hills and on the western edge of the plain. From the main street one may go through a churchyard and find himself at the edge of Fresh Pond, looking toward the sea. On the other side, in the rear of the post office, is another charniing fresh water, lying also behind the Town Hall and on the edge of the lawns where the Public Library stands. It took no special wisdom to locate Falmouth—the men of 166o followed the index finger of nature.
Cotuit, Hyannis, Chatham, and indeed all the south-shore villages are on the borders of protected waters, inviting fishing and trade in the old days and open to summer homes and summer sailing in these times. In the shallow bays, oystering, clamming, and scalloping, if they do not make many rich, at least save the traditions of old time, and avert from the summer world the unthinkable loss of chowders, steamed clams, and broiled lobster.
If one enters Nauset Harbor and makes a right-angle turn into Town Cove, he will arrive, after sailing about five miles, at the head of the Cove and find straggling about this end shore the village of Orleans. The town borders both bay and ocean, but the village is more secluded from the ocean than any of its sister communities on the Cape. Like Falmouth, it is one of those sites which need no explanation, but for the simple fact that the greater part, in the realm of geography at least, see but do not perceive.
The straggling little Truro is about equally distant from the inner and outer shores, in the well-shielded Pamet valley, setting its churches, however, in utterly exposed places on the high hills. One can hardly think these windy hilltops were chosen to compel walking exercise on Sunday morning, for dearth of exercise in the older days of the Cape is unimaginable. The churches were beacons, perhaps as an afterthought, and possibly were perched high to be as near heaven as was possible.
North Truro, however, planted its churches like its homes, in a valley. Here valleys join and the snug little place is in a kind of bowl, not far from the Bay shore, bordering the small pond, from which, as we suppose, it was once known as Pond Village.
Going down the Cape one passes the great shops and new-looking houses of Sagamore, and if he is making his first exploration he is wondering what can lie behind so prosaic a doorway, if he has come all this way for forges, chimneys, sidings jammed with newly completed freight cars, and dreary wastes spread with dredgings from the Canal and still staring verdureless at the traveler. In a few minutes he finds himself in ancient Sandwich, and what he thinks of that old town will hinge upon the mode of his going. Two visions were never so opposite as those that greet the eye through the Pullman window, and in the motor car.
At the railroad end of Sandwich, round brick smokestacks of huge size rise over the ancient glass factory. The walls are falling out in places, and one part of the decaying structure does duty as a storage place for fish. Beyond the ruins are yards full of rubbish, and tall with weeds, stretching down to a channel, an empty trench between walls of mud at low tide, leading its sinuous way across wide salt marshes, and past a ridge of dunes to the waters of the Bay. In the environs are small dwellings, some of them rejuvenated after long dilapidation and occupied by populous families of Italians, whose men folk go every day to work in the shops of Sagamore.
The real New England town, of mansions and white paint, of churches and homes, of the town hall and the public monuments, gathers at the foot of the mill pond and along the state road both east and west. Here under shade so densely arched as to be almost twilight, live the descendants of the ancient settlers, in an atmosphere of repose which seems hardly disturbed by the cars that ceaselessly pass in the summer months. In the winter, silence is pretty well maintained in Sandwich, save when an occasional Old Colony train rumbles by or a steam whistle shrieks on the Bay or along the Canal.
How general it is in New England, we do not know, but on the Cape, if a query takes one to the town hall, there will almost certainly be found one, two, or three of the elder citizens, men of the ancient lineage, of sound intelligence and community loyalty, carrying on the town business. And information is not the only good that the visitor brings away from such interviews. Sandwich makes no break in this rule, maintaining a dignity which, in spite of its dearth of business, is worthy of the oldest town in the county.
Here and there is found a mill pond or reservoir to which nature and a discreet art have given all the possible beauty of a natural lake. Such is the mill pond in Sandwich. In truth the water had a little natural pond as the nucleus of it, but this does not lessen the marvel. At the lower end stood the little old mill of former years. On the outlet is a fish way for the omnipresent herring. Around the lower parts and on both sides for a distance are modest streets and old homes and the upper parts wind back among the hills.
The more ancient of the two cemeteries is on a green promontory which sets out into the pond. Here the old stones bear such names as Freeman, Faunce, Bourne, Bodfish and Nye. Sunlight, trees, children frolicking in the water, a canoe or two, greenery and reflections on the other side, and old marbles and slates—if there be such a thing as perfect resting places for the dead, the Cape has some of them and this is one.
Southward from Sandwich the road leads up into the moraine and past Bourne Hill to Forest Dale, Wakeby and Farmersville. So small are these hamlets that one rather needs information that he has arrived, but he is in the lake country of Peter's Pond, of Mashpee, Spectacle, Lawrence and Triangle; and to reach it he has come through miles of forest country unbroken by a single shack or a solitary garden plot.
Across the railroad and not far from the village is Town Neck, a big and rambling hill given to common pasture in the old days. It is innocent of trees save a few small specimens on the slope facing the town, and where the descendants of ancient cattle have not cropped the grass, are growths of bayberry, low black-berry, and wild rose. If, as some say, Sandwich looks like an old English village, this is the place to see it so. There is the slender steeple of the Congregational church, rising against the forest slopes of the northern face of the moraine, with Bourne Hill at the left, showing its flat-arched curve on the horizon.
The desolation of the old glass factory and its big brick stacks loses its ugliness at this distance and recalls the activity and fame of former generations. On the east are the marshes of Dock Creek and Old Harbor Creek, fronted along the shore by a chain of dunes. Beyond the marshes is Spring Hill and yet farther east, beginning four miles away, is the long-extended group of hills known as Scorton Neck. All these heights, Town Neck, Spring Hill and Scorton Neck, are moraines of recession, leaving valleys southward in which we find the highway and the railway.
Northwest from Town Neck is the northern opening of the canal, with a long breakwater reaching into the Bay on `the northwest side of the channel. Then comes Scusset Beach and the great cliffs that stretch off toward Plymouth, with Manomet in the distance. The morainic ridge from Manomet south past B Bournedale rises commandingly on the horizon.
Not all the lore of Sandwich is in the town hall. Along the highway came the grandson of " Johnny Trout," Daniel Webster's guide and friend when he dropped his burdens and turned to the black bass of Mashpee and the trout of the Cape streams. Not far away the grandson was born, for Webster and his friends had given the old fisherman a plot of ground on which he built a home. The cemetery was near—the newer one in the west, and to it the old man that he is now, led the way. There he was long the caretaker, and there he brought a deed by which he handed to Joseph Jefferson the title to a lot which had been his own, but unused. The actor's answer was, "They wouldn't let me live in Sandwich but they can't prevent my burial here." Then Jefferson sat down on the grass with Grover Cleveland for two hours of old friends' talk.
On other authority than the old man's, it is certain that the actor and the statesman both wished to own homes in Sandwich. Over-thrifty owners of property, for thrift in the narrow sense is not a stranger to all Cape people, put their prices so far up, that neither son of fame would buy, and thus Sandwich missed her largest opportunity. As for Benjamin Denison, the grandson of " Johnny Trout," reminiscent of old sailing days in Singapore, Batavia, and Melbourne, caretaker and friend of the great, may he yet, a "Cape Cod type," as nearly as any, beguile many a stroller by the wayside in Sandwich.
This ancient town has its summer people, but they seem to be her own sons, the mansions are all staid and old—no great hotels and private palaces of the newer architecture—no estates covering wide acres or even square miles of the Cape's territory—no trespass signs—nothing to raise a fear that old Barn-stable County is losing its democratic equality of feeling and its simple neighborly ways.
Barnstable is neighbor on the east—East Sandwich, West Barnstable, Barnstable—these are the calls on the train. By the plain-est of country railway stations, almost on the railway track, to a modest ancestral home, comes a distinguished Harvard Professor in the summer, to rest himself with Indian lore, eat his summer apples, look out on Great Marshes and Sandy Neck, and show forth the eternal loyalty of the Cape's sons.
You go down a little hill, three minutes, and you are on Barnstable's main—we might al-most say only—street. You look up and down, you are looking for the business part of the village and while you are looking you have gone through it unaware. Where you intersect this one street you find all the essentials of a county seat. Here is an old courthouse of solid stone, with low and narrow halls, appropriate conductors to the not much populated jail that is behind the seat of justice. A few steps westward is the town hall, of wood, one-storied and new. Between the town and the county building is an old style single-storied country lawyer's office, and across the way is an inn. It is all there within a stone's throw.
Go in one direction and if you go far enough you will find the Post Office and the old custom house. It is nil one building and on a hill, but the custom house is to be given over appropriately to be a home for local history. Across the road is the old first church and around are the gravestones of the fathers. Some of the more weathered slabs—being mounted in a horizontal position, they have weathered rapidly—have been recently topped with newly inscribed stones, put there by loyal descendants to keep legible the record of their fathers.
Go in the other direction, westward, and if you go far enough, you will find the town pump, the Episcopal Church and the school-house. Both ways, east and west, walking until you are weary, there are lovely homes.
At one extremity, if you can find such a thing in Barnstable village, is the Barnstable County Fairground, where late in August, are assembled the farm products, domestic handiwork, and, most important of all, the people of the Cape. A bit of vaudeville, a race or two, and if he can come, the Governor of Massachusetts, make the event complete, and the Cape, from Bourne to Provincetown, goes home satisfied.
At the outer end, or where the end ought to be, is a well-kept forest nursery of the State of Massachusetts. Beyond the end, where one looks off toward West Barnstable, there is a change—smaller houses, more farming, different people—it is Finn-land, the Cape's principal colony of these migrants from the lake country of northern Europe.
In front of Barnstable is the harbor, heading for miles of tidal channels among the interminable acres of the Great Marshes. In these are many groups of piles once driven to sup-port and keep from the soggy ground thou-sands of tons of salt hay. Unoccupied with stacks to-day, save here and there, these use-less foundations give a look of abandonment and desolation. Beyond the marshes and the harbor, is Sandy Neck, miles of it, built as a rampart beach along the open Bay, and surmounted by dunes, here bare, there covered with forest.
A freezing plant and a small dock shed where local fishermen bring their catches, these and a few cottages, are the only signs of life about this harbor, save on the east where stands Yarmouth Port. There a dredge is opening a channel towards another and greater freezing plant, and saves these waters from utter quietude.
A new cranberry bog was coming into being on the edge of the harbor and close to the center of the village. A part of it had been planted and had seen a year's growth, the plants still small and standing in rows about fifteen inches apart. An old Finn was at work alone, removing sand from the adjoining parts, to secure a grade. Interminable looked the job with a single wheelbarrow. He had been in this country thirty years, but spoke English villainously. He almost resented the surmise that an engineer must have helped him to his grades. And the owner afterward told the writer that he had the same experience with the old man, who, by sighting on the ground had laid out last year's section of the bog with but infinitesimal error. Good English or bad, he knew the change in the conditions of living. Ten cents per hour formed his wage when he came to America and "dot vass a leetle more better what feefty seexty cent iss now," said this adopted son of old Barnstable.
People in Barnstable? Yes, and friendly as in all Old Colony towns. They will stop their business to talk politics, local history, or theology—leave their store unattended to show you their wide-spreading apple trees, their seven-foot popcorn and their nine-foot field corn, will graciously answer your questions and direct you to the next place of your desire. And if you visit the courthouse you are sure to meet a genial greeting from the County Clerk of long service, and you may have cheerful conversation with the judge of the court, and greet a captain or two from Hyannis, Chatham, Falmouth or Wellfleet.
Here in Barnstable in 1839, the two hundredth anniversary of the founding was held, with elaborate ceremony. Whatever has happened to other towns, Barnstable has more than a chance, twenty years hence, of coming to her tercentenary with traditions unimpaired and her straggling main street keeping unspoiled the look of past generations.
The Town of Barnstable, which reaches across the Cape and straggles along both Bay and Sound, is said to have fourteen post offices. Larger than the parent village is Hyannis, on the south shore, the permanent population being not far below two thousand. Like every other New England village, it has a broad main street, bordered with old homes . and heavily shaded, but there is no public square. There is a lesser avenue running parallel and there are a few cross-streets. On the south edge of the village is an arm of the great Lewis Bay, where are summer cottages and good sailing for pleasure boats, and the only serious occupations, and these not too serious, are clamming and scalloping.
The rather aristocratic annex to Hyannis is Hyannis Port, a place of beauty on the hilly shore a couple of miles to the southwest where costly mansions, golf and boating occupy a comely bit of the south shore. The railway, branching from the main line at Yarmouth, has its chief station on the main street and a port terminal at the shore. Apparently, how-ever, this marine extension is useless, for Hyannis no more does a marine trade.
Whether a town is spoiled or not by summer trade depends on the point of view. The pockets of the merchant and boarding-house keeper give one answer, the æsthetic feelings or the chafed nerves of the visitant may give another. Be it as it may, the last Fourth of July gave a census of nine thousand automobiles passing a given point on the principal thoroughfare of Hyannis.
Someone in our hearing spoke of "Robber Street." Well what is that? The west end was the reply. We do not say the implication is fair, but something has happened in the old Cape village. There one can find Miss X's or Miss Y's or Miss Z's gift shop, for sweaters, yarns, baskets, windmills and wind vanes. There too are bungalows offering suits, cretonnes, rugs, embroidery, china, glass, antiques, statuary, chairs, and chests on the lawn in front, mahogany and brass, quite direct no doubt from Boston or New York—sideboards, highboys, bureaus, old mirror frames without mirrors, and salesladies who do not in the least resemble Cape Cod.
Motor cars are standing in front, some of them occupied by men having resignation on their faces. In front of a small bungalow home, another gift shop, is for sale a pair of andirons five feet in height, which surely did not come out of any Barnstable or Yarmouth ancient sitting-room.
There are low cottages and high houses and in some back gardens are higher observation towers to bring Lewis Bay or Nantucket Sound up to the main thoroughfare. The sign of the town clerk and treasurer is posted on the front of a comfortable dwelling house. Farther along is an old-style lawyer's office and sign in a back yard. A coal and wood, hay and grain office is in a dainty bungalow in the rear of a home. Then one finds a real Cape house, story and a half, old square chimney, shingled from cornice to ground—it refuses to budge in its modern and mingled environment.
If one wants to know what a summer on Cape Cod gives—it offers like all other places of resort to a degree what the visitor carries to it, the choice is an open one, and where there is one shop or one band concert, or one palace hotel, there are leagues of surf, miles of cliff and sand dune, an endless wilderness of forest, lake, and moor, the unsullied purity of the air, and the limitless sea.
One might be set down in the village of Falmouth and not know for a little time that he was near the sea. Indeed Fresh Pond comes in almost to the principal street, but one would not know at its inner end that it was an old salt bay, having now a narrow artificial outlet to let in the herring in their annual migration. There is no great landlocked bay as at Cotuit or Hyannis, and no waste of salt meadow as in Sandwich or Barnstable. A mile of solid green turf however leads down to the sandy beach on Vineyard Sound and the cliffs and crest lines of Martha's Vineyard seem close at hand across the seven miles of water that intervene.
Many disciples of "the old man," looking over that water, would have a kindly and reverent thought, recalling that often in the years, that master teacher of earth lore, Nathaniel Southgate Shaler, looked out over the same waters and saw the same skyline as he went to his summer rest on the island.
One does not readily think of Falmouth as now or ever a place for sailors. The only harbor is a dredged embayment, known before the Government deepened it, a dozen years ago, as Bowman's Pond. And a few small yachts comprise the usual outfit of that comfortable haven.
Falmouth is old, but it is very new—it has the village green and the elms and the colonial houses that place it in the old New England class, but it has environed itself with the city and like the city it is. There is no failing to know it when you are in the business center, the shops crowd together and are spacious and modern, albeit of one story, and, let it be added, the only bank in Falmouth village is in a one-story bungalow addition to an old dwelling. Here, in the middle hour of a summer morning, solid lines of motor cars await the opening of the post-office windows.
Falmouth, however, did not escape the ocean but is like every other Cape town in its history. She sent out her whalers and her fishermen from Woods Hole or New Bedford, but she drew the profits of voyaging, disciplined her young men to the waves and received her ship captains home to honorable retirement as did Barnstable, Yarmouth or Chatham. To-day one need not look far to meet the gracious, elderly sons and daughters of those old shipmasters and shipowners, and they will receive you heartily and tell you to your heart's content the inherited lore of the ocean.
People go on the Cape searching for types, and here they may find them—but not of the supposed grammar-smashing, close-fisted, and profane old Cape Codder, dwelling in a low, shingled cottage, in rooms that are never opened to the ocean and air and are innocent of all furniture that is less than a hundred years old. In sober truth there will appear courteous men and women, speaking English good enough for all daily use, living in two-story houses, mansions often, with modern comfort, prudent and decently thrifty, witty in quiet, unexpected turns of thought and phrase, people not to be patronized, but to be respected and beloved for their worth and their neighborly ways.
If the newcomer in Chatham has a geographic bent, likes to keep the points of the compass, and have a mental picture of the plan of the streets and shores, he will have more trouble than in any other village of the Cape. The layout of Chatham is as rambling as in Barnstable or Orleans and less simple. The railway station, the new post office, the big hotel, the old windmill, the wireless plant, and the light-house might have been sown broadcast from a giant airplane, so promiscuously are they placed, along the ocean lagoons and around landlocked tidal bays.
These bays, which are Oyster Pond and Mill Pond, are in kettle holes resulting from stagnant blocks of ice, that were such frequent features of the outwash plain when it was in the making, indeed, Chatham seems in aimless fashion to straggle around Mill Pond.
Looking on the map one might expect to look out from Chatham down the long beach of Monomoy, but beyond Stage Harbor are grounds of some height, covered by woods and shutting off the view. There are bluffs at the Hawthorne Inn, and at Twin Lights also, marking an earlier stage of wave erosion inshore. Now the barrier has been built outside and the inclosed lagoons are rapidly silting up. The surf on Chatham Bars marks the shoal part of the barrier. In some future time here too the land will conquer the sea, and Chathamites will have to go out across the lagoon and over the sands of the barrier beach to gain a view of the surf.
An inscription at Twin Lights says that the lights were four hundred feet out from the present cliffs forty years ago. Like changes could be seen at Siasconset on the Nantucket shore—indeed stability is not in the vocabulary of these sandy shores of southeastern Massachusetts. Near-by is a tablet, recording that Pollock's Rip is nine miles off shore, and that there the Mayflower turned back and abandoned the intention to settle on the Jersey coast.
On the remnants of the old plain, down in the kettle-hole basins, inland and along the sea, uphill and downhill, Chatham has its physical individuality among the Cape villages, though one is baffled in describing it. It is an old town dovetailed with new things, being in this more in resemblance of Falmouth, and Hyannis, than of Sandwich, Brewster or Wellfleet.
There are low, broad, shingled Cape cottages in plenty, and even more abound the more pretending homes of a story and a half or two stories, with siding on the wall, and heavy cornices and corner boards which might be in Hingham or Marblehead or any other New England village. The fine mansions of the old shipping masters are hardly so conspicuous or common as in Yarmouth, Falmouth or Brewster.
Almost every street in Chatham is solidly paved, and the old corner town of the Cape is the natural goal of the traveler coming up the Cape from Provincetown, or skirting the south shore from Woods Hole and Falmouth. One misses here the dense shade of most of the upper Cape towns but finds the big and spreading ailanthus, with its gray bark and silvery foliage.
There is a fishing plant on Stage Harbor and one is rather glad to find the good old signs of sailmaker and some boat repair shops. They save the salty flavor of the place which is in some need of saving, for the signs of survival of the old life are few. It must be confessed that "antiques" have come into Chatham, along with the "Blue Bunny Shop," the "Rose Bower," the "Tea Barn" and "Free Air."
It must be confessed also that Chatham has at least one hotel where only the rich or the very ambitious could be expected to register, that the old town has experienced vast in-creases in its tax roll, that its bread comes from the city rather than from the sea, and yet it must not be forgotten to pass on the testimony of a town officer, himself recalled from a life of many years in the interior, to spend his remaining days in the places of his youth. "The rich here are very democratic," he said. Let us hope he spoke the truth, for the fishing days and the simple days are fast numbering, and it is more than a chance that the mackerel and the lobster for which you go to its very haunts, have come down from Boston on the last train.
The village of Orleans was around the head of Town Cove. The town hall was there, and the undertaker was there and there they are still—and the latter not only buries the dead but chisels the memorial slabs that are set up over them. In recent decades the village business has migrated westward and gathered around the railway station in wooden shops big and little. The hotels have not reached the tourist stage of development, being kept in old made-over mansions of the town. The ever-present public library keeps its watch and does its quiet service between the old and the new, on a triangular park at the intersection of the main roads.
Growth is strong and luxuriant in Orleans where it is quite possible to gather ten barrels of apples from a single tree and whose elms would look well if they were in Andover or Deerfield. Not very far north of Orleans, Thoreau struck out on the bare beaches of Eastham and began his tale of wave and wind-born sand, and of wave and wind-beaten people, which left unsaid and unimagined the forests, the fields, the homes, and the life of the upper Cape.
Three elderly men sat at the tables and desks in the Town Hall, in safe seclusion, under dull skies, industriously doing the town's business. The walls of this old office were covered with books, in which law reports were as predominant as in an attorney's office. Here were the Acts and Resolves of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, the Laws and Resolves of Massachusetts and Massachusetts Public Documents of various orders and descriptions. Here was the essence of New England, the quality of the Puritan, the survival of the Old Colony. The venerable town clerk active in body and keen in mind, with playful wit, at four score, said that Orleans has for its size more of the old population than any other town on the Cape.
Like other towns in Barnstable, Orleans collects a considerable part of its taxes from the summer visitor and property owner, but the quiet old place seems wholly unspoiled. There are no pretentious estates, no mansions hidden a mile in the woods of some modern manor, no big hotel _—may the writer be pardoned if in error—but he doesn't think there is a golf course in the town. But there are beginnings of "development" at Tonset, and over on Nauset Harbor, and there are few places on the Cape that have more splendid possibilities, if it be splendid to build summer colonies, than the high and rolling ground that spans across from Town Cove to the Atlantic shore. But the old Orleans is here yet, and the man still lives in Orleans who ran the first train into Provincetown.
In 1895 an elderly gentleman came back to Wellfleet after an absence of forty-three years. He had thus visited the old home in 1852, a time between the earlier and later excursions of Thoreau on the Cape. Great changes had come in Wellfleet between the fifties and the nineties. The great fleet of fishermen had disappeared. The harbor was as free from all signs of commercial life as on the day when the Mayflower shallop passed Billingsgate in 162o. The fishing wharves were falling into decay, and the roofs of some fishermen's cottages had dropped within the ruined walls. Instead of the simple Cape cottages, English and Italian styles had come in.
In the middle of the last century salt plants and salt-making were everywhere about Well-fleet. There were eighty sail of splendid vessels of the old type, and there was an immense catching of mackerel. Oysters were brought up by thousands of bushels from the south to be planted here. All these industries had gone down and there was little left but a tidy village living comfortably on its past.
And so it is today. Perhaps no other Cape village has changed less in the past generation than Wellfleet. The harbor is still there and the mud flats at low tide. The houses are well painted and nobody seems to be poor. Oysters and clams are still harvested but not as in old times. No mansions are being built and no estates are being laid out. There is the same background of salt marsh stretching far in-land and the same beautiful ponds lie undisturbed in square miles of unbroken forest. The black fish are still sometimes stranded in the neighboring creeks, and the motor cars go through in greater numbers. A large summer inn resting over the water on piles has been constructed, but otherwise Wellfleet sees little change, keeps its dignity, and might perhaps be envied by some other of the towns of Barnstable.
If we make exception of Woods Hole, Provincetown has the only harbor on the Cape that keeps much significance as a haven. Its proximity to fishing grounds will always give this industry a place there but never again is it likely to be the absorbing occupation, filling at once the speech, the pockets and the door-yards of its inhabitants. All the old wharves save one show plentiful signs of dilapidation and decay and the tools of shipbuilders and ship-repairers are rarely heard on the shore.
The harbor will always be used by ships. It is old water for the American navy, though gossip says war ships have declined to anchor there because the town authorities would not let the Jackies come ashore for Sunday base-ball. And the same gossip says that the leading Puritans go to the Provincetown churches in the morning and take joyful auto trips in the afternoon. But pleasure will always lure the summer sailor thither and storms will drive in the winter craft.
Provincetown has no soil to count for real agriculture. Tiny patches of dooryard or garden may be covered with earth brought in as ballast, or with mould cut from neighboring swamps and lake borders, but the town must subsist off the sea, and upon what it can buy in Boston or elsewhere. There is no back-ground for the farmer, there is dearth of the primal needs of existence as in no other Old Colony town.
The isolation that once ruled here has been lost. The touch with the continental world behind is, it must be said, not very active in the winter, but two modest trains crawling down the Cape every day would have meant intimate fellowship in the days of old Province-town, even as old as Thoreau's time, when there were sand roads, and no sidewalks, when the sands were encouraged to blow under the houses lest they should lodge around them, when the dooryards were sands and the industries were—cod.
What Provincetown is to-day is summed up in hard roads, one sidewalk because there is room for only one, motor cars dodging and grazing each other from May to September, the daily boat from Boston, Boston and New York papers, and the artist colony.
If the visitor will refuse to see Provincetown in two hours, he will find that it is not all on one street, that there are front and rear avenues and cross-streets, and that not all the homes and not many of the people are "quaint." The resident of the Cape does not like to be called quaint, for he and his Barn-stable County are just parts of Massachusetts, of New England, with a good showing of the New England sort of dwelling house and the average Massachusetts kind of intelligence. The sea may have made him in some things different, but he is not queer, he is not a type and does not care to be a subject for even the good-humored comments of the frequenter of the Hudson Valley, or the dweller by the Great Lakes.
Perhaps the artist colony is unique, or at least a part of it. One might see men and women, more of the latter, of all ages, with canvases of all sizes, seated in all kinds of places, in and out of the town, on the shore and lost in the dunes, or marching with apron and palette up the street, in alley ways, back of homes, by every clump of hollyhocks, al-ways at their task or on the way. And let us add gently that some of them and their worthy and distinguished masters do uphold the sacred cause of art and add to ancient Provincetown what we would not see her lose.
One need not be a painter to appreciate in true measure the beauty of Provincetown or the glory of the Province lands and their environing sea. See the long curve from the boat's deck as you come or go, pass in and out among the winding and narrow streets, or ascend the monument by its easy inclined ways and sweep the horizon, the Plymouth shore, the cliffs of Truro and Wellfleet, the great fields of gray or forested dunes, the outer shore—there is no panorama quite like this, though mountain peaks may open wider vistas. Or, stand at Highland light, when the sun sets on the Mayflower calling place, and all the glories of the sky enfold the old town—see this, but to describe it, that you will not essay to do.
On all the circuit of the Bay, Plymouth alone might be in some danger of outgrowing its old life. Yet it seems not likely to go the way of New Bedford or Fall River, where industry and trade assume engulfing proportions. Old homes and historic places continue to rule the life and color the atmosphere of the first Pilgrim settlement.
New England has enough centers of industry and it is worth while, if it may be so, to leave Plymouth as a goal of pilgrimage, a shrine at which Americans may breathe afresh the bracing air of the ancient courage and simple life of the fathers.