Cape Cod - On The Land
( Originally Published 1920 )
THE primary wish of the early colonists was to own land and raise crops. Swift, in his history of Chatham, says that all the early settlers were farmers and they used the sea products only for their own tables. Too much has been said about the poverty of the Cape soils. Thoreau has unwittingly fixed the notion that the surface of the Cape is all sand. He is perhaps to be excused, for his visits were limited to a few days; he dragged toilingly over sand roads and he tramped mainly on the wind-swept outer zone. Thoreau supports his assertion by referring to Dr. Hitchcock, the distinguished geologist of Massachusetts, as authority for saying that the Cape is composed almost entirely of sand.
Without doubt Dr. Hitchcock got the impression of a desert, but even he knew that there was "many an oasis," and he gives his praise to the "pleasant villages" and their obliging and intelligent inhabitants. Thoreau, it may in all justice be said, was not the first to receive and give out distorted impressions of the lands of Barnstable. In Letters from an American Farmer, written by a Pennsylvanian and published in Philadelphia in 1793, the writer thus delivers himself—" I am at a loss to conceive on what the inhabitants live, besides clams, oysters and fish, their piny lands being the most ungrateful soil in the world." The traveler then makes reference to a Cape minister whose salary was fifty pounds, together with a gratuity of horseshoe crabs, "with which this primitive priest fertilizes the land of his glebe, which he tills himself, for nothing will grow on the hungry soils without the assistance of this extraordinary manure."
Within two years a writer in a book of travel essays on New England, says that "trees do not flourish on the Cape." One is inclined to think that he must have come by steamboat from Boston to Provincetown and that he returned by the same route. It could not be that he ever saw the splendid elm arches of Orleans, far down the Cape as it is, or of Brewster, the Yarmouths, Sandwich, Hyannis or Falmouth, and he could not have been in the more than respectable forests that would have shaded him for endless miles of driving or walking on the great moraines and their frontal plains. Even the streets of Province-town and the forests on its dunes are answer enough to this indictment of Cape soil and the fine forests of Wellfleet are big enough and high enough to lose the touch-and-go tourist in their wilds.
Now it is a rather old notion, holding a good bit of truth, that soil that will grow trees will support crops more or less well, and to this rule the sea corner of the Bay State is no exception. Winslow's Relation is more discriminating than the writers we have quoted, for it describes the soil as variable in places—mould, clay, and mixed sand. This old chronicler notes the lesser yield of corn than in Virginia, and adds the very just observation that the difference is due to the hotter climate of the latter region. The corn is "set" with fish because this is easier than to clear new ground. The writer adds that the field had to be watched at night for fourteen days to prevent wolves from digging up the fish. The men take turns at this and so, "it is not much." Fishing, says the author, is a better industry than tobacco.
So it appears that the fathers knew much more about their country than most of the literary describers of the last sixty years. They knew the limitations and the goodness of their soils, what they would produce, and that some crops could be better raised than others.
It is fair to say that much deterioration has taken place in the centuries, and in this fact lies some palliation for the unintentional slanders that have been placed on the Cape. The thinness of some soils led to early exhaustion, and the cutting of the forests opened many tracts to destruction of their fertility. Few cattle or other livestock could be kept and thus fertilizers were lacking. The farmers did the best they could with marine fertilizers, as in Truro, where, according to Freeman, one king crab with a broken shell was put in each hill of corn. But there was continuous crop-ping, and fish, shells and seaweeds could not repair the injury. In some places too, the removal of the trees gave the winds the opportunity to tear up the soil-cover and dissipate it.
Much corn was raised in the Old Colony, even as far down as narrow and storm-ridden Truro, where fifty bushels were often harvested on an acre of ground, and fifteen or twenty bushels of wheat. The grain filled well but the corn was described as "low of stature," a trait which belongs to apple trees, pines, oaks, and goldenrods on that part of the Cape. It will not be forgotten that Standish and his men found the first Pilgrim stores of corn in Truro, a town of which Freeman says that though the soils are poor, the corn, rye and vegetables nearly suffice for the population. This record was made less than seventy years ago.
The Indians raised quantities of corn in Eastham and the white settlers in that town produced it for export. From one to three thousand bushels were sold from the town in some years. Single farms raised five hundred bushels of grain and a yield of eight hundred is credited to one. Now there is a barren tract of seventeen hundred acres on the west side, with hardly a particle of vegetable mould, which formerly produced wheat and other grains.
Freeman says that in his time corn ran from twenty-five to fifty bushels per acre, fifty to one hundred being exceptional yields. Onions, wheat and flax were formerly raised, these facts being from the account of the town of Barnstable. Dwight also saw in that town good crops of maize, rye and other grains, a good deal of flax, and a great quantity of onions. Swift in his history of Yarmouth refers to corn, rye, barley, wheat and vegetables. Under the last were to be excepted potatoes, which came in later than the others. Of fruits there were apples, pears, peaches and (how suggestive of London market stalls) Kentish cherries.
Every rambler on Cape Cod, if he rambled by foot and not by gasoline, has found fascination in the low, wide-spreading apple trees, planted behind hills and in kettle holes and even then crouching low to escape the winds and holding their fair and juicy fruit where one must reach down to it and even lift it off the ground. Thoreau tells interestingly of these dwarfish trees, which after years of growth, reached the stature of shrubs, yet bore astonishing crops of fruit. Wendell Davis in his description of Sandwich says that the apple trees do not attain much height and in bleak situations are likely to decay in a few years. Some writer, referring to Orleans, says the greening, a low tree, succeeds best. "Fruit trees cannot be made to grow within a mile of the ocean." This simply is not true, as we may see well enough along the narrower parts of the Cape. Barely a mile from either shore in Truro is the small orchard, which took high prizes over hundreds of competitors in one of the Bay State's greatest fairs.
Nor are we to conclude that all Cape apple trees are dwarfs, for Orleans and Barnstable at least will show trees of the full stature of Niagara County or the Hudson Valley. The historian of Truro enlarges on the luxuriance of the apples and other fruit, including quinces. Of the low habit of the apple trees he says—"Trees not higher than a man's head will often throw out lateral branches twenty feet or more and yield freely. It is not uncommon for the fruit growing on the uphill side to rest on the ground."
The Corey fruit farm is on the south side of the Pamet valley in a recess in the hills. A Portuguese, born in the Azores, and his son, gradually cleared a tract of forest, leaving a wooded rim on three sides, and here they have brought to bearing several acres of apples, peaches, pears and plums. The growth is luxuriant and the drooping branches in places rest their fruit on the ground. The trees were heavily loaded and looked like the irrigation growths of the Yakima valley or Western Oregon. The soil is sand, "worse the farther you go down," and is kept up with fertilizers. There is thorough pruning, spraying, and thinning and the fruit is marketed by auto on the Cape without middlemen.
A thousand fowls are kept and the broilers and the eggs are sent to the Massachusetts General Hospital. This orchard is in the middle of the Cape, and it is not far from a mile and a half either to the Bay or to the ocean.
Mr. Corey's half a thousand trees at Edgewood Farm show what industry and high intelligence can do with the Cape soils and climate, and the enterprise has served as a model and object lesson to hundreds of gardeners and farmers in the eastern parts of the Bay State.
There are many gardens in exposed Truro, often on low kettle-hole floors in the midst of thin and brown pastures and acres of wild moor. Thus environed with a half-desert of mosses and wild cranberry, these small, sheltered and moist plots produce all the common vegetables in luxuriant profusion. By the rail-way in Wellfleet, completely framed in forests of pitch pine, one gets a flying glimpse from the car window of one of these little paradises of domestic culture. On the uplands, however, of the lower Cape, the turnip, corn and beans often look the image of poverty and cast doubt on the sage conclusion of Josh Billings that "piety and white beans flourish best on poor sile."
The salt marshes of the Cape border, now offer little in the production of food for man or beast. In old days they were vastly important for their salt hay, and in time to come they will be reclaimed and be like little patches of Netherlands lowland. We may reckon nearly twenty thousand acres or more than thirty square miles, as the Cape's endowment of such swamps, which the tides are adding to the land areas. They are found from Sandwich to Provincetown on the inner shore and from Buzzards Bay around the south shore, but are absent from Nauset to Province-town on the outside. The largest swamps are the Great Marshes of Barnstable and those along the Herring River in Wellfleet.
The marshes of Barnstable seem interminable even though they are rimmed by the long dune range of Sandy Neck. A survey for a Cape Cod canal made by James Winthrop in 1791 records an estimate of four thousand acres of marsh there. A committee was early appointed in Sandwich to divide the meadow-lands, to give "to every man such a portion as shall be esteemed equal and suitable to his necessity and ability." The holdings ranged from one to forty-two acres.
President Dwight saw several thousand stacks of hay on the Great Marshes. This is much changed to-day and salt grass is little cut now as compared with olden times. It is injurious to milk when fed to cows and has largely been replaced by upland hay, which, in spite of romancing magazine writers, has a way of growing in the upland meadows of Barnstable. The lonesomest thing about the Great Marshes in an August day, when the hay ought to be there, is to see groups of low piles, driven long ago to raise the stacks above the marsh, now unused and going to decay.
No doubt there has been a decline in Cape farming, but it is due not so much to depletion of soil, as to absorption in other occupations. The going over to other means of livelihood arises from greater profit, for the staple foods come in from lands lying far to the west. Cheap transportation, richer soils and fields adapted to machine tillage, have wrought the change. This is the same story that may be told all over New England, and even in New York, where farming has been limited and directed into specialties of culture.
Getting down to hard facts, Barnstable County has a little less than a fifth of its land in farms. This is less than any other Massachusetts county has except Nantucket and Suffolk, the latter containing the city of Boston. Plymouth County has nearly a third of its land in farms, but this is less than half as compared with the six great counties from Middlesex westward to the New York State line.
No county in Connecticut has less than three times the proportion of farm lands which Barnstable County shows. Even Maine with its enormous wilderness has but one county with a smaller proportion of farm lands than Barnstable.
If one is looking for bread there is not much on the Cape that does not come from far. Considering the whole state in 1910, Barn-stable raised one bushel of cereals in two hundred, but Plymouth County did better, with one bushel in about thirty-three. Remembering the frequent early stories of wheat, rye and barley, Barnstable in the last census had a paltry two acres of wheat-thirty-one bushels—with no barley and only sixteen acres of rye. Even of corn, which was in every field and on every annalist's page in Puritan days, the Cape raised less than a half-bushel for each of its people.
Barnstable and Plymouth have gone over to fruit and vegetables, with some attention to the dairy and to poultry. By far the largest production is in the small fruits, of which these two counties of the Old Colony raise more than three quarters of all that are grown in Massachusetts. If we include orchard and small fruits they make about two thirds of all the foods that come from the soil of the Cape.
Here we have a typical adaptation to wide reaching modern conditions, in a region which once had to raise nearly all of its own food. Now it raises what is suitable to its climate and its soil and fits its products to its neighborly markets, which are afforded by the summer migrants of the shore, and the great populations of Boston and Providence.
It would not be easy to find a better adaptation of nature's conditions to a crop that one sees in the cranberry. The Old Colony got from the glacial invasion and the resulting break-up of old drainage lines, more than its share of swampy flats. It is usually easy to find a sand bank in neighborly relation to the bog, and exposure to oceanic influences has given a longer season without killing frosts than is found in most parts of the northern states. To be able to flood the field, to dress it with sand and to have a long growing season—these are the three essentials of cranberry culture.
It is not an old industry. There was an accidental discovery, early in the last century, in North Dennis. Sand blew in on a patch of wild cranberries and showed what it could do for them. The real culture of the berry began in 1846 and 1847 at Pleasant Lake in Harwich and apparently there is no town on the Cape which is more dotted with the bogs or more pervaded by a kind of cranberry atmosphere than this same old Harwich. If Harwich has rivals in the frequency of lakes and abundance of swamps, they are Yarmouth and Barnstable and all three are great cranberry towns. There are many in Brewster and Dennis, some in Orleans, and not many in Chatham. West of Barnstable, the crop is in moderate proportions, l in Mashpee, Falmouth, Sandwich and Bourne, and then come the great areas and in-numerable bogs of Plymouth County. All the Massachusetts cranberries pass in the common thought as Cape Cod product, though more are grown in Plymouth than in Barnstable.
A Reverend Mr. Eastman of North Dennis published a book on the cranberry and its cultivation. Cuttings were sent thence to New Jersey to start the culture there. Wild cranberries were used in times before its commercial development, for there was a ruling as far back as 1750 that no bayberries should be gathered until September Io, and no cranberries, wild berries of course, until October 1, under penalty of two pounds for each offence.
Not many cranberry bogs can be seen on the Cape below the town of Orleans, though 331 barrels were reported for Provincetown as far back as 1859. From Orleans up the Cape, however, nothing is more common or characteristic. You see the bogs from the railway, from the highways and along the by-paths. They are irregular in shape, running into secluded nooks and rounding the bases of glacial hills, while ditches for flooding and drain-age run around the border and in square pat-terns through the interior of the biggest bogs.
Looking off over the field the vines do not seem more than a few inches in height, but that they are straggling and long appears when the harvester draws his scoop through them and pulls them from their lurking places near the ground.
Invention has done its part in the cranberry harvest, for not only is handpicking almost abandoned, but the smaller scoop as well. Most pictures show the men and women on their knees in the bog, which during the picking season is however anything but wet. In recent years the big scoop has come in. The scoop is about sixteen inches wide, with about that number of flattened tines, so spaced as to let the vines drag through and hold the berries. When full the scoop holds six quarts, and the pickers, giving it three or four shoves through the tangle, usually find it loaded with three or four quarts. It is stooping work, and strenuous it would seem for all but muscular and wiry backs.
A bushel may be picked in five minutes or even less, though the average time is greater. A good picker, working at twenty cents a bushel, readily earns a dollar, or even a dollar and a half, in an hour. An expert in picking, the superintendent of a big bog, a sturdy middle-aged Finn, said that handpicking, involving the opening of the vine tangle with the hands, was not nearly so favorable for the future well-being of the bog, as the scoop method. By the latter the vines are pulled up somewhat evenly, and after the removal of the crop, clipped off at a certain height, providing for good and uniform development the following season.
The big scoop might seem wasteful if we did not take account of the time and cost of labor. Several barrels of berries may be left on an acre and hand-gleaning would soon pro-vide berries enough for a thanksgiving feast. But the market value of these leftovers would be far exceeded by the cost of rescuing them. The big Finn was expecting about four thou-sand barrels from the forty acres of bog where he was opening the picking season.
The bogs and the pickers, and the colors of the filled crates give zest to the September landscape, and a near view of the field glowing with ovoid jewels might easily raise an ambi tion to own a cranberry farm. Like other enterprises it has its ins and its outs, its gains and losses. It costs to grade and plant and weed a bog, and when one takes account of flooding and frosts and insect pests of various kinds, of the labor involved and the vicissitudes of the market, he may well hesitate until sure he has the capital, the intelligence, and the intrepidity which any other worth-while enterprise demands.
After the cranberry comes the strawberry, a remote second in acres and dollars and yet not to be forgotten. They are early—a June crop on the Cape, opening the small fruit season as the cranberry closes it, and flourishing on the high and dry ground, where the tangled mat and brilliant round berries of the hog cranberry might thrive, but where the thanksgiving fruit could not grow. Both berries there-fore show a definite response to soil conditions. There is enough upland bearing a light loam cover to raise in Barnstable County, straw-berries for all New England.
As yet, however, there is, in a large commercial way, but one strawberry town and that is Falmouth. And there is but one strawberry raiser, the "Portugee." Seventy-three car-loads of this fruit were shipped from the freight depot of Falmouth village in the summer of 1919. This will mean more if we say that two to three hundred crates make a carload, and that a crate may hold from thirty-two to sixty quarts. Striking an average and doing a bit of multiplying, it comes out that somewhere near a million quarts of berries went to Boston and other markets.
This is an achievement of about ten years, by newly immigrated men and women, and let it be added, by the rather numerous children that count in every Portuguese family. It is a story of family toil, of oak scrub, grubbing, burning, plowing, planting, fertilizing and cultivation. The fields are clean, the rows are straight and the plants are deep green and strong, and in them a new phase has been welded into the industrial life of the Cape.
The Portuguese have not forgotten the raspberry, and the bright red of this fruit finds its way out of Falmouth to the amount of fifty crates per day in the picking season. The little plantations are not without corn and beans for home consumption, and the thrifty owner, who has not been trained to be distressed by the toiling of wife or child in the field, cranks his truck and goes to market over a state road, and moves on an economic plane several notches above the condition of his old life in the Atlantic Islands.
The Cape has another gardening specialty in the crops of asparagus that flourish in the town of Eastham. One or more carloads of this vegetable go from the railway station each morning in the season and fields of several acres are common. objects by the roadside. One grower in Eastham expects to increase his plantation from the present twelve acres to forty or fifty. He bought nine acres out of his twelve, paying five hundred dollars for each of them. The great ranch at Hatchville has eight acres in asparagus and will have five times this amount if present plans are carried out. The director of the Cape Cod Farm Bureau, expects asparagus to increase on all parts of the Cape, but he does not expect to see another town go as far with the culture as has been done by the farmers of Eastham.
There is a new agricultural life of the Cape. A fresh impulse has come in old Barnstable as it has among the hills of Connecticut or in the valleys of Vermont. Some crops can be raised on Cape soils and it is worth while to raise them. The farmer can get as much return from a quarter of an acre of corn as he could formerly from two or three acres. Foreigners must however do most of the farming be-cause the natives will not. Many retired people live on Cape Cod, and they will not clear the scrub or dig in the soil, when they have already the modest income which will support quiet and simple lives of comparative leisure.
Vegetables, fruit and poultry will offer permanent industries on the Cape, and the fruits will include apples but not peaches, which need more sheltered situations. Dairying can hardly be other than local and limited, because the amount of pasturage is small and the cost of imported grain is prohibitive. Cereals during the year of this writing quite outdid the census record. Indeed this has been true for more than one year, as in so many other parts of the East, because of the impulse given by the war to the raising of breadstuff s. A single firm was threshing the grain, mostly wheat and rye, from one hundred acres of land in the neighborhood of Barnstable.
Roadside markets are coming into vogue in the Cape summertime, and in this there is the greatest variety, for some farmers, or their wives, can make attractive displays and others have no trace of this art. Those who do make their wares alluring can sell them at almost any price when so many pass with plethoric pocketbooks and prepared to be surprised by luscious fruits and choice vegetables derived, in spite of reported barrenness, from the Cape soils. So long as food is imported into the Cape during every month in the year the local farmer need not fear for his market.
The farm bureau seems to be putting a new impulse at work, and it reaches not only the farmers, but the schools and junior clubs in its worthy propaganda. The Bureau works in cooperation with the Massachusetts Agricultural College and the United States Department of Agriculture. Thousands of persons have attended the various community meetings and farm demonstrations.
Even the casual eye cannot overlook the new developments on the upper Cape. Old gardens have taken on fresh beauty and plenty of new ones have been created. The walls, the fences, the arbors and beds of shrubbery begin to remind one of the greenery of the English countryside, for be it remembered, a climate which is mild in spite of bad repute of New England winters, lets every season's growth build on the last, and does not, as in our continental interiors, destroy a summer's achievement by the zero descents of the succeeding winter.
The summer resident likes to dabble in fields as well as flowers, and the tallest oats the writer ever saw stood in the shock by a summer mansion on the Falmouth plain. And there was corn, which like many other plots and fields of this grain in Falmouth, Sandwich, Mashpee and Barnstable, would have looked well on an Ohio or Iowa plain: The landlord of the old hotel by Mashpee Lake said that feed corn at more than two dollars a bushel was too much for him and he broke up several acres of hillside that may not have been plowed in forty years, and on most of the slope he had a fair crop coming. A neighbor's field, which had had a decade of careful bringing up, with fish for fertilizing, had corn like a forest.
Hatchville is a hamlet in the outwash plain several miles north of Falmouth. One passes through forests to get there and finds tokens of rather ancient culture around the waters of beautiful Coonemosett. There are cranberry bogs around the lake above the water level, with pumps for flooding, and other bogs follow down the natural grades of the outlet valley. Some of the farms show excellent culture and a variety of crops, including apple orchards well laden.
Close at hand is an example of general farming on a large scale with application of all modern methods. Here are the central buildings from which stretch out on the plain the fourteen thousand acres of the great ranch in which Mr. Charles R. Crane is interested. There is not much left to be desired in the farm buildings, which include the office of the superintendent, great barns and an ice plant. The central feature is a herd of a hundred cattle, Holstein, Jersey and Guernsey. To drive in the fields was suggestive of the spaces of the West. There was a sixty-acre cornfield, flanked by a great pile of empty barrels. Wondering what they had held, the fish scales that still clung to the staves told the story. They had fertilized the cornfield, putting on the fish with a manure-spreader. There was good second growth clover, a poor meadow, a fair potato field, and eight acres of young asparagus.
All around was oak scrub, and out beyond this very flat piece of the outwash plain the Falmouth moraine rose boldly on the north and west. All this is deeply interesting, and may mean much for the Cape. It must be remembered nevertheless that this type of model farming is not for the aspiring boy with no capital, and so it may be that the object lesson loses much of its value. It may well be suspected that such farming cannot pay, in the ordinary sense, for it can never bring returns on the vast overhead expenses that must have been involved. But such operations at least might check the imagination of polite scribes who find so much delight in the barrenness of Cape Cod.
Not far away at Forest Dale, reached more naturally through the forests from Sandwich, is the estate of Dr. Lombard, who combines ranching in Colorado with big farming in the Old Colony. Here are about fifteen hundred acres, with the central parts under cultivation. There were eight acres of corn, and eight acres of potatoes, as fine a stand as could be seen in Aroostook one would think, with rows stretching half a mile and straight as a beam of light. This was the second crop on recently broken scrub. The trees are pulled with tractors and the plough goes in two feet, pulled by a forty horse tractor. Then a powerful disk is put over it, and right here in the middle of the parlor writer's Sahara, the soil, the humus-filled layer, was eighteen inches deep. Of course this is exceptional, for Cape soils are patchy, but it reveals possibilities.
Mr. Frederic Tudor of Buzzards Bay is an-other of the growing group of progressive farmers on the Cape, working a tract of four hundred acres, and combining cattle, poultry, fruit, and vegetables in his enterprise. He thinks, however, that the future of the Cape region is in small, one-man farms of five or ten acres with the same mixed production to which he devotes himself on a larger scale.
The Cape seems peculiarly fitted for nursery operations and much has been done in this field during a few recent years. An example is found in the Farquhar nurseries in Barn-stable, a branch of a larger establishment lying inland in eastern Massachusetts. The account of its superintendent is quite worth quoting as showing what can be done on lands supposed to be fit only for a wilderness.
" The nursery was started six years ago, the land then being old pasture, and oak stumps, and pitch pine. The soil is good, light loam with spots of peat or clay. We are still clearing land as needed. We find the climate more even than inland and little loss from winter killing of plants. This district is called the Plains, and is about three miles from salt water north and south. Farming near-by is small and rather poor. Some of our principal crops are azaleas, kalmias, roses, lilacs and other ornamental plants; conifers, poplars, willows and a general line of nursery stock. We grow a great many hardy liliums in all stages from seed to larger bulbs, also some flower and vegetable seed. All our crops grow well, and we find the soil and climate very suitable for this business. We have about sixty-three acres in cultivation."
In the western end of Barnstable village, back of a comfortable mansion, several acres of rolling moraine lead down to the border of Great Marshes and Barnstable Bay. This small farm is a forest nursery of the State of Massachusetts. Work began here in 1913, and the nursery now has over four hundred seed-beds, covering eight acres of land. The plantings consist of white pine, Scotch pine, Norway spruce, larch, Douglas fir, and arbor vitæ. About a million two-year white pines will be ready to plant in 1920. The nursery now has four million trees in various stages of growth. A hundred years later when two or three generations of conservation have succeeded the destructive revel of the lumbermen of the nineteenth century, the glory of the New England white pine may revive, and the forest production become as real as it is now reminiscent.
This is what industry and careful thinking have done on Cape lands. It was no outsider with money, but young Cape blood, which has developed the great Mayo duck farm on high and steep-sloping hills that look out to sea on the eastern shore of the town of Orleans.
Nine years ago there came to one of the outer towns of Barnstable a would-be farmer who had never milked a cow. He bought a place, put a mortgage of twelve hundred dollars on it and transformed it into a modern home. Now he has a dairy of ten cows and four hundred head of fowl. Each laying bird cleared him last year, not charging in his labor, the goodly sum of five dollars, and his success has been so pronounced that he got without hesitation a federal farm loan of two thousand five hundred dollars.
The sands of Provincetown have another example which sounds more like a tale than like truth. One eighth of an acre holds a house, a shed, chicken houses, a garage, two greenhouses, and fifty dwarf trees. Vegetables grow among the trees and buildings and ten thousand eggs are an annual product. The owner has supported his family on this ground for nearly twenty years, and his records cover the whole period. He has not imported soil, and has never bought commercial fertilizer. These rural miracles would tax the faith of the prairie owner of a half-section, but are less unbelievable if one has compared the raw wastefulness of new America with the frugal and laborious husbandry of the old world.
If we follow the coastal belt of New England from the New York border to a remote point in Maine, it is remarkably given over to the factory. Beyond Fall River and New Bedford however, manufacturing never got much hold on the shore of the Old Colony. Even Plymouth is only enlivened, not vexed with wheels and shafts, and Cape Cod, beyond the canal strip, has lived on in primal simplicity.
The only great manufacture the Cape has ever had depended on the proximity of the sea. Plymouth itself had an early trial at salt-making, but the fellow who was sent to Plymouth to make salt proved worthless, and his inefficiency, as far back as 1624, helped to complete the Plymouth failure in building up a fishing industry.
About all American salt before the Revolution was made from sea water, which was boiled down in kettles. It took three hundred gallons and more of sea water to make a bushel of salt and to get the needed fuel played havoc with the slender forests in the northern parts of the Cape. During the Revolution the General Court, following an action of the Continental Congress on the importance of salt, urged the coast towns to take up this industry. As a bushel of salt in 1783 was worth eight dollars, no great persuasion was needed.
Evaporation by the sun's heat came in a little later, and vats were built which could be covered in time of rain. This was about the beginning of the last century. A resident of Dennis is said to have patented a method of solar evaporation in 1799. The water was at first moved by means of buckets, then by hand pumps, later the pumps were operated by wind power. Outside of Barnstable County salt was made at Plymouth and Kingston, at Hingham and Dorchester, and on the outer islands.
The salt business seems to have reached its height in the years following 1830. Then western salt began to come in, other salt came from foreign lands and the cost of making it on the Cape rose through the increase in the prices of the lumber built into the vats, for this was pine from the State of Maine.
Every old chronicle has much to say about salt and tells how numerous the plants were. In Truro, "salt was manufactured all along the shore and by creeks and coves and was brought down to the wharves in scows to a ready market." Eastham at one time had over fifty salt-making plants and Chatham had not less than eighty. Quite in harmony with these records, Dr. Palfrey at the Barn-stable bicentennial in 1839, spoke of voyaging for twenty miles south of Provincetown, "along a shore which seemed built of salt vats."
The upper towns of the Cape, or at least several of them, took up the work even on a larger scale, the whole Cape using at one time a capital of two million dollars and producing not far from a third of a million bushels each year. Thoreau speaks of salt works "all along the shore." He had just come from the wider parts of Massachusetts and was dragging through the sands of Barnstable and its neighbor towns on the way to Orleans where his walks began. This was probably in 1849 at the time of his first visit. Swift, writing the annals of Yarmouth as late as 1884, says that the salt business was about at an end. The last salt plant in Yarmouth, operated by one man, was, however, making twelve hundred bushels of salt as late as 1885.
Timothy Dwight, whose Cape journeys and others were in print in 1823, is rarely more interesting than in his rather long story of salt. He describes the process at some length, and is interested in the prices and market conditions. He is sure the business cannot be over-done and then, assuming easily that our American coast is chiefly barren and otherwise would be thinly peopled, he foresees multitudes gaining their living in this useful manner. There were seven millions of people in this country when he wrote this diary in 1811, and he discerningly prophesies that within a moderate period there will be seventy millions. They will all need work and they will all need salt. Of course therefore they will build salt vats from St. Mary's to Machias. Rhapsodically he goes on; affluence will spring from the sands of eternal desolation; villages will smile and towns will rise out of existing solitudes. Let him set before the reader in his own words his eloquent blending of economics and religion. " May not multitudes, who habitually spend life in casual and parsimonious efforts to acquire subsistence, interluded with long periods of sloth and drunkenness, become sober, diligent, and even virtuous, and be formed for usefulness and immortality?"
Gristmills and sawmills are among the earliest necessities of a new settlement. When the Cape began to be settled. the only grist-mill was at Plymouth and long journeys through the woods were the only recourse of the new people of Sandwich. But carrying grists on backs and horse backs for twenty miles was intolerable, and there was water power at Sandwich. This was soon utilized and thus simple manufacture began on the Cape.
The building of a mill came under a public permit and regulation, and was sometimes subsidized. Mills were few and the business was vital, hence millers were exempted from military service and from some other public duties. There is less and less water power as one goes farther out on the Cape. In time there were at Sandwich other forms of industry, and Freeman records the existence of a cotton factory, a nail factory, and marble and glass-works.
In Falmouth there were in time eight mills, one fulling and seven grist mills, most of them run by wind power. The Monument Iron Company of Sandwich was incorporated in 1847. An Orleans windmill ground grist as late as 1892. One of the hotel cottages at Highland Light is known as the Millstone. The mill was on a hillock west of the light, and one of the great stones is now the doorstep of the cottage. Bricks were made at an early date in Plymouth and also in Scituate.
There were other minor industries. Some of them were related to the forests. Whites and Indians were at one time forbidden to bark or chip the pine trees for the making of turpentine. Some tar was made and found a ready market. There were regulations in Truro against cutting wood to burn lime for export. Thus the natural limitations of the environment were reflected in the community's struggle to protect itself, and to stretch its small resources to cover home necessities.
Shipbuilding was a natural and imperative industry, and the denuding of forests for this purpose receives frequent notices in early chronicles. Both pine and oak were thus used, and that they could be used suggests that there must have been better trees than now. Yet it must be remembered that ships were small, and that sticks were used which would be disdained by the ship-carpenter of to-day.
A flint-glass factory was erected in Sandwich in 1825 ; and this industry gained a permanent place in Cape history, for a great factory was built at a later time, whose stacks and walls are among the first features to be seen as one goes upon the Cape in modern years. In 1854, the capital employed was five hundred thousand dollars, and the yearly product was considerably beyond that figure. For a long time these glassworks were the largest in America. The business ceased about 1880.
The Old Colony coast strip is not without its mills and factories but it does not go in strongly for manufacturing industries. Yarmouth has wire-work, Provincetown puts up canned goods, and there is a brickyard at West Barnstable, where some of the old glacial or interglacial clays of the Cape come to the surface.
The only big manufacture on Cape Cod is at its doorway. There was a blacksmith shop in Bourne in 1829. It had developed into a machine shop in 1849; and made among other things, tools for use in the new gold mines of California. Today Sagamore has grown up around the immense Keith Car Works. The employees fill the village and come in daily from miles of the surrounding country, while the surprised tourist, making his first journey to the Cape, thinks the smoke and clatter quite out of harmony with his expectations, and struggles in vain to look out on the waters of the Bay, because he cannot see through the endless chain of new and empty freight cars that have been rolled out on the siding leading toward Sandwich.
There is a small factory far out on the Cape, at North Truro station, which is more in harmony with its environment. Here are made jellies of beach plum and wild grape, baskets out of cat-tail flags, and trays and table mats out of beach grass. But the main product here is bayberry wax. The gray round berries, the size of shot, are brought in here in the autumn, in October and November, for making bayberry balm, bayberry cold cream, and bayberry Christmas novelties, most of all the bayberry candle. A bushel of berries makes three or four pounds of dull green wax, and a young woman will at all times obligingly demonstrate the dipping. Thirty-five dips in a pot of melted wax, and as many coolings, and the candle is complete, under your eyes.
Every respectable large town in New England is supposed to have some enterprise that is the biggest of its kind in the world. In this old Plymouth runs true to type. In its circulars of industrial opportunity, the Plymouth boomer tops the historic interests of the place with the Plymouth Cordage Company, whose buildings are a little city in themselves. And you are not permitted to forget that regular steamers bring sisal fiber up from Yucatan and steam to the Company's own docks in Plymouth Harbor. There are large textile concerns also, and factories for metal-work and rubber, and other smaller industries.
Still it is true that the visitor may enter Plymouth for two hours or for days, and not be disturbed by smoke or by sounds. If he happens to be at the right point at the right hour of the day, he will see hundreds of people leaving their work and boarding the electric cars for home, but still he may tread the old Pilgrim paths, revel in relics and records, ponder above the historic dead, look out over the Rock upon the harbor and sand beach beyond, dream of the Mayflower, and of Scrooby, and be unmolested by modern workaday 'things.
Plymouth has been enlivened and enlarged, but not submerged.
Communicating to an elder citizen of the Cape the view that the summer business was the largest industry of Barnstable County, he was of another opinion, and thought the cranberry was first and fishing possiblya. a second. Unconvinced and interpreting the kindly gentleman's conviction as loyalty to the older Cape, every intelligent person later encountered was rather sure to be faced with the same question. In every instance the visitor's satisfaction was increased by an agreeing answer —the largest material matter for the Old Colony's foreland is the summer boarder and the summer homemaker.
In other phrase, the Cape has gone over to the land, but only because the land is by the sea. It is not merely so much in board bills, in the weekly routine, or after the auto's one night sojourn; the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker do not get it all, for carpenters and plumbers, and decorators and perpetual caretakers receive a stream of money and the coffers of the Cape fill in a thousand unseen ways. A shoe dealer in Hyannis prided himself in his good year-round trade but confessed that "we'd have dull times if it wasn't for the summer people." Certainly a firm of Greeks in that same old village, doing an immense trade, wholesale and retail, in fruit, would have no place among the Yankees of that shore, if the hunger of extra thousands had not every summer to be appeased.
Sandwich was said to be a place of resort for "distinguished persons and families" be-fore the days of Newport and Nahant, and the historian (Freeman) observes that retirement, comfort, recreation and health were then preferred to display and the crowds of modern watering places.
There are summer crowds in some places on the Cape, but it cannot yet be charged that there is much display. There is luxurious comfort in home surroundings, but the utmost opulence has not anywhere on the Old Colony shores from Marshfield to Provincetown given itself to ostentation, or made itself offensive to those who would live plainly and think nobly by the sea.
To visit the town hall or to find anywhere the town assessor, and view the tax record of the past thirty years, is the best evidence that summer industry is dominant. Falmouth in 1872 had taxation values of less than two mil-lion dollars. The next twenty-five years almost quadrupled the total of property in the town, which was more than six million dollars in value. Another twenty-five years brought the figure up to twenty million. Most of the personal property is now cut from that figure owing to recent changes in the order of state and federal taxes, but the fact remains, the only fact that interests us here, that, it was not farms or fishing or cranberries, but the summer person who has thus added to the resources of this old town.
The financial story of Chatham is the same, for real estate values of a little over half a million in 1890 have reached in 1919 a figure of more than two million dollars. No doubt Harwich, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Orleans and Provincetown have seen like changes, which show with no uncertainty what the future of the Cape is to be.
Many of the summer homes, it must be remembered, have not been built by alien hands. They stand for the unforgetting love and loyalty of returning sons of the Cape, who do not come back to vaunt their prosperity, but to breathe the air and refresh the memories of their early life, or to rebuild the ancient homes of worthy ancestors. And it is because they have come that a beautiful church stands here and there, that public libraries are as common as windmills once were, and that the traveler is lifted out of the sand and whirled over joyous roads from one end of the Cape to the other.
The government map of Falmouth, whose survey was made perhaps thirty years ago, or a little more, does not show a single house on the road that runs from the village, between Salt and Fresh Ponds to Vineyard Sound. Now there is a succession of mansions each in ample grounds. The highway is macadam, the hedges are scrupulously geometrical, and some of them solid green of eight or ten feet in width, while others are high enough to afford truly English seclusion of home gods.
Some of the inclosures are of walls, built of the abundant scatterings of glacial boulders, blooming with nasturtiums or banked with tall dahlias or barricades of sweet honeysuckle. The town shows its roof-lines among trees and again the landscape would be English if only the four-square church-tower were of stone instead of New England pine.
A stroller along the Vineyard shore meets the ominous sign—"Private dock and bath houses, no trespassing." So one cannot follow the strand there unless possibly over a stony pavement at low tide. In the necessary de-tour, a woman comes out of a house and rows you across Falmouth Harbor for a small coin. You resume your walk, gently querying what a temperate comment would be on all these arrangements, and you are perhaps inclined to feel kindly to the ferry woman, and all-ignorant of strand law, you wonder whether any-body has a real right to warn you away from the Atlantic Ocean. It is just one of the things that are not common on the Cape, and one might be simple and primitive enough to wish that the ancient democracy of this New England corner might be saved for all time.
So it is that most Cape men live on the Cape to-day. No longer is it a land to which hardy sailors come from the Banks or from the antipodes, to make brief visits to their families and deposit their savings before the next voyage. The people of to-day are landsmen, most of them, voyaging only to their lobster-traps and their fish weirs or to tong for bivalves. But they still breathe the sea air, their apple trees stand low under the gales, their gardens are down in the hollows, and if they do not live upon the legacies of their shipping fore-bears, they minister to those that come down to the sea—they are, as the learned professor said, amphibious still.