Posts Tagged ‘trains’

A friend visited last week from Martha’s Vineyard.  She has grown children and grandchildren in Texas and New York.  Her New Yorkers tell her it’s easier for them to fly to Europe than to get to her on the Vineyard.  The new ferry traversing Long Island Sound provoked seasickness and isn’t for them.  Transportation.  It’s an issue now for people on the Cape and Islands.  And it was an issue way back when the Pilgrims settled in Plymouth.  I’m thinking about transportation this week and have some fun facts to share:

White settlers talked about constructing a canal between the “mainland” and the Cape from first landfall in the 1620s.  Surveyors investigated the possibility of cutting a canal during the War of Independence.  Nineteenth-century financier August Belmont created the Cape Cod Canal Company to carry out the project.  Workers, mostly Nova Scotians from Off Cape, finished the job in 1914.  The federal government bought the canal in 1928, hired WPA workers to dig a deeper, safer waterway, and put them to work building  new bridges (Bourne and Sagamore in 1935) during the Great Depression.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains the canal today.

Early visitors to the Cape came overland by foot and by horse.  By the mid-nineteenth century, they also came on trains.  In 1854, tourists rode the Cape Cod Railroad as far as Yarmouthport and Hyannis.  They could get as far as Orleans by 1865, to Wellfleet by 1872, and then all the way to Provincetown in 1873.  Trains then went south along Buzzard’s Bay to Falmouth and from Dennis through Harwich and Chatham in 1887.  Tourist destinations clustered around these rail depots.  Wealthy summer residents came by train to stay in exclusive hotels, which offered elaborate meals and entertainment.

Everything changed in the 1920s with the advent of the car.  The Commonwealth started paving roads in the 1890s to accommodate bicyclists.  That’s when workers laid asphalt for the Old King’s Highway (running between Bourne and P’town) and what is now Rte. 28.  Routes 6 and 6A came into being in the first decade of the twentieth century. Once middle-class visitors could drive and venture off the beaten path, they rented cottages or built small houses away from the main Mid Cape tourist destinations.

The first traffic jams on the Cape were in the 1930s.  In 1909 but 75 cars were on Upper Cape roads on a single summer day.  By 1936, that number had increased to 55,000.  I’m guessing even more drivers are on the road this time of year on major Cape thruways.


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