SANDWICH, MASS.: AT THE CROSSROADS OF HISTORY
By Karen Rubin
The story of the Bathsheeba Bourne Newcomb Ruggles and the 1703 Newcomb Tavern is riveting, especially as we listen on a moonlit night, with the shimmering reflection on the Shawme Pond and a view of the 1654 Dexter Grist Mill. Moments later, we are in the middle of Sandwich's oldest cemetery, making our way in the dark to discern what the gravestones tell us of the people and culture of Colonial America.
The interesting personalities who populated Sandwich, the first town settled on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, come to life as we stroll along with Jan Simpson, who hosts nightly Lantern Tours in season (and by special request at other times). A "wash-ashore" (which means she came to the Cape from somewhere else), she is a history teacher and has used her research skills to collect fascinating anecdotes. You feel you are sharing the latest gossip.
We had just arrived in Sandwich, and had just enough time to throw our bags in our room at the Dan'l Webster Inn, and catch Jan's tour, departing from its front door. It proved a marvelous introduction that enriched our visit. Indeed, we discovered that we were among the centuries of travelers who have found respite in Sandwich.
Though in Colonial times, Sandwich was the key point on the Cape (which was part of the mainland, before the Canal was built, the start of the King's Highway, now 6A), the modern road system makes it easy to miss. Sandwich is just over the Sagamore Bridge, literally the first town on the Cape Cod side of the Canal. You have to backtrack to it from Highway 6 once you are over the bridge.
You might not think twice about Sandwich. It is just a few blocks in each direction, and is not neatly laid out as some historic districts are. But walking about, the richness of its architecture that includes what is arguably the oldest house on the Cape (Hoxie House, dating from 1676) and the range of interesting attractions come through, such as the world-class collections of Heritage Plantation. Here in this tiny hamlet, you can walk the steps from Colonial America through the Industrial Revolution. Sandwich also provides an excellent base from which to explore other parts of the "Upper Cape."
Sandwich, which was planned out by Capt. Myles Standish and John Alden, was considered by the Puritan authorities of Plymouth to be a "lax" town because church attendance and support were low (Native Americans were allowed to worship; Quakers were welcomed and not shunned as in other Puritan communities). The town was criticized at Court in 1655 for not having stocks and a whipping post; this was remedied but town constable William Bassett resigned in 1657 rather than whip and persecute Quakers who found refuge among the liberals of Sandwich.
Our walk comes into Sandwich's oldest cemetery, which dates from the 1660s, where we see some of the significant names, and also gain insight into understanding what the tombstone art and inscriptions say about the people and the times.
One of the poignant stories, illustrated by the visit to the cemetery, is of the last slave in Sandwich, Titus Winchester. Even though he was offered his freedom, he insisted on serving Rev. Abraham Williams until Williams died, then went off to sea, made a substantial sum of money, and bequeathed a clock tower of the church to the town. Titus was so respected, his tomb has the most inscription of any of the gravestones (it refers to him as a "servant" rather than a slave), and is positioned near Rev. Williams.
Even young children will enjoy the tour because of the novelty of the colonial lanterns (at the end of the tour, the custom is to "Make wish and blow out candle in lantern") and especially if they can be strolled; older ones may have doubts at the beginning but will be excited about visiting the cemetery at night; in any case, Jan adapts her presentation and makes the talk engaging.
Lantern Tours are offered nightly from July through mid October (or by special request); $9/adult, $7/child, family or group $27 up to 6 (Webster Inn guests receive $1 discount); a Harvest stroll is offered over two weekends in October, beginning at 7 p.m., which include a dessert buffet at the Summer House bed-and-breakfast ($44/person, $59/couple, $10/child). Wear comfortable footwear (it is easy to get back if don't feel up to finishing the walk); take a sweater or jacket; and if you forget insect repellent, Jan has a supply). For reservations or information, Jan & George Simpson, Sandwich Historic Strolls, 508-420-1369, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rich Cultural Experience
Sandwich, the oldest town on Massachusetts' Cape Cod, offers a rich cultural experience. Besides its connection to Colonial history, visible even today, Sandwich also had an interesting role in the Industrial Revolution. The "Ten Men from Saugus" may have founded Sandwich, but Deming Jarves, who founded the Boston & Sandwich Glass Factory, put it on the map, noted Jan Simpson, who conducts historical walking tours of Sandwich (see Discovery, 10/19). Jarves was a businessman from Boston, who, like so many, came to Sandwich for hunting and fishing, and saw the potential for a glass factory.
The story of how Jarves built his glass factory here unfolds at the Sandwich Glass Museum, one of several superb collections of art, folk art and other objects that prove as engaging as they are enlightening. The Sandwich Glass Museum provides interesting insight into the Industrial Revolution from a very personal perspective, through the people associated with the business, the technological innovations, and the artistic design, and also appreciate how such technology brought down the price of objects for the common man.
The Boston & Sandwich Glass Factory made its mark by devising an innovation of pressing glass in a mold, instead of blowing the molten glass, which significantly brought down the cost. This was glasses for the masses (not Tiffany or Steuben), and the display of patent drawings, early wooden molds, chemistry of colors, and how the glassworks industry even came to be centered in Sandwich (not the proximity of sand, interestingly, it was the anticipation of the construction of the Cape Cod Canal, and what that would do to land prices and transportation costs) are fascinating. There are also excellent photos and descriptions of some of the people involved. Sandwich Glass Museum ($3.50/adult, $1/children 6-12), 129 Main Street, Sandwich (508-888-0251), www.sandwichglassmuseum.org.
Glass was produced here from 1825-1888 (when general strike of guild of glass manufacturers caused the factory to shut down). At its peak, the factory employed 500 artisans. The population of Sandwich doubled, even tripled, in just 12 years, and the increased wealth of the area can be seen in the magnificent buildings, such as the First Church of Christ and the Town Hall, that were built in that era. In the 1830s-1840s, Sandwich became so popular for vacation, it replaced Nantucket, drawing the likes of Grover Cleveland and Thoreau. The interesting architecture of Sandwich is highlighted on free walking tours, June through August, as well as a free Lantern Tour, conducted very two weeks during the summer, which are offered through the Sandwich Historical Society, which also operates out of the Sandwich Glass Museum .
Another outstanding attraction in Sandwich is the Heritage Plantation-a misnomer because it is not a farm, but rather a vast estate where the antique automobiles, art, and military collections of the Lilly family (another who came for vacation and wanted something more permanent here) are displayed in a very engaging way, including marvelous interactive stations, "find it" games and explanations for children. The collections are housed in three separate facilities spread over 76 acres of gardens and an 1800 windmill.
Josiah Kirby Lilly III's antique car collection will enthrall anyone, particularly pre-teen boys, especially being able to sit in a Model T. I've always enjoyed antique and classic cars but never appreciated them as much, until I saw the J.K. Lilly collection. I was fascinated; kids will be riveted, especially with the activity sheets. This collection includes some extraordinarily rare cars, like the Dusenberg that was specially built for Gary Cooper in 1931 (at a cost of $14,000-imagine that, in 1931). There is a 1919 Pierce Arrow, (original price, $7,750), built by the company, founded in 1901, by George N. Pierce of Buffalo, who built bicycles and bird cages, and turned his latent genius to automobiles. Locals will enjoy the 1962 Chevrolet Corvette, donated by Dr. Paul Kechijian of Manhasset, which was purchased originally for $4,000. Also on display is the first "Presidential" automobile, complete with Presidential seal, a 1909 White Steamer that was used by President William Howard Taft.
The descriptions are wonderfully "user friendly" that will delight true automobile collectors and aficionados, as well as neophytes. The commentary discusses the innovations made in the car, such as a 1932 Auburn "boattail speedster" with a hidden convertible top (an awesomely exquisite car amazingly purchased for $975). Children are invited to hunt for clues and there are interesting kid-friendly descriptions.
Lilly, of the Indianapolis pharmaceutical company (he would come to sail in Cape Cod and stayed on), was a phenomenal collector. The Military Museum, contained in a replica of a Revolutionary war structure, houses a collection of 2,000 hand-painted military miniatures plus an unbelievable array of antique firearms, military art, uniforms, and an extraordinary collection of Native American artifacts.
Children (adults, too), will enjoy taking a whirl on the circa-1912 carousel in the building housing the Art collection (the rides are long and you can pretty much stay on and on). I was impressed by the quality of the special exhibitions, plus a Folk Art Gallery, with antique toys, Currier & Ives lithographs, and bird carvings.
Heritage Plantation has a delightful Carousel Café offering a surprising selection (Thai wraps, such as a Thai Chicken wrap, $6.95; oversized sandwiches, gazpacho soup, $3.50; clam chowder; at moderate price), served under a tent.
You can stroll the paths, passed the famous Dexter rhododendrons, daylily display, herbs and heather gardens. It is most pleasant to walk, but there is a free jitney that picks up at various stops, which we rode back from the furthest point, the Art Museum, to the parking lot. There is also a very lovely gift shop. Allocate three hours to visit. Heritage Plantation of Sandwich, Grove & Pine Streets, Sandwich (508-888-3300), www.heritageplantation.org.
Dan'l Webster Inn
A perfect place to experience Sandwich is the Dan'l Webster Inn, which has been serving Colonists and Patriots since 1692. As Sandwich emerged as a popular place for fishing and a "getaway", Daniel Webster was among those who made Fessenden's Tavern his regular stop on frequent visits between 1815 and 1851, coinciding with the growth of Sandwich as a glass manufacturing center (the inn was renamed the Daniel Webster Inn in 1915).
The Dan'l Webster is a 54-room country inn (including 17 one and two-room suites with whirlpool tub), which remarkably maintains its historic feel and character even though it is totally rebuilt (the original building was destroyed by fire in 1971) and has undergone a $2 million renovation. The present inn sits on property that was once a parsonage, built in 1692 by Rev. Roland Cotton; in the 1750s, it was converted in the Fessenden Tavern, one of the first and most famous of New England's taverns and a Patriot headquarters during the American Revolution (the Newcomb Tavern, just across the pond, served as Tory headquarters).
In the late 1800s, the inn, then known as the Central House, hosted famous visitors including President Grover Cleveland and poet Henry David Thoreau. In 1980, the Dan'l Webster was acquired by the Catania family, which operates the popular Hearth n' Kettle Restaurants, as well as the John Carver Inn in Plymouth and, most recently, the Cape Codder Resort, in Hyannis.
Set on several acres, with lovely gardens and delightful heated swimming pool it is easy to see why it is popular for weddings and special functions. The Inn has a well-deserved reputation for fine dining, with two award-winning restaurants, the Tavern at the Inn serving outstanding New England regional and American cuisine, and a new 70-seat Grille restaurant. There are also five private dining and function rooms. Fall Serenity weekend package rates, through Nov. 24 are $56/pp and include dinner and breakfast. Dan'l Webster Inn, 149 Main Street, Sandwich Village, MA, 800-444-3566, 508-888-3622, www.danlwebsterinn.com.
I relished the proximity of the Dan'l Webster Inn to the Cape Cod Canal and the 6.2 mile-long paved path for biking, roller blading or just walking (the banks of the canal are also popular for fishing). It was close enough to bike from the inn to the start of the trail. Along the way, I came upon the Aptucxet Trading Post, built by the Pilgrims in 1627 to facilitate trade with the Dutch at New Amsterdam and the Narrangansett Indians, which you can visit.
It is also easy to stroll about and come upon some of the other distinctive attractions: you can easily get to the Town Beach (a 10 minutes drive, visit Sandy Neck Beach); the Thornton Burgess Museum (it was actually his aunt's house), but is a very enchanting insight into the author of the "Peter Rabbit" stories (not Beatrix Potter's Peter Cottontail); the books taught a reverence for the environment; children will enjoy the "classroom" with the Brian Patch chums.
You can also visit the Dexter Grist Mill, where you can still buy ground cornmeal, or draw fresh water from the well (as many locals do for their personal supply). The Hoxie House, built in 1675, was lived in until the 1970s but was never modernized with electricity or plumbing; it is now a wonderful little museum.
A short distance away, you can visit the Green Briar Nature Center & Jam Kitchen (Discovery Hill Road off Route 6A), offering rails, wildflower garden, exhibits and tours of the 85-year old operating jam kitchen (508-888-6870).
We also found public tennis courts very close to the Inn, near the school. There is golf near the inn on an 18-hole championship course with sweeping ocean views at Round Hill Country Club (greens fees are $14 to $36 for 18 holes). Inn guests can also utilize the Sportsite Health Club at no charge (located five minutes away by car). There are also free summertime concerts in Sandwich (check schedule).
Sandwich also is a great base to discover other parts of the Upper Cape. At Falmouth, a 25-minute drive, you can park and take bikes on a mostly flat, absolutely gorgeous 3.2-mile mile paved path on the seashore into Wood's Hole (this is actually easier than bucking the traffic and trying to find parking). The waterfront village, the center for the world renowned Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institution (and the ferry to Martha's Vineyard), is fascinating to walk around (there are regularly scheduled walking tours at no charge, 508-289-2252). There is a marvelous Woods Hole Science Aquarium (very unusual specimens and interesting displays, 508-495-2001), an engaging Exhibit Center where you can learn about the diverse research that is going on and even enter a life-size model of the personnel sphere of the Alvin, the Institution's deep-diving submersible (a $2 donation is requested, 508-289-2663, www.whoi.edu), a museum. In season, there is also a 90-minute Oceanquest Discovery cruise to see lobsters, horseshoe crabs, sea stars, plankton first hand (weekdays, July and August, 800-37-OCEAN, www.capecod.net/oceanquest).
There are many lovely shops and restaurants. We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner at Landfall, which had just the right atmosphere, a waterside view, and excellent menu (548-1758).
The Dan'l Webster Inn in Sandwich also affords easy access to Hyannis, about 20 minutes away, which offers lovely shops, restaurants, museums, seasonal concerts (there is even a scenic Cape Cod Central Railroad that travels between Sandwich and Hyannis, 888-797-RAIL, www.capetrain.com). Also, all the marvelous attractions of Plymouth (including Plimoth Plantation and the Mayflower II, lantern tours and a new Coffin's Ghost Theatre) are about 25 minutes away.
Considering its modest size, there also are a surprising number of charming bed-and-breakfasts in Sandwich. One of them, the Belfry Inne & Bistro, is particularly distinctive: it is actually two buildings, one housed in a former abbey (circa 1902) which offers both accommodations (each unit is named for a day of the week) and a stunning dining room with spectacular stained glass windows and wood paneling; and the other, the circa 1882 Drew house (the rooms are named for the family members). A few of the rooms are suited to families, for example, an upper suite is ideal for families, with a children's room, a play area in the hall between the two rooms, and the master bedroom. This is one of the most intriguing accommodations we have found, all charmingly decorated, and some rooms with whirlpool tubs, others with antique tubs, fireplaces, private balconies, glass windows. The Inne serves breakfast as well as dinner in an exquisite room with oak paneling, stained glass windows and lovely private alcoves (800-844-4542, www.belfryinn.com).
Sandwich is very much a four-season destination, and there are special holiday festivities from Nov. 30 through Dec. 9.
For further information, contact the Cape Cod Canal Region Chamber of Commerce, 70 Main Street, Buzzards Bay, MA 02532, 508-759-6000, www.capecodcanalchamber.org.
Two Programs Benefit Victims
Hearth 'n Kettle Management Corp., which owns and operates a popular group of restaurants and resorts in Plymouth and on Cape Cod, has created a discount-priced "America United" package, a two-night offer at any of its three resort properties, from which a portion will be donated to the American Red Cross, up to $10,000. At the same time, the company said it would donate half the proceeds from the sale of its Gift Certificates to families of fallen firefighters and police in New York City, up to $10,000.
"All of us were horrified by the events of September 11," said Debra Catania, HnK Group Vice President of Sales, Marketing and Public Relations. "It is now up to every one of us to do everything in our power to take care of the real heroes of that day and to see to it that the terrorists never get what they're after, which is the destruction of the American way of life.
"Many people have decided to stay close to home instead of flying to other parts of the world right now," she said. "Both of these special programs offer serenity close to home, appealing to people within a few hours' drive of Cape Cod." The program also will raise money for the relief effort.
The packages start at $249 for two nights accommodations at the Dan'l Webster Inn in Sandwich, the Cape Codder Resort & Spa in Hyannis or the John Carver Inn in Plymouth, plus a $30 dinner allowance at one of the Group's restaurants, and a welcome gift.
The 261-room Cape Codder Resort & Spa, Cape Cod's newest full-service resort, offers a marvelous indoor wave pool with two waterslides, state-of-the-art fitness center; VJ's Grille Room (Cape Cod's only four-Diamond restaurant); an elegant wine bar; a Hearth n'Kettle Restaurant and Tavern (see Discovery, 8/3). Cape Codder Resort, Rte. 132 and Bearse's Way, Hyannis, MA, 888-297-2200, www.CapeCodderResort.com.
The John Carver Inn, located on the original Pilgrim settlement in historic Plymouth within walking distance of the major attractions, features 85 rooms and suites plus an indoor Pilgrim Cove theme pool with waterslide and fitness center, and golf is available nearby; 25 Summer Street, Plymouth, MA, 800-274-1620, www.JohnCarverInn.com.
For further information, contact the Dan'l Webster Inn, 149 Main Street, Sandwich Village, MA, 800-444-3566, 508-888-3622, www.danlwebsterinn.com.