Cape Cod Canal
Yesterday, we drove home from a delightful weekend with family on the North Shore. There is always that anticipation of crossing the Sagamore Bridge. It’s when you cross the canal, some 150 feet below, (shiver), that the magic begins.
Leaving the Cape on a Saturday or Sunday during the summer season, unfortunately, has no magic. We watched an eight mile backup on the Cranberry Highway inch toward to the bridge and home. All the slow traffic proves being on the Cape is so wonderful that putting up with the return home is worth it.
There were three contributors to making the Cape Cod Canal. The first is nature. The Herring River carved through the granite hills as the glaciers melted. The Pilgrims had to make their way over two rivers with a three mile strip of land in between, a rather arduous trip, to get from Plymouth to Cape Cod. As early as 1627, someone—possibly Miles Standish—suggested a survey to dig a canal. With wooden spades and few diggers, nothing came of the idea. Although they did dig a smaller canal elsewhere on the Cape, but that’s another story.
The second factor was trade. Travelling around the hazardous Cape with its currents and dangerous shoals ended in many shipwrecks. So, in 1697, the Massachusetts Legislature commissioned another survey. Talk of a canal went on for over two hundred years, spiking with each new shipwreck. Finally, in 1909, the Boston, Cape Cod, and New York Canal Company began to dig the canal. It opened to business in 1914. Getting across was accomplished with drawbridges and ferries.
Since the canal was only 120 feet wide and 20 feet deep, sailing vessels had to be towed. There were strong currents making for dangerous travel through the narrow, crooked canal. Worse, the schooner Captains, frugal New Englanders all, risked the trip around the Cape rather than pay the canal tolls. No business, no money to dredge the canal.
Finally, in 1928, with an eye toward national defense, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers saved the day. They widened and straightened the canal to 480 feet wide and 32 feet deep. They also built the two high bridges in Bourne and Sandwich to replace the drawbridges.
When you visit the Cape, keep in mind the old adage: Cross that bridge when you come to it. Even if it takes you hours, believe me, it’s worth it.