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Happy 100th Birthday, Cape Cod Canal!

Pedaling along the Cape Cod Canal
Pedaling along the Cape Cod Canal

The Cape Cod Canal celebrated its 100th birthday in 2014. The 17.5-mile long and 480 foot wide waterway is host to 14,000 commercial and recreational boats and ships each year. With the north entrance in Sandwich and the south entrance located at the Mass Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay, it saves vessels traveling east to west and west to east from having to circumvent Cape Cod, thus shaving 135 miles off the trip.

The Cape Cod Canal project was completed in 1914, but the need for a way to go "through" Cape Cod as opposed to around it had been felt since 1625. Miles Standing was one of the first to start exploring the area between the Scussett and Manomet Rivers for a route that might allow water travel between the north and south sides of Cape Cod. In 1717, "Jeremiah's Gutter" was created. The first canal on Cape Cod ran between Boat Meadow Creek in Eastham and Town Cove in Orleans. This canal was naturally created due to flooding and was used frequently during the War of 1812. But in the late 1800's, the focus shifted and, as the idea of creating a larger canal became a priority, Jeremiah's Gutter began to fall into disrepair.

The Sagamore Bridge - Cape Cod Canal
Sagamore Bridge - Cape Cod Canal

Along Canal Road in Orleans, there is a historical marker indicating the location of the original canal on Cape Cod. Several surveys were completed, including one by the first president, George Washington. At various times throughout the late 19th Century, the canal project was attempted, but efforts were always halted due to cost and the sheer enormity of the undertaking. By the late 19th Century, though, it was becoming more and more evident that a waterway through Cape Cod was necessary, as shipwrecks were occurring at least once every two weeks.

August Belmont, a wealthy financier from New York, conducted a survey and, on June 22nd 1909, the construction of the Cape Canal began. At the groundbreaking, Belmont vowed, "not to desert the task until the last shovelful has been dug." The project stayed on course, and the grand opening of the Cape Cod Canal was celebrated on July 29th, 1914.

Railroad Bridge - Bourne, Cape Cod
Railroad Bridge - Bourne, Cape Cod

The Canal was not without its problems. It suffered financial issues, accidents due to dangerous currents, and bridge openings that were not wide enough for large vessels to get through. During WWI, the Federal Railroad Administration took control in response to a German submarine firing on an American boat off the coast of Nauset Beach in Orleans.

Eventually, Belmont sold the Canal to the Federal Government, and in 1928 the US Army Corp of Engineers took over the operation of the Canal. Under their guidance, the Sagamore and Bourne Bridges were constructed. The bridges, completed in 1935, rose 135 above the water. The height of the bridges allowed large vessels to get through the Canal without having to stop and fight the currents while waiting for the bridge to open. Additionally, the Canal underwent extensive construction between 1935 and 1940 and was built to its current dimensions of 17.5 miles long, 480 feet wide, and 32 feet deep.

When visiting Cape Cod, make it point to visit the Cape Cod Canal Visitor Center. There you will find a host of interactive exhibits, films, lectures, displays, and hands on activities relating to the Cape Cod Canal.

Get back to the Cape, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket
Crossing the canal - Get back to the Cape, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket!

Today, the waterway not only makes water travel easier for commercial and recreational boats, but it also offers lots of activities from its shores including biking, walking, running, picnicking, camping in the various recreation areas, and plenty of fishing and boat watching!

The Canal is also magical because of what lies waiting on the other side: walks on the beach, relaxation, time with family and friends, endless activities and fun, and breathtaking vistas. And when it is time to cross it again and leave Cape Cod behind, there is joy and excitement in the possibility of returning. Get back to Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket

Are you ready to experience the "happy place" feeling of crossing the Cape Cod Canal?

About Shannon Russo

About Shannon Russo: I am proud to be the driving force behind the Homeowner Blog, our Homeowner Tutorial Video Series and the design of our email communications. Though I wear many hats in the office, I most enjoy assisting Cape and Islands homeowners with the knowledge I have gained from owning a just-off Cape vacation rental home for over ten years. Raised on the Canadian prairies, I fell in love with the ocean at first sight and would gladly spend the rest of my life in a shack on the beach or sailing the seas. I currently reside in Framingham with my husband, my teenage son, and an ageless pitbull mix named Coogan.