Route 6A--"America's Largest Designated Historic Corridor"
Old King's Highway
Old King’s Highway also known as route 6A in Massachusetts will give you a nostalgic look of olde Cape Cod. The 34 miles will take you through Bourne, Sandwich, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, Brewster and Orleans. Many of the homes, along the roadside, are on the National Register of Historic Places
Old King’s Highway was originally a Native American trail. It was the primary way for farmers and settlers to travel east to west. Naming the highway “old king’s highway’ is just publicity for route 6A is fairly new. The road was built in 1920 when cars took place of trains.
Some historians include the towns of Truro and Provincetown making the route 62 miles. Eastham and Wellfleet were never considered part of Route 6A. For purpose of this article I am only including the original seven towns of route 6A.
Crossing the Bridges
Bourne is the start of Cape Cod. The town is located on both sides of the Cape Cod Canal. The canal is the world’s widest sea canal. You must go over either the Sagamore or the Bourne Bridge to get on to the peninsular. Near the Bourne bridge is the Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge. It is the second longest vertical lift in the world. Bourne is the site of the Pilgrim’s Aptucxet Trading Post. This was used to trade with Native Americans and the Dutch. The trading post is a replica built on the original foundation. Some of the oldest remains of Pilgrim life are housed here.
Sandwich is the oldest town on Cape Cod. It will be celebrating its’ 375 birthday this year, 2014. The Glass Museum follows the history of the glass industry and its place in the American Industrial Revolution. The Sandwich Historical Society is also located at the Glass Museum.At the Heritage Museum and Garden you will see 1000’s of rhododendrons. Charles Dexter planted between 5000 and 10,000 seedling annually. Located on the museum grounds is a Shaker round barn. A Shaker home had no corners. It was believed the devil would hide in corners. The auto galley is a reproduction of the round stone barn at Hancock Shaker Village. Inside the round barn are 34 classic cars. A 1930 Duesenberg model J Derham Tourster once owned by Gary Cooper, is a favorite.
The Beginning of Cranberry Produce
Barnstable is the home of the Sturgis Library. The library started in 1644, has genealogy records from the Pilgrims. People trying to get membership in the Mayflower Society spend days researching the archives. One of the most famous villages in Barnstable is Hyannis. Hyannis is the home of John F. Kennedy Museum, the airport and the Cape Maritime Museum. Located in Barnstable Village is the Coast Guard Heritage Museum. Be sure to visit the Village Smithy, housing America’s Oldest Wooden Jail.
Next town along Route 6A is the Cape’s second oldest town, Yarmouth. The Zooquarium is home to many animals found on Cape Cod. This may be your only chance to see, sheep, deer, porcupines, goats, bobcats, pigs and more. Captain Ebenezer Sears was the first American skipper to take a merchant vessel around the Cape of Good Hope. He was from Yarmouth. Also from Yarmouth was Captain Asa Eldridge. He skippered the clipper ‘Red Jacket’ from New York to Liverpool in 13 days, 1 hour and 25 minutes, setting a speed record for fastest trans-Atlantic crossing by a commercial sailing vessel. The Christmas Tree Shops were founded at the Route 6A location in Yarmouth Port.
Dennis is rich in cranberry history. This is where Henry Hill first started growing cranberries commercially in 1816. He found cranberries grew better when covered with sand. This led to the cultivation of the berries. The Cape Cod Playhouse is the oldest professional summer theatre, starting July 4, 1927. Bette Davis was an usher at the theatre. Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck and Humphrey Bogart were early performers. Shirley Booth left her 1953 Oscar to the playhouse. The Cape Cinema can seat 92 people and has a 6,400 square foot Art Deco ceiling mural of Prometheus. This mural is the largest in North America. Next door to the theatre is the Cape Cod Museum of Art. All of the artist featured at the museum must have lived or worked on Cape Cod at some time.
Acres of Virgin Land
The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History comprises 350 acres in Brewster. The trails go through salt marches, woodlands and the coast. An even bigger, 2,000 acre preserve, Roland C. Nickerson State Park is in Brewster. Nickerson was a banking and railroad tycoon who would import elk and bear for weekend guests to hunt. The first water powered grist and woolen mill in the country was started at Stony Brook in Brewster. Brewster holds the world record for largest freshwater largemouth bass ever caught, 17.7 pounds.
The First Parish Church of Brewster was built in 1700. Horatio Alger author of, Ragged Dick, was a minister in 1864. He was dismissed by the church in 1866 on charges of “unnatural familiarity with boys.” He went on to publish one hundred volumes of books about boys who went from rags to riches.
Orleans is the last town on my list of Route 6A. Orleans was the only town in North America to be fired upon by the Germans in World War I. A German submarine attached barges off the coast, one shell struck land in Orleans. The Transatlantic Cable Station Museum is in Orleans. During World War I, General Pershing in France communicated with the US through this station. In 1927, Charles Lindbergh, sent a message that he landed in Paris. The Jonathan Young Windmill is located in Orleans. It is one of the oldest windmills in the United States. Built in 1720 some of the original equipment and hand-hewn wood can be viewed inside.
To enjoy the peaceful, quaint, joy of Cape Cod, take a right turn onto Route 6A and slow down. You will be delighted at what you see.