The Last Stand of the Stagecoach
The next time you are stuck in midsummer traffic, crawling your way across the Bourne Bridge and cursing all motorized vehicles, turn up your air conditioning and consider traveling around Cape Cod in a time before modern conveniences.
Relics of the horse-drawn era are embedded in Cape Cod’s history.
From the mid-1700s to the mid-1800s, the sole alternative to walking, horseback riding, or a packet sailboat from Cape Cod Bay was the stagecoach—a narrow, springless carriage that jostled up to eight passengers, their baggage, and, often, the daily mail, behind four slow-moving horses. And the teeth-clattering ride on hard seats over rutted sand paths spawned a growth industry of tavern stops, some of which remain fixtures on Cape Cod’s roads today.
In his book Cape Cod, Henry David Thoreau devotes an entire chapter to his coach journey through the Cape’s towns during the waning days of the stagecoach. His nostalgic view of the “good humor” of his “free and easy” fellow passengers and the leisurely unfolding of small town scenes as the stagecoach passes from village to village serves as a welcome reminder of a slower-paced Cape Cod.
As this new form of transportation grew in prominence, Keith Car Works of Sagamore reinvented itself into a nationally renowned stagecoach manufacturer. Begun in 1826 as a small blacksmith shop, the company first made sleighs before constructing stagecoaches. Bourne selectman and historian Donald “Jerry” Ellis describes the stagecoaches from Keith Car Works as the “Cadillac of carriages between Yarmouthport, Harwich, and the Lower Cape.”