Two days in Dennis—a Cape Cod photo essay
Cape Cod Life / June 2017 / Art & Entertainment, Food & Dining, People & Businesses, Recreation & Activities
Writer: Matthew J. Gill / Photographer: Charles Sternaimolo
Online only: Expanded story plus more photos of Dennis!
Located on the Mid Cape, the town of Dennis stretches across the Cape Cod peninsula from Nantucket Sound to Cape Cod Bay. Surrounded by water, the town has amazing beaches and nature areas, and recreational opportunities in abundance. For two days last September, photographer Charles Sternaimolo and I had the opportunity to explore Dennis, from Corporation Beach and Sesuit Harbor in the north, to the village of Dennis Port and breezy West Dennis Beach along the south coast. We visited the Cape Cod Rail Trail and the Cape Cod Museum of Art, and scrambled to the top of Scargo Tower. We explored the shops on Routes 28 and 6A, which both run east to west through town, and enjoyed marvelous meals at several great restaurants. We crossed paths with dog-walkers, golfers, vacationers and lots of interesting and friendly people, and we saw some pretty attractive homes—and birdhouses, too! We hope you enjoy this photo essay on the town of Dennis.
One of our first stops was at the Dennis Public Market, a general grocery store and deli with all the fixings. “We want everyone who visits to be happy,” says Cheryle Larocque, the company’s controller and a graduate of Dennis-Yarmouth High. “It’s a community store. It’s still your old-fashioned store where everybody knows your name.” The market is known for its meats and sells steaks, chops and sausages as well as pies and muffins, newspapers and Frisbees. Located near several Dennis beaches, including Chapin Memorial, Mayflower and Cold Storage, the market is a good place to stop for food heading to or from the beach. In the deli, patrons can order sandwiches named for most Cape Cod towns, including the “Harwich,” which features homemade chicken salad and granny smith apple slices, and the “Dennis,” a tried and true tuna melt. Another option is “The Great White Shark,” a spicy combination of chicken breast, Colby jack cheese, bacon and southwest sauce. “It’s got one hell of a bite,” Larocque says, “and that’s why we call it ‘The Great White.’”
Christopher “Rock ‘n’ Roll” Crowell, the Dennis Public Market’s deli manager, has worked at the market for a quarter-century and is a recognizable character in town. A summer employee once filmed a documentary about Crowell, which would later be screened at Cape Cinema, the town’s movie theater. The title? Cold Cuts.
Next up, we paid a visit to Ross Coppelman, Goldsmith. “Driving to work every day on Route 6A is a wonderful experience,” Coppelman says, adding that he particularly enjoys Mayflower Beach, the oyster chowder at Fin Cape Cod and many of Dennis’ small businesses. “People are really committed to what they’re doing,” he says. “It’s not just jobs.” In his shop, Coppelman hand fashions rings, necklaces and other pieces from precious metals and stones. He says many of the jewelry pieces he has made recently have been inspired by nature, whether it’s birds or wildlife or different sand patterns found on the tidal flats. One technique he uses involves hammering rocks found in his garden on a ring or other piece to give it a texture—and then adding tiny shimmering diamonds into the newly formed crevices.
Janice McBride has worked for Coppelman since 1986. She grew up in Dennis and her father, the late Joseph McAlaney, once ran Joe Mac’s, a popular Dennis Village establishment that preceded Chapin’s Restaurant. She likes the creativity her work calls for and enjoys working with others. She says her current boss is the best she’s ever had—including her dad—and notes that visitors are usually happy when they walk in the studio. “This is a happy business,” Coppelman adds. “You’re not handing a check over to the dentist.”
John Anderson, owner of The Village Peddlar at 800 Main Street, has been fixing clocks on Cape Cod since 1979. “Dennis is a close-knit community,” Anderson says. Case in point: To complete repair work on certain timepieces his customers bring in, Anderson often calls on different merchants in the area—a local cabinet maker, perhaps, or the owner of a frame shop—to see if they have a certain part. “There’s always somebody around to go to,” he says. A resident of Brewster, Anderson says he’s busy ‘round the clock—he had 40 jobs waiting for him when we visited—but when he does have time he enjoys savoring a meal at Scargo Café.
The Cape Cod Museum of Art is just around the corner, and in 2016 the museum celebrated its 35th anniversary with a special exhibit and the release of a new book, Art from Cape Cod. Founded in 1981 by Harry Holl (of Scargo Pottery) and Roy Freed with the goal of preserving and displaying artwork created by the Cape’s artists, the museum has more than 2,000 pieces in its collection today, including works by luminaries such as Henry Hensche, Charles Hawthorne and Arnold Geissbuhler. Located at 60 Hope Lane, on the same cultural campus as Cape Cinema and The Cape Playhouse, the uniquely designed museum is a work of art itself. The main gallery is housed in a massive Tudor-style building that was donated to the museum by the Davenport-West family of Harwich. The roof’s construction resembles that of a boat’s hull, and beneath it visitors casually browse local artists’ creations, many inspired by the sea.
“I think Dennis is really a diverse town,” says Benton Jones, the art museum’s education and outreach coordinator. “I especially love the natural resources.” A professional sculptor, Jones enjoys visiting Crowes Pasture Conservation Area and nearby Quivett Creek and Sesuit Creek. The latter location is where, in the mid-19th century, Asa Shiverick and his brothers built eight majestic Clipper ships—the only Cape Cod builders ever to do so.
Tobey Farm on Route 6A has a connection to Dennis’ shipbuilding era; the barn on the property was once part of the Shiverick shipbuilding factory on the banks of Sesuit Creek. Today, the farm sells annuals and perennials, jams and jellies, and “hardy mums.” One can also attend art classes at the farm, and in the fall it’s a good spot to pick out a pumpkin or enjoy the scenery on a hayride.
Traveling through the South Dennis Historic District, we met Joe and Maureen O’Clair, whose home on Highbank Road has a unique historical significance. The home is the last on the Dennis side of the Bass River, and from 1833 to 1869 it was utilized as a tollhouse, regulating the crossing of a wooden bridge that spanned the river. Bridge-crossing fees were 2 cents for individuals, 6 cents for a rider and car, 8 cents for a sleigh or sled, and 3 cents for a wheelbarrow. The O’Clairs do not collect any tolls today, but they appreciate the area all the same. “I love Dennis,” says Maureen, a retired schoolteacher. “I think it’s the best town on the Cape, I really do.”
As mentioned, recreational opportunities can be found all over town. Visitors to Cape Cod Waterways, a water craft rental company adjacent to Swan River in Dennis Port, have two pleasant directions to choose from: they can set out northward on the river for a mile to get to Swan Pond, or head south for 1.5 miles to reach the beach. “This is a beautiful spot for paddling on the tidal estuary,” says Dan Pogorelc, the company’s owner. The river has gentle currents, Pogorelc adds, and there are no boats with large engines and wakes to worry about. Also, paddlers often see herons, egrets and sometimes even river otters along the way. “We cater to entry-level customers,” says Pogorelc. “It’s a nice, easy paddle. Just about anybody should be able to get in the boat and go.” The company rents kayaks, paddleboards, canoes and pedal boats, and is open May through Columbus Day.
The Cape Cod Rail Trail begins in Dennis, off Route 134, and it’s a hugely popular draw for both walkers and cyclists. Departing from the trailhead, one could cycle or walk all the way to Wellfleet—some 24-1/2 miles of mostly flat and scenic terrain. Along the trail we met cycling enthusiast Michael Strobl of Brewster. “I’m on [the rail trail] every day it doesn’t rain,” Strobl says. “In July and August, there are literally thousands of people riding on the trail every day.” Another fun activity is a climb to the top of Scargo Tower, and those who make the 30-foot ascent are rewarded with pleasant views of Scargo Lake—which some say bears resemblance to a Pepperidge Farm Goldfish.
We also swung by The Dennis Highlands Golf Course, which together with Dennis Pines comprises the town’s public golf courses. “The conditions of the [Highlands] course are top notch,” office manager Maryellen Fabiano-Stowe says. “Even though it’s a municipal golf course, you really get a private course feel here.” A resident of Dennis, Fabiano-Stowe worked for the town previously, and she’s enthusiastic about the community. “You’ve got everything you need here,” she says. “You’ve got your beaches, you’ve got your golf, great food, et cetera.”
To cool off, we dipped into the Ice Cream Smuggler on Route 6A. Manager Tara Brooke says Dennis is simply a small, friendly town. “Everybody knows everybody,” Brooke says. “You go out for ice cream and you meet your friends.” She adds that many of the shop’s patrons are regulars and most know each other. What are the most popular flavors? “Vanilla,” she says, “chocolate peanut butter . . . coffee heath bar . . . and mocha chip.” Brooke adds that a few years back a couple got engaged while visiting the shop. The would-be groom proposed by way of a sweet message on one of the shop’s ice cream cakes. “And then,” Brooke says, “a group of customers spontaneously broke into ‘Going to the chapel and we’re gonna get married.’” The couple exchanged vows in 2016—and served an Ice Cream Smuggler ice cream cake at the reception.
To get a better sense of Dennis Port, we spent a few afternoon hours in the village visiting businesses, chatting with locals and exploring. Labelle’s General Store is a fun stop for colorful Dennis Port sweatshirts and hats, and there’s a hearty section devoted to culinary instruments like lobster-shaped cookie cutouts and lobster claw oven mitts. Another great shop for gifts is Sodium, an art studio featuring colorful wooden sculptures of sharks, fish, dolphins and other sea creatures. Across the street, we savored the sweets and coffee at Buckies Biscotti and meditated on the massive murals that local artist Hans de Castellane has painted on buildings in the village. The artwork includes an attractive sailing scene and a Hopper-esque arrangement of Boston sports legends.
In the village, we bumped into brothers-in-law Steve Bober of South Carolina and Ken Roberge of Dennis Port, who were chatting while waiting for their wives. “I think it’s unique and lovely,” Bober says of Dennis, “and I love the seafood.” Bober says he’s especially keen on the Lobster Roll Cruises offered in Sesuit Harbor. “I’ve been to Dennis three or four times,” he says, “and I’ve been on a Lobster Roll Cruise three or four times.” Roberge, who moved to Dennis in 2003 to better enjoy the beaches and golf, cited a few of his favorite eateries in town, including Kream ‘N Kone and Clancy’s Restaurant. “Grumpy’s Restaurant,” he adds, “has the best lunch—and they have the largest breakfast menu I’ve ever seen.”
Many locals we met also recommended The Marshside, so when dinnertime came we headed right for it. For an appetizer, we tried the Sesuit Sassy Shrimp, and for an entrée, the Chioggia Beet Salad. The food was delicious and attractively plated, but best of all were the stunning views of the marsh that patrons can enjoy through the large windows. At sunset, the grasses were a palette of light greens and burnt yellows, and we watched as a crane attempted to find its own meal. Also of note, The Marshside’s staff was amiable and accommodating. “I love Dennis, are you kidding me,” says Barbara Robinson, the restaurant’s front-of-house manager. “It’s a nice community. There’s a lot of culture in this town.” Staffer Nicole Terasconi adds that when compared to Yarmouth, she thinks Dennis has the better golf courses and beaches.
We’ll leave that for readers to decide. What is beyond dispute, however, is the beauty and serenity one can enjoy at West Dennis Beach. Located at the town’s southwestern tip, the beach is long and thin, and there’s plenty of room to spread out. One couple we spoke with who chose to remain anonymous—we’ll call them Dennis and Denise—rattled off a list of the beach’s charms: the parking lot is large, they said, and you can usually find a space; it’s a nice spot for families and seniors because you can park close to the beach; it’s a wonderful area for walkers; and it’s known for its cool breezes and manageable surf. As a result, West Dennis Beach is a popular spot for kiteboarding, and we were happy to observe a few 20-somethings riding the wind across the waves.
Wrapping up our time in Dennis, we steered our way to The Ocean House, where co-owner Janet Hart-Barbato gave us a tour of the property. She showed us the restaurant with its magnificent views of the Sound, and the outdoor beach bar where we watched a bartender prepare blueberry lemon drops and other summery cocktails. In the courtyard, the staff was preparing for a rehearsal dinner, and the guests began to congregate. A long Tuscan-style table was set with attractive lights and seating for 100. It was warm, and the breeze coming off the water made it a perfect setting to dine, relax and celebrate al fresco