Belmont’s second son, August Belmont Jr., was a builder and financier. He built New York City’s first subway (Interborough Rapid Transit) in 1904 and was a major figure in Thoroughbred racing (New York’s Belmont Racetrack). He also served as a major in the U.S. Army during WWI, in his 60s. But, arguably, Belmont’s crowning achievement was the Cape Cod Canal.

In “Images of America: Cape Cod Canal,” Timothy T. Orwig wrote that the need to find a shortcut across Cape Cod was “ancient.” Given its treacherous currents and shifting shoals, passage around the Outer Cape was fraught with danger and known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” Ever since the Sparrowhawk went down in 1626 off Orleans, over 2,700 wrecks and 700 lost lives have been recorded around the Cape, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Not to mention untold tonnage in cargo.

Courtesy of the Bourne Archives Committee

As early as 1623, Miles Standish, military leader of Plymouth Colony, advocated building a canal. In 1697, a Massachusetts General Court resolution called for “a passage [to] be cut through the land at Sandwich from Barnstable Bay.” Remarkably, in 1776, George Washington authorized the first of many surveys to consider the feasibility of such an undertaking. And by the late 1800s, President Chester Arthur saw the prospect of a canal as a military asset and considered coastal waterways among his highest priorities. 

Nevertheless, nearly three centuries of legislative ineptitude combined with virtually no heavy industry, made the project impossibly impractical. That is until the early 20th century saw a coalescing of financial power, industrial power, and will power.