The Cape Cod Canal in the process of being built at the beginning of the 20th century. What was previously a narrow and restrictive waterway would ultimately become the widest (at sea-level) canal in the world.

The Bourne Bridge was finished in May 1911 followed by the Buzzards Bay Railroad Bridge (November 1911) and Sagamore Bridge (February 1913). An engineering and picturesque marvel spanning 13 miles, the new canal was 25 feet deep and roughly 125 feet wide. It cost over $11,000,000 to build. Over 16 million cubic yards of sand, stone, clay and glacial boulders were removed. And six unnamed men lost their lives.

The new waterway opened to great fanfare in a ceremony on July 29, 1914. Among the dignitaries in attendance was Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Even President Woodrow Wilson wrote a “hearty congratulations.” 

Courtesy of the Sandwich Town Archives.
Courtesy of the Sandwich Town Archives.

World war and a new progressive direction in America changed everything. Just the day prior to the grand opening, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, auguring WWI. At President Wilson’s direction, the United States Railroad Administration took control of the canal in July 1918. After the war, in April 1919, the government filed a petition to begin condemnation proceedings to formally acquire the canal. 

August Belmont Jr. died in December 1924. After years of legal, political and financial haggling, the sale of the Cape Cod Canal took place in April 1928. The Belmont estate received a mere $4.5 million in proceeds. And based upon Belmont’s overall investment, J. North Conway estimates the estate lost nearly $5 million.