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Ever wonder how the Cape Cod Canal came to be?

A dredge at work in the Cape Cod Canal shows the narrowness of the canal.  Below: August Belmont and his crew inspect the work on the canal.  Bottom: The New York Times, June 30, 1912. Courtesy of the Sandwich Town Archives.

Congress gave authority to the United States Army Corps of Engineers to take over operation and maintenance of the canal. Work began to effect badly needed improvements: widening and deepening the canal, and constructing new bridges. The modernization of the Cape Cod Canal became a public works program. Leisure would complement commerce. A sprawling federal government acted like a die grinder to temper the sharp edges of the Gilded Age. Power shifted away from unbridled titans to Washington bureaucrats. 

The new and improved canal was squarely a by-product of progressive policies put into place during the Great Depression. New Deal programs like the Public Works Administration, Emergency Relief Act, and Rivers and Harbors Act in the mid-1930s helped finance the $37,000,000 cost. Several hundred workers helped build the two distinctive vehicular bridges and unique vertical-lift Railroad Bridge, still standing and functioning 84 years later. Toll free. 

Perhaps fittingly, a black and white postcard of the sparkling new Sagamore Bridge dated June 22, 1935 (the official dedication of the rebuilt canal) noted that “Mrs. August Belmont parted the ribbon.” 

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