Online only: Expanded story, plus more photos of Orleans!
With coastline along both the Atlantic and Cape Cod Bay, the town of Orleans offers spectacular natural scenery, and the community’s fascinating history is inextricably tied to the sea. Orleans is also known as a mecca for art, culture and fine dining. For two days in September of 2016, photographer Charles Sternaimolo and I explored the town, from Main Street to Nauset Beach, Rock Harbor to the rotary, and everywhere else in between. We met artists, farmers and business owners, and plenty of folks just enjoying the scenes. We hope you enjoy this photo essay on the town of Orleans.
The Orleans Cultural District—where Main Street meets Route 6A, and the surrounding neighborhoods—is a popular area to shop, stroll or enjoy a meal. To the east of 6A, one can savor a burrito at The Corner Store, browse summer reading titles at Main Street Books, and admire the charming exterior of the recently renovated Orleans Whole Food Store. Visitors can also make a beeline to Honey Candle, a colorful shop with a wide selection of candles, all made from beeswax. “Beeswax is the noble side of candles,” says Agostino DiBari, the shop’s owner. “There’s no animal fat, no petroleum and nothing that can hurt you. It’s a beautiful material to work with.” Beeswax candles, DiBari adds, burn cleaner and longer, and a 3” by 6” rolled candle might burn for 80 to 90 hours. Another positive? “By promoting beehives, you’re promoting the environment,” DiBari says. During our visit, a handful of bees buzzed around the shop, drawn in by the sweet-smelling ingredients. This is a regular occurrence, DiBari says, and the shop owner held the door open patiently so each could safely depart. A native of Italy, DiBari once made molds for ceramics, but today he makes molds for his candles. His designs feature birds, shells, pumpkins and pinecones in yellow, cream, green or red. Another design depicts Torre del Mangia, a 14th-century tower in Italy that bears an uncanny resemblance to Provincetown’s Pilgrim Monument. What does an Italian candle maker from Eastham think of Orleans? “If you love the ocean and the brightness of the light,” DiBari says, “this is it.”
To the west of Route 6A, we visited the Artist Cottages of Orleans Market Square—just behind Hot Chocolate Sparrow. Artists can rent the shacks to sell their work either for the summer, or just a weekend. The cottages are open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, first on weekends, then daily in the summer season. The cottages are colorful, the artists are friendly and informative, and a spirit of camaraderie and community runs throughout. We chatted with several artists, including photographer Roberta Anslow. “I’m a fan of the ocean so I do a lot of seascapes,” says Anslow, who shoots only using natural light. “I love Orleans,” she adds. “There are two great beaches—Nauset and Skaket—you have the best of everything here.”
Another Orleans artist, painter Lanae Pink-Fox is also inspired by nature. She enjoys the artist cottages and Orleans in general. “It’s very relaxing,” she says. “There’s a lot of culture here. You’re standing in the middle of the ‘cultural district.’ They actually put a sign up last summer.” Fellow artisan Megan Dugas of Eastham offered a similar sentiment. “It’s a great artist community,” Dugas says. “It’s very peaceful here.” A jeweler, Dugas handcrafts wire necklaces, rings and other pieces using copper, sterling silver and various gemstones. She follows a free-form approach to her work. “It’s therapy,” she says. “I just go into a zone when I’m creating. I never know what I’m going to make when I sit down to make it—and all these creations come out. I think that’s pretty cool.”
Just across the street from the artist cottages, one can access The Cape Cod Rail Trail, a hugely popular attraction. Running all the way from Dennis to Wellfleet, the trail winds through Orleans for several miles along the path of the former Old Colony Railroad. Need a snack? Hot Chocolate Sparrow on Old Colony Way is a sweet spot for coffee and confections. They have ice cream and chocolates, too, as well as apple blossoms, almond cream cake and other homemade creations.
While in town, we made two stops at Nauset Beach, which runs north to south along Orleans’ Atlantic coastline. The beach is huge, and it’s a fantastic area for walking, picnicking and surfing. We met Jack Griffin and Nicole Dardia, two Barnstable High School students who regularly surf there. “The waves make it a lot of fun,” Dardia says. Just over the crest of a dune, we watched a camper make its way to a section of the beach that allows drive-on visits. The driver stopped to deflate the tires before heading out across the sand. Nauset Beach is also well known because of the many shipwrecks that have taken place off its shores over the years, with vessels being tossed against shoals and shore by the powerful surf. Recently, the beach has also been in the news for another reason: shark sightings. Liam’s Clam Shack, a burger stand at the beach, has some fun with this scenario, offering t-shirts depicting a picture of a smiling shark extending an invitation: “Let’s do lunch.”
Hungry? Orleans has many great restaurants, from Abba and The Beacon Room to Mahoney’s Atlantic Bar & Grill and Guapo’s Tortilla Shack. Want a quick bite? The Knack, a relatively new restaurant near the rotary, serves burgers, hot dogs and extra thick milkshakes.
While in town, we had the chance to try breakfast, lunch and dinner in different restaurants on Route 6A: The Hole in One Restaurant, Lobster Claw and Land-Ho! The Hole in One Restaurant offers a variety of fresh baked sweets including sour cream, honey dipped and other doughnut varieties as well as muffins, biscotti and fruit bars. They serve breakfast as well, and the place was jammed when we arrived. Lobster Claw offers diners a unique nautical ambiance—there are buoys in the windows and lanterns for lights—to go with the restaurant’s fresh fish, lobster rolls and other tasty fare. The Land-Ho! is an iconic establishment, known as much for its vast collection of signs hanging from the rafters as it is for its food. One license plate on display—N-A-W-S-E-T—is a true accent piece. Eastham resident Jesse Sullivan has been tending bar at the ‘Ho for 16 years, and it’s easy to see he enjoys the work. “I like all the locals,” says Sullivan. “You get a good feel for the local color.”
On the west side of town, we stopped at The Farm (WB Richardson Growers) on Rock Harbor Road. The business took root in the 1970s when Bill and Diane Richardson first began growing, and it’s carried on today by the couple’s children, Sassy Roche and Sean Richardson. Visitors will find a friendly staff and row after row of flowers, plants and trees. The farmers grow three main crops each year: some 25,000 perennials, 4,500 geraniums and 4,000 chrysanthemums. At the height of the season, they also sell 35 varieties of hydrangea. The Farm hosts events during the year that are open to the public including a Harvest Fall Festival every Columbus Day Weekend.
Both Sassy and her husband, Terrence Roche, commented on how grateful they are to be where they are—in Orleans, on the farm and working with family. “On our worst day,” Terrence says, “I walk to work every day. My kids ride their bikes down here. They have forts. There’s a fairy garden. We’re incredibly lucky.” Sassy adds that running a family business isn’t always peaches and cream, though. “We’re constantly together,” she says, “and some days you just have to laugh because . . . we’re constantly together.”
Rock Harbor is located on the Cape Cod Bay side. Think of it as the spot where the “bicep” meets the “forearm” on the Cape Cod “arm.” The area is known for its stunning sunsets and fascinating tidal flats, which allow beachgoers to walk out more than a mile from shore at low tide. We happened to be in town during the Orleans Pond Coalition’s annual Celebrate our Waters festivities, and the CG36500 was on display in the harbor. The CG what? During a snowstorm on February 18, 1952, four Coast Guardsmen used Motor Lifeboat CG36500 to help rescue 32 sailors from the Pendleton, which had wrecked off Nauset Beach. The story of the real-life rescue is depicted in the film The Finest Hours (2015), and additional information can be found at the Orleans Historical Society.
Rock Harbor is also home to a boatload of charter fishing outfits, many with uplifting vessel names like Flying Mist and Fair Lady. To help boaters recognize the channel in the harbor, there are eight trees planted in a line off shore. It’s a remarkable scene, particularly at sunset. “This place is famous for sunsets,” says Brian Treadwell, a photographer we met at the harbor. “They’re really spectacular. It’s one of the few places in the United States where you can see a sunset over the water and looking west, with some land in the background.” From the location, the eagle-eyed can make out the Cape Cod Canal in the west (or at least the Sandwich tower) and the Pilgrim Monument to the north. Treadwell also pointed out to us the massive rock off shore that gives the harbor its name.
Nearby, impressive scenery of a different variety can be found at The Church of the Transfiguration. The church is home to the Community of Jesus and features well-manicured grounds and some incredible artwork. In the sanctuary, there are frescoes, and mosaics on the walls and apse, including the stunning “Christ in Glory,” a mosaic depiction of Jesus created from 2.5 million pieces of tessera glass. Jesus’ face alone is 5’ tall. Also of note, the church’s organ, which is still under construction, will include 12,000 individual pipes, ranging in size from a straw to a phone booth.
Across town, the Orleans Waterfront Inn is another impressive structure—and impossible to miss when driving on Route 6A. Built on the banks of Town Cove, the historic, pastel-colored venue has 11 guest rooms, various function rooms and restaurants, and one-of-a-kind views of Town Cove—and the historic Jonathan Young Windmill. “Orleans is unbelievable,” says Ed Maas, who runs the inn with his wife, Laurie. “It’s the best town anywhere. It’s a small town where everyone gets along. Where else can you have ocean to bay in five minutes?”
Maas recalls purchasing the inn, which had been set for demolition, in 1996. “It was the craziest thing I’ve ever done,” he recalls. “I called my wife—she was in Florida—and I said ‘I think I just bought the Orleans Waterfront Inn.” Raised in the Sunshine State, Maas says he grew up hating the summer, associating it with Florida’s oppressive heat. Laurie, on the other hand, had regularly visited Cape Cod, where summertime is a celebration. In two decades of ownership, Maas says he has spent millions on renovations, but it’s been a labor of love. “Ever year it gets better,” he says. “I like it. I’m having fun.” For the couple’s first 19 years, they kept the inn open year-round, but in 2017, the restaurant is open May through mid-September, and the hotel offers accommodation through mid-October. At breakfast, we met a couple that was celebrating their 25th anniversary with a weekend’s stay. After all, this is where they met. Got any funny or inspiring stories, Ed? “Every day,” Maas says. “Every day.”
Town Cove is another Orleans treasure. Located near the center of town, the water body winds out through Nauset Harbor to the Atlantic. It’s a popular spot for kayaking, waterskiing and other recreational activities. Those in need of rentals and gear can find what they need at The Goose Hummock outdoor center on Route 6A.
Naturally, Orleans’ nature areas and beaches are attractive draws for artists, and the town’s many art galleries are loaded with images of and inspired by the sea and coast. Housed in a charming half-Cape, Addison Art Gallery shows the work of many accomplished Cape Cod artists. During our visit, the gallery was exhibiting the winners of the National Oil & Acrylic Painters’ Society’s 2016 National Juried Show. Scott Royston’s still life of a duck hanging on a door claimed the “Best in Show” prize. The title of the piece: “He Got Game.”
Around the corner, we browsed many of the quirky creations on display at Yak Arts on Route 28. Owner Robert Dalton visits many an auction and estate sale, but he also travels to Bali, Indonesia every year to find items no one’s ever heard of or seen before. Dalton loves his work—and returns to the Cape with a shipping container full of goods. “I get to travel and buy the funkiest things in the world,” he says, “and I love where I live.” In front of his shop, customers can look through a variety of large items spread out on the lawn, including furnishings fashioned from driftwood and a bust of Albert Einstein carved in teak. Dalton, who previously had shops in Provincetown, Rockport, and Newport, Rhode Island, says two items on his resume have helped him succeed: first, he has a fine arts degree; and second, he’s one of 70 million Baby Boomers. “I have an idea what people like,” he says.
Exploring further reaches of town, we drove through some peaceful residential neighborhoods in East Orleans. Walking along one beach overlooking Nauset Harbor, we met Randy Gallagher and Sarah Bartholomew, who were relaxing at Randy’s boathouse. “This is where I want to stay in summer,” Randy says—and who could blame him? First built in 1916, the cozy retreat just steps from the sand has been in his family for a century. There’s one bedroom with a loft, and a large deck with flower boxes and 180-degree views. During the No-Name storm in 1991, the cottage was washed away, so Gallagher rebuilt it—this time raised on pilings. And in the extra space between the pilings, he installed a chair swing for two.
In South Orleans, we found Ridgewood Motel & Cottages on Quanset Road. The buildings are grey shingled with red shutters, and there’s a white picket fence out front. There are 12 rooms, six cottages, and two owners—Stan and Agie Knowles—who have been running the business since 1980. “We’re a little bit of old Cape Cod,” Stan says. “It’s not just work. It’s a way of living, a way of life.” Stan enjoys gardening and chatting with guests, including many who have been staying at the Ridgewood for years. He’s got loads of stories, enough to fill a book, he says. Outside the office, flowers grow in abundance and a sign on the door reads “Just another day in paradise.”