There is a certain sense of pride that comes with the designation “Oldest town on Cape Cod” and the citizens of Sandwich take very seriously the obligation of honoring and commemorating their quintessential town’s history. From the old town hall, to the picturesque Dexter Grist Mill, to the iconic boardwalk, Sandwich residents are careful to preserve the historic integrity that abounds in their town.
Settled in 1637 by the “Ten Men of Saugus” who had been given permission by the leaders of Plymouth Colony to establish a settlement, Sandwich was incorporated in 1639—as were Barnstable and Yarmouth. Though the town shares its incorporation anniversary with the two other Cape towns, because it was settled two years earlier, it earned the moniker, “oldest town on the Cape.” Over the years, the citizens of Sandwich have been careful never to miss an opportunity to recognize notable anniversaries and to celebrate the occasions with all the pomp and circumstance fitting for significant milestones.
For example, when the town reached its 250th birthday in 1889, Sandwich residents organized a parade that wound its way down Main Street and past the town hall and private homes, all of which were decorated with bunting bearing patriotic colors. The September 3 celebration began with church bells ringing at dawn and ended in the evening with a fireworks display and a Venetian boat parade along Shawme Pond. Flash forward 125 years to 2014, and organizers are planning a similar parade for September 13 to mark the town’s 375th. Unlike previous years, where just a day was devoted to recognize a significant anniversary, this year’s festivities will be held all year long.
For nearly two years, a group of nearly 200 Sandwich residents has been volunteering its time to prepare events and celebrations, build a website—sandwich375.com—and even write a book called Sandwich 375 Years: Photos, Facts, and Fables of Cape Cod’s Oldest Town. Cindy Russell, chairman of the Sandwich 375 Committee, says one of the group’s top priorities is to host events and activities that are family-friendly and not cost-prohibitive. “Most of the events are completely free so there are no barriers for families who want to participate,” Russell says.
One event scheduled for early spring is the Daffodil Festival, which will be held Saturday, April 26. The festival will include artisans’ tables, a tent devoted to gardening, children’s crafts, music, and food. Preparations for this event got underway last fall when volunteers planted more than 7,000 daffodil bulbs throughout the town. “We are truly painting the town yellow for this event,” says Russell.
The celebration in Sandwich continues on Sunday, April 27 when internationally-famed Irish tenor Ronan Tynan fills Sandwich High School’s auditorium with his amazing voice. The concert is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m.
Some of the year’s largest events will be held in the summer so residents and visitors alike can be part of the festivities. Given the town’s rich history, it comes as no surprise the committee is planning an event that will transform the village section of Sandwich into something from an earlier period. A collection of events called BASH Days—for Bringing Alive Sandwich History—will be held over four Saturdays in May, June, July, and August.
On Saturday, May 17, visitors to Main Street in Sandwich will be temporarily ‘transported’ back to the 1600s, as re-enactors will play the roles of the community’s notable founders including Thomas Dexter and early Sandwich citizens such as Reverend John Smith. Members of the Wampanoag Summer Camp from Plimouth Plantation will demonstrate how Native Americans in the area once made pottery, dolls, and boats as well as the process of husking corn.
The 1700s will be brought to life in Sandwich village on Saturday, June 21, when members of the Yarmouth Minutemen set up camp, portraying the Sandwich Militia unit of Captain Simeon Fish, a leader of one of the town’s two militia camps. Festivities will include period music including a pipe and drum concert as well as horse-drawn carriage rides.
The theme of Saturday, July 19 will be one of the most important centuries in Sandwich history—the 1800s. It was during this exciting and turbulent century—1825 to be exact—that Deming Jarves founded the Boston & Sandwich Glass Factory, a business that created an economic boon in the community for more than 60 years. The Sandwich Glass Museum on Main Street will hold glassblowing demonstrations and staff will share the story of Jarves’ famous company. Fiddlers will add musical entertainment throughout the day.
Later in the 1800s, the nation was embroiled in the painful five-year struggle of the Civil War, and young men from around the country, the Cape, and Sandwich, marched off to fight. “Sandwich had the largest contingency of soldiers going off to the war from the Cape,” Russell says. To commemorate the town’s involvement, the 22nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, a present day group of military re-enactors that gets its name from the original infantry that served in the Civil War, will recreate a commissioning ceremony held in May 1861 for a group of guards from Sandwich who were leaving to fight in the war. The same speech that was read on the steps of Sandwich Town Hall that day in 1861 will be read during this event. The names of 54 Sandwich residents who died during the war will also be read aloud.
On Saturday, August 23, the Sandwich community will commemorate the 20th century. Re-enactors playing the role of suffragettes will be stationed at the park across from town hall. In honor of renowned painter Dodge Macknight, painting lessons will be available for children on the lawn in front of the Sandwich Public Library. Macknight was one of the leading American watercolorists of the early 20th century. He moved to town in 1909 and lived here until his death in 1950.
Beginning at 11 a.m., a cavalcade of cars from each decade of the 1900s will proceed from the Henry T. Wing School on Water Street, through the village section of town to the corner of Jarves and Factory streets, where the vehicles will remain on display through 3 p.m. The day will end with a USO-style block party on Jarves Street and music from the 1940s will be played.
Sandwich’s proximity to both the ocean and the Cape Cod Canal has played a major role in the community’s history, and the 375th committee has scheduled an event celebrating the sea. SeaFest is scheduled for Saturday, July 26 and festivities will include a “seafood smashdown” competition that will pit two local chefs preparing a seafood dinner that will wow the judges’ taste buds. In addition, visitors will have the opportunity to board several boats docked at the marina, including a lobster boat, a fireboat, and a replica shallop, a wooden vessel the Pilgrims brought with them from England in 1620. There may even be a pirate ship sighting.
Attendees will also enjoy plenty of music inspired by the sea and a tent for children’s activities will be available. While these events are free and open to the public, an old-fashioned clambake that will be held in the parking lot abutting the canal, begins at 5 p.m. and costs $50 per person. The location will also serve as a prime viewing spot for a lighted boat parade that will travel down the canal, beginning at 9 p.m.
It’s up, up, and away on Saturday, August 2 and Sunday, August 3 for the Water Street Wing Fling. The transportation-themed event will feature classic cars, kayak rides on Shawme Pond, inflatable moonwalks and bounce houses for children—and tethered balloon rides that will bring courageous participants 50 to 75 feet up in the air. “Because the balloons are tethered, it’s safe, but it’s still quite a thrill,” says Bill Diedering, a member of the 375th committee. “If you have never been on a hot air balloon ride, it really is something to experience.”
“This is going to be a great celebratory weekend and the events just smack of hometown Americana,” adds event organizer Tammy McDevitt. The fun continues on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights, August 2-4, when the Los Angeles-based company, Paintscaping, a leader in the world of three-dimensional projection shows, will illuminate images onto the façade of the First Church of Christ on Main Street. “It’s fascinating,” Russell adds, “and people are really going to be amazed.”
On Saturday, June 14, the town will host Heritage Day and the event will recognize and honor the founders and early settlers of Sandwich. The day begins with church bells ringing at 9:30 a.m., followed by a ‘march of the descendants’—which will include descendants of the original founders and settlers who will come to Sandwich to celebrate the town and their family legacy. “We are expecting 300 members of the Wing family to be at this event,” Russell says.
Irving Freeman, a twelfth-generation descendant of Edmund Freeman, one of the ‘Ten Men of Saugus’, plans to take part in the event. Freeman says he takes special pride in being a member of this founding family and credits his mother with teaching her children to honor their heritage. “My mother made sure we knew about our family heritage on both sides,” Freeman says. “She instilled in us a sense of pride in our family. I talk to so many people who don’t know what their heritage is. We were lucky; we kept track of it.”
James Pierce, current chairman of the Sandwich Board of Selectmen, is also proud of his family’s long heritage in the community. A thirteenth-generation descendant of William Basset, one of the town’s earliest settlers, Pierce considers his heritage an important part of his identity. “Pride in my heritage was ingrained in me from an early age,” he says. “It is a part of who I am.”
Though Heritage Day begins with a tribute to the few men and their families who settled the town, it ends with a celebration for all of Sandwich’s families, descendants, and wash-a-shores. Afternoon festivities will be held at Sandwich High School, including a picnic, a cupcake competition, and an all-town photograph shoot. The festivities culminate with a Cape Cod Baseball League game between the Bourne Braves and Falmouth Commodores, which will be held at the high school’s baseball field.
Another event—this one after Labor Day—is a grand parade scheduled for Saturday, September 13. The parade, which travels from the Wing School to Main Street and over to Route 6A, before returning to the school, will begin at 1 p.m. It will include at least ten bands, a drum and bugle corps, bagpipes, floats, classic cars, and even Clydesdale horses. Diedering, who is organizing the parade, says he had to enlarge the parade route to two miles to accommodate all who wanted to be involved. “It’s really going to be grand,” he says.
With a town hall that dates back to 1834, a working gristmill that is nearly as old as the town itself, and a boardwalk that has been named one of the Top 10 of its kind by National Geographic magazine, Sandwich’s history is clearly something to celebrate. Over the past 375 years, the town’s citizens have embraced their history and have demonstrated pride in this community and heritage through various anniversary celebrations.
Perhaps it is their fondness for all things historic, or their devotion to maintaining the quaint charm of their seaside community, but more than likely it is the strong family ties that exist between some citizens living in Sandwich today and those who first settled the area during the 1600s that compels residents to celebrate and pay homage to their town’s birthdays. No matter the motivation, one thing is clear—the citizens of Sandwich know, and have always known, how to throw a great party.