Online only: Expanded story plus more photos of Sandwich!
The town of Sandwich is a special place. From its picturesque homes and historic downtown to its incredible cultural venues and natural landscapes, Sandwich has much to offer. For two days in September of 2016, photographer Charles Sternaimolo and I set out to explore and experience as much of the town as we could take in. From daybreak to sunset, we explored the Sandwich Boardwalk and the Cape Cod Canal, perused the offerings at the Sandwich Glass Museum and Heritage Museums & Gardens, and visited fine restaurants and historic sites all over town. We shot more than 1,000 photos, interviewed 40 business owners, locals, and visitors, and learned a little bit about this unique Cape Cod community. Folks we met along the way described the town as “wonderful,” “friendly,” and “historic,” and Sandwich resident Colin Crane went a little further, saying the town “makes Mayberry look like a metropolis.” You be the judge. We hope you enjoy this photo essay on the town of Sandwich.
Our first stop was at the Sandwich Glass Museum, where Katharine Campbell, the museum’s director, gave us a tour. “Glass is one of those unique art forms that is both functional and beautiful,” Campbell says. “The glassblowing is probably the most popular part of our experience. You get to interact with the glassblower, ask him or her questions. It’s akin to watching a painter painting in an art museum.”
Alongside a bus group tour from Illinois, we learned that sand is the most important ingredient in glassmaking, and that the color of the finished glass is determined by the addition of metals, such as silver or copper, to the mix. Iron is used to make green or emerald-colored glass, which is rare and rather valuable, and Campbell adds that many people associate cranberry colored glass, which is made with a small amount of metallic gold, with Cape Cod.
Campbell says visitors are often surprised by how large the museum is, and that it’s accessible to children. “Kids,” she says, “find fire and molten glass just endlessly fascinating.” In 2016, the museum hosted “Glass Impressions,” an exhibit of glasswork created by local artisans with the goal of interpreting different paintings.
Just around the corner, we met Richard and Jody Horner exploring Main Street. The retired couple from Salem, Oregon was visiting the Cape for the first time as part of a lengthy road trip. “This is how we envisioned New England to look like,” Jody says of Sandwich. “And we’re pleasantly surprised.”
At Beth’s Bakery & Café, we eyed a number of treats including strawberry shortcake and cranberry apple bars. If patrons could try just one confection, we asked baker and executive pastry chef, Tom Lannan, which one should it be? Lannan suggested either a chocolate éclair or a Bismarck. “A Bismarck,” he says, “is a doughnut. They used to call them long johns. It’s split open—and filled with raspberries and whipped cream.” Lannan, who began baking at 14 and studied at Ecole Le Notre outside Paris, has been working in kitchens a teaspoon over 55 years. He describes Sandwich as a tranquil town with a healthy serving of tourists in summer. “It’s got the best of everything,” he says. “For me, working here every day is like a holiday.”
Sitting on a bench in front of The Weather Store on Main, we met three generations of one local family: Nancy Fitch, her daughter Trina Desruisseaux, and Trina’s son Jacob. Nancy moved to town in 1979. “I love the quaintness, I like the architecture, and I love the people,” she says. During the holidays the family often gathers at Nancy’s home, fishes in Shawme Pond, and listens to the town band perform at the Sandwich Bandstand. To celebrate birthdays, the moms in the family usually dine at the Dunbar Tea Room.
During our time in town we had the good fortune to eat at Fishermen’s View and Café Chew, and don’t forget, for a hearty breakfast, the Marshland Too! Nancy Fitch also recommended Sweet Tomatoes Restaurant, which her other daughter, Carrie Yetman, owns, as well as Captain Scott’s Seafood Restaurant, The Pilot House, and The Dan’l Webster Inn.
Another tasty option is The Dan’l Webster Inn, which has three restaurants, including The Tavern, a cozy pub with a rustic, old-timey décor. It’s a good spot to enjoy a meal and watch a game, or sip on an Old Fashioned. “Customers like coming here,” says bartender Cheyne Keene. “It’s quaint, it’s been here for awhile, and it’s within walking distance if you’re staying in the village.”
Speaking of walking, mornings at the Sandwich Boardwalk are a fresh-air flurry of activity. There are runners and cyclists, and lots of walkers and dogs stretching their legs. The historic boardwalk, which allows visitors to cross Mill Creek and the marsh to get to Town Neck Beach, has sustained a good amount of damage in storms over the years, but replacement planks are always installed—most sponsored by local individuals and “dedicated” to certain groups or loved ones. Some fun ones we saw included “Hilda and Salty,” “Sandwich Dive Hogs,” “The Curtis Clan,” and “The Jackson 4.”
At the boardwalk, we met a group heading out with Justin Aldrich of ECOtourz. In the summer, the company rents kayaks at the boardwalk and hosts guided kayaking tours around the creek. The tours focus on the history of Sandwich as well as the ecology of the estuary the group paddles through. “This is a very special waterway,” Aldrich says, describing how the creek has components of both fresh and salt water environments, and is home to osprey, striped bass, razor clams, and various other wildlife species. While offering paddling instructions, Aldrich also comments on how the town was really built up around the creek. Aldrich started ECOtourz a decade ago with the goal of showing visitors what local folks do in town when they’re not working: “kayak” he says, “and beach it.”
Located on Route 6A, Titcomb’s Book Shop celebrates its silver anniversary in 2017. Ralph and Nancy Titcomb founded the company in Connecticut in 1967, before moving the business to the Cape in 1969. “I think Sandwich is a wonderful community,” Nancy Titcomb says, “and we’ve been very much a part of it.” Originally, the business sold mainly rare and out-of-print books, but over the years the retail offerings have been expanded, and visitors today will find new releases alongside Cape Cod classics such as The Outermost House by Henry Beston.
Today, Ralph and Nancy’s daughter Vicky Titcomb runs the store, and granddaughter Rae Titcomb is on the staff. Vicky’s brother (and Rae’s father) Ted Titcomb sculpted the recognizable “Colonial Man” (check name of this) that stands on the front lawn when he was a student at Sandwich High years ago. The sculpture is one of the icons of Route 6A.
Traveling further east, we stopped at The Bird Barn Gallery, artist Alfred Glover’s studio and shop overlooking the marsh. The artist was not on hand, but his work was everywhere: on the roof we spied a colorful lineup of carved chickens with an alligator chasing them, and around the property we saw a carved blue snake climbing up a bird bath. There’s also a comfortable seating area for visitors to take in both the artwork and the marsh.
Searching for East Sandwich Beach, we found a row of cottages on North Shore Boulevard that stood out for two reasons: their appearance (attractive) and their size (miniscule). All sided in grey, the cottages each feature a different color for their shutters and trim, whether light blue, blue, lavender, yellow, white, mint green, and more.
Heritage Museums & Gardens is a colorful spot to visit any time from April through October, but we just happened to be visiting in summer, when everything was in full bloom. “We call ourselves a place where families can come,” says Amy Dean, Heritage’s director of marketing and communications. “It’s a way for families to make connections. There’s something here for everyone.”
We strolled around the property, which boasts 100 acres of gardens, trees and flowers, an extreme ropes course, and a magical flume fountain—which Dean says is a great spot to enjoy lunch. “This,” she says, “is a gardener’s paradise.” The various layouts are meant to inspire gardeners, and Dean says Josiah K. Lilly, III, the man who donated the land to establish Heritage in the first place, “wanted this to be an outreach museum for education.”
Another major draw is the museum’s classic car collection, most of which were autos from Lilly’s own collection. The 40 or so immaculate vintage automobiles—some more than a century old—are housed within an impressive replica Shaker Round Barn. Dean’s favorite is a 1932 Auburn Boattail Speedster, and she enjoys watching visitors “interact” with the cars and often asks them what their first car was—“and they smile and remember.” While we spoke, a group of Maryland visitors posed for a photo in a 1913 Model T Ford.
At the Cape Cod Canal Visitor Center, Samantha Gray, park ranger and the center’s manager, pointed out a display monitor that shows all of the vessels approaching and traveling through the canal—the Cape’s 103-year-old manmade waterway. “I like how dynamic the canal is,” says Gray. “It’s fun to be able to see what’s coming and going.” In addition to boats and ships, Gray says she regularly sees wildlife in the canal, from cormorants and seals to dolphins and whales.
The visitor center is open daily from May through October, and welcomes about 45,000 visitors per year. Exhibits include a timeline of the canal’s development over the years, a 3-D canal model featuring all three bridges, and educational displays on the international maritime alphabet and how to tie common knots used in shipping, such as the bowline. There’s also a gift shop with canal postcards, books, and other souvenirs.
In the marina, we stopped in at Fishermen’s View, the new-in-2016 restaurant and seafood market owned by brothers Robert and Denny Colbert. The Colberts are both Mass. Maritime graduates and well seasoned commercial fishermen. The company has a water tank that holds 26,000 pounds of lobster and crabs, and guests walking in the front door are welcomed by an attractive, custom-built wooden skiff. “This is a boat-to-table concept,” Robert Colbert says. “Seafood, if it’s fresh, is just unbelievable.” In the market, patrons can find everything from crab cakes and lobster meat to halibut and mahi mahi. Elizabeth Colbert, the company’s chief operating officer and Robert’s daughter, says one of the most popular dishes on the restaurant menu is the seared scallops in corn and crab risotto with basil oil. Another dish, the lobster fra diavolo for two, comes with a 2-lb. grilled lobster, shrimp, mussels, littlenecks, and homemade pasta in a spicy red sauce.
Pulling up to the canal to watch the sun set over the Sagamore Bridge, we navigated cyclists and walkers who had a similar idea. Eventually, we saw Brian Nunes and David Gerber, two recreational lobstermen, baiting their traps along the rocks. Their work is labor-intensive—and we observed it from a safe distance—but Nunes says he enjoys it, especially when he gets to transfer his catch to the grill as soon as he makes it home.