Stimulating Attractions Make Seaside Town Year-Round Destination
By Karen Rubin
There is little wonder why Falmouth, Cape Cod’s second largest town, became a tourist haven immediately after other economic pursuits-whaling, saltworks, farming, glassworks-went by the wayside. Or how it cultivated a colony of intelligentsia going back to 1888, or why so many of the multitudes who were based here in World War II simply stayed on.
The sheer beauty and peacefulness of its 68-mile coastline made it inevitable that Falmouth would be a beach retreat. But the landscape is so conducive to artistic and intellectual inspiration that Falmouth is so much more-it is a community with a rich history, vibrant culture, and the intellectual exhilaration of scientific discovery with appeal any time of the year.
The best way to thoroughly enjoy Falmouth is by becoming part of the neighborhood. I found this to e true at CapeWind Waterfront Resort-which began its life as a 1950s motor lodge, but now offers spacious, apartment-like rooms and sprawling lawns overlooking a quiet inlet that let you be at home in a Falmouth community.
CapeWind also let me do the bulk of my exploring of this popular summer haven, best known for Woods Hole, by bike.
Rachel Greenfield, CapeWind’s General Manager but no stranger to adventure (she left a job in financial services to sail a 41 foot sailboat around the world for five years, only returning a year ago), guided me on the best bike routes to take, and was so helpful in mapping routes to all the attractions I hoped to visit.
Taking Oak Street, marked “dead end” I was able to ride a gravel and sand road along the shore, with quaint houses on one side and lovely views of the bay on the other, until it joined with the Shore Road and open views of the sea, some wonderfully whimsical houses on stilts, and bird sanctuaries. Before I knew it, I turned onto the Shining Sea Bikeway to ride into the center of Falmouth.
Travel is about discovery, learning new things-even better when it comes serendipitously, unexpectedly. And so it was at the Falmouth Museums on the Green, operated by the Falmouth Historical Society, that I became acquainted with Katharine Lee Bates, who authored “America The Beautiful.”
Born in Falmouth on August 12, 1859, she was the last of five children; the oldest child had died in infancy, and only a month after her birth, her father, Reverend William Bates, died.
Her mother must have been remarkable, because despite humble means, Katharine, who had already shown extraordinary sensitivity, intelligence, and her talent as a poet and writer, went on to attend Wellesley College and ultimately a professor of English Literature there. But Katharine’s success (along with her other three siblings) was also testament to the support shown the family by the Falmouth community.
Bates’ poem, “America the Beautiful,” a tribute to the most positive qualities of the American character, reflected her cross-country travel experiences which inspired the line, “And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.” After it was published in 1913, with the music adaptation of Samuel D. Ward it became the country’s most beloved patriotic song, (it even was adapted for patriotic songs in Australia, Canada and Mexico).
At the historical society, I also learned for the first time of the women who went to sea on whaling ships with their husband-captains. The whaling ships would set out to sea for as long as it took to fill up the hold with whale oil, the major fossil fuel of its day, and could be away for 3 to 4 years at a time.
Whaling was so important to the development of Falmouth, at one point, half of the 300 homes in Falmouth were owned by ship captains.
Its illustrious history tells much about Falmouth’s character, even today. It was originally settled in 1660 by a dozen Quaker and Congregationalist families from Barnstable and Sandwich fleeing religious repression. They purchased land from the Wampanoags (People of the Dawn) and became so successful at farming, that soon the Puritans outnumbered the Quakers. Soon the town’s triangular green was dominated by the white clapboard First Congregational Church (circa 1708) which has a bell cast by Paul Revere.
During the American Revolution, Falmouth was one of the few Cape towns fired upon by the British; the British attempted to send landing parties ashore but were driven back by heavy fire from townsmen. During the War of 1812, the British again unsuccessfully tried to subdue Falmouth. In 1812, the British ship Nimrod sailed into Falmouth Harbor, its captain demanding the turnover of the town’s canons. The town refused, and drew heavy fire, and the Elm Arch and Nimrod Inns still proudly display their battle scars.
After the Civil War, Falmouth became a summer colony for “free thinkers”. In 1888, Louis Aggasiz founded the research colony that became the internationally famous Marine Biological Laboratory. In the 1930s, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute was established with a $3 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation and has become one of the world’s most acclaimed research facilities on ocean sciences.
These stories come to life during a visit to the Falmouth Museums on the Green, starting with a well-made 15-minute video, and then a tour of two historic homes full of fascinating artifacts. The most interesting were documents and pictures from Katharine Lee Bates, including a “last will and testament” she wrote as a young child, leaving her dolls to her best friend (such a fascinating insight into the nature of this young girl who overcame growing up without a father to become a Wellesley College professor.
Then you visit two of its historic houses: the elegant, Federal-style Julia Wood House, built in 1790 for Dr. Francis Wicks, a leading American pioneer in the use of smallpox vaccines. The house was bequeathed to the society by Julia Warren Wood in memory of her grandfather, Captain Warren Nye Bourne, a master of several whaling barks, who lived in the house from 1844-1882. Here, you can see Dr. Wicks’ office as if he had just left it-tools used for bleeding, and muskrat skin used to treat asthma.
A portrait of a whaling captain evokes the derivation of the expression, “give an arm and a leg”-itinerant portrait artists were paid extra to paint arms, hands, legs.
You also visit the Conant House, built in the 1760s on property owned by Rev. Samuel Palmer, the minister of the First Congregational Church form 1730-1775, and the colonial garden, where you will notice a millstone.
Walking through the homes, you can also see the furniture and fine art, textiles and other features of life so long ago, such as toys. What caught my eye was a silk quilt made by Miss H Lawrence, 1885 and displayed at the 1891 Barnstable County Fair (which interestingly I had a chance to visit this year).
The Historical Society offers family programs on Fridays (geared to children 7-11 years old), such as “whaling days,” and “model airplanes”. It also offers walking tours to the numerous historic homes around the Village Green, including No. 16 West Main Street, built in 1810 by Mayhew Hatch where Katharine Lee Bates was born. (After her father died, the family struggled financially and had to move five times during their 12-year stay in Falmouth, but all four children were successful in their lives). There is a stunning array of architecture around the Green: Federal Colonial, Greek Revival, Georgian Colonial, Queen Anne Victorian, Italianate, many built by the whaling captains (tours are $5, children under 13 free; 55 Palmer Avenue, 508-548-4857, www.falmouthhistoricalsociety.org
Back on the Shining Sea Bikepath for the four-mile ride to Woods Hole, I suddenly realized the name, “Shining Sea” hearkened back to Bates’ “America the Beautiful” lyrics, “from sea to shining sea;” indeed, the path was dedicated to her when it was opened, in 1976. This bikeway is pure delight, meandering through woodlands, marsh, swamp, salt ponds and along the sea, from Falmouth Center to Woods Hole (which has the added benefit of not struggling to find a parking space); plans call for it to be extended to 10 miles.
Woods Hole is distinguished by the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard (a delightful 40-minute trip to Vineyard Haven) but even if you spend even a few minutes on its quaint narrow streets, you are immediately enveloped by the topflight scientific research underway. Most of Woods Hole is a scientific community centered around the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) of about 1,000 scientists, engineers, technicians, scholars and visiting investigators from around the world. Both give tours. MBL’s Administration Building is a magnificent stone structure that originally was the Candle House, built 1836, a factory for turning the whale oil into candles. (Information Office, 93 Water St., 508-289-2252,www.whoi.edu; Marine Biological Laboratory, 508-289-7276, www.mbl.edu).
WHOI was founded in 1930 with a $3 million grant form the Rockefeller Foundation; it grew to meet the demand for defense-related research during World War II. To best appreciate what WHOI does to explore the final frontier on this planet, visit the Exhibit Center at 15 School House, where kids will delight in playing in a cutaway “cockpit” of ALVIN, the submersible used to explore the deepest depths of the sea; see a fascinating exhibit on the Titanic with actual film footage from when the wreck was explored (15 School Street, 508-289-2663, www.whoi.edu).
You can become part of this world of discovery by taking a two-hour OceanQuest “field trip” aboard an actual research vessel which takes you out to the ocean to learn about oceanographic science techniques and meet sea creatures first-hand (available mid-May through mid-October, Water Street Dock, 508-385-7656, 800-376-2326, www.oceanquest.org).
The National Marine Fisheries Aquarium (free) is the oldest research aquarium in the country. Modest but engaging, with touch tanks and displays of 140 species of marine animals including (my favorite) a blue lobster. The best feature is the behind-the-scenes area where you can talk to staff as they go about their tasks of caring for the animals, as I did to learn more about fish that change sex based on population, food supply, and other environmental factors (508-495-2001).
The Woods Hole Historical Museum is a small museum with changing exhibits. Of particular interest was the Yale Workshop, circa 1892, which recreates the studio of a true Renaissance man of the 19th century: Leroy Milton Yale, Jr. He was a New York City pediatrician who summered in nearby Quissett (the workshop was moved from its original site); he was also an accomplished photographer, artist who founded the New York Etching Society, an expert woodworker, and fisherman and writer who wrote articles for Scribners Magazine on sporting subjects. He also wrote the leading guide at the time on nursing babies. The workshop contains books, maps, 19th century tools, art and artifacts.
The museum also offers the Bradley House, circa 1803, which is used for exhibits, including a permanent scale model of the village of Woods Hole from around 1895 that is wonderful to behold; the Swift Barn, built in 1877 that houses the Small Boat Museum; and the Walsh Rambler Rose Garden. The museum’s archives contain manuscripts (maps, ships logs, postcards, household receipts, business records); photographs (over 3,000 family photos and village scenes, including turn-of-the-century views of Woods Hole by Baldwin Coolidge), oral histories, a library, and artifacts collection (579 Woods Hole Rd., 508-548-7270,www.woodsholemuseum.org).
Natural Attractions Abound
Biking into Woods Hole from the Cape Wind along the Shore Road, I turned onto Oyster Pond Road and then to Fells Road, to discover the most unusual Spohr Gardens. Margaret and Charles Spohr purchased the land in the 1950s and started developing the gardens, now totaling six acres along the pond, as a “jungle” of interesting artifacts and plantings that they opened to the public. Over the years, they put in walking paths and planted thousands of more than 34 different varieties of daffodils, plus rhododendrons, azaleas, and various specimen trees. They collected iron objects like anchors, bollards, bells, church architectural items, millstones and granite water troughs-that they placed around making this such a whimsical place to visit. (Free. 45 Fells Road, 508-548-0623, www.spohrgarden.org).
Biking back along the Shore Road, I took a route past the Nobska Lighthouse-for anyone who enjoys lighthouses, marvelous to behold (the U.S. Coast Guard hosts public tours on specific dates, check the Falmouth events listing).
Cape Cod offers phenomenal opportunities for biking. In addition to the Shining Sea Bikeway, there is the 13-mile (roundtrip) Cape Cod Canal, a level trail alongside the canal, from Bourne to Sandwich on the Cape side (access at Buzzards Bay Recreational Area, west of the Bourne Bridge); here, you can stop in at the Aptucxet Trading Post, the first commercial enterprise run by Pilgrims, with gardens, Grover Cleveland’s railroad station and a windmill (open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aptucxet Rd., Bourne, 508-759-9487); and also, the spectacular Cape Cod Rail Trail, extending 26 miles in each direction. (Bike rentals are available at Art’s Bike Shop, Bike Zone, Corner Cycle and Holiday Cycles, (465 Grand Ave., Falmouth Heights, 508-540-3549).
There are also an incredible array of opportunities for walking and bird watching. Cape Cod is considered one of the best spots along the Northeastern seaboard to view birds; more than 260 different species make a stop near Falmouth during their migration, which may have started in the Arctic Circle to end in South America, 12,000 miles away ( Cape Cod is the half-way stop along the North American Flyway). The Ashumet Holly Reservation & Wildlife Sanctuary (Massachusetts Audubon Society) is a 45-acre preserve and bird sanctuary offering 27 acres of mixed woodland, 10 agricultural acres and eight-acre kettle pond with Oriental lotus flowers blooming in summer. True to its name, it features more than 1,000 holly trees (eight species and 65 varieties), the unusual fall-flowering Franklinia tree (named after Benjamin Franklin) and a large barn swallow colony. Self-guided walks along eight nature trails through stands of wildflowers and heather, lectures, guided walks, seal cruises and special island tours are offered throughout the year.
Ashumet’s most spectacular feature is Grassy Pond, a rare ecosystem characterized by the species of rare wildflowers that bloom along its sandy shores during low water in late summer and early fall; the pink Plymouth gentian is particularly beautiful. There is a flurry of activity in the small barn from May through August from the Sanctuary’s resident barn swallow colony. From Ashumet, there are natural history cruises to Cuttyhunk Island most Sundays from mid-July through mid-October (Off Route 151 in East Falmouth; open year round, fee. 508-362-1426,Click for more info).
Of course, the sea beckons, and there are so many ways to enjoy the water. Take to the sea on the Liberte, a three-masted custom yacht, to see historic homes and lighthouses of Woods Hole and Vineyard Haven (508-548-2626); go for a full-day, half-day, sunset or overnight sailing charter through Cape Cod Sailing Adventures. Cape Cod Kayak offers guided tours and specialized training sessions (Cataumet, 508-5639377); Great Marsh Kayak Tours offers eco, tidal, sunset and fly fishing tours through the Great Salt Marsh (508-775-6447). Cape Cod Watersports offers kayaking kitesurfing, windsurfing, sailing and pedal boats (based at the Sea Crest Resort, North Falmouth, 508-801-3329).
You can easily take a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard: the Island Queen to Edgarton; another ferry goes to Oak Bluffs; and the ferry from Woods Hole goes to Vineyard Haven.
Naturally, the beach is one of the most popular lures. Falmouth’s 68 miles of coastline offers 10 public beaches (warmed by the Gulf Stream to 70 degrees in the summer through October). Parking passes are available (at a discount if you show you are a guest of CapeWind).
There are special events and festivals in the area, throughout the year. I was fortunate enough to time my visit during the Barnstable County Fair-a real folksy occasion that is modern, historic, traditional and timeless all at the same time. You can learn about wind farms and energy alternatives, get a sales pitch for insurance, see the latest in farm equipment, see prize winning cows, llamas, rabbits, see a horseshow and prowess of the ladies’ equestrian precision riding team; try carnival rides and eat junk food, and see entertainment. An interesting show was a display of wild animals that had been rescued with a real western theme, put on by a ranch from (and this is the ironic part) Windham Mountain Ranch, New York. Clearly, Cape Codders have been enjoying these same traditions since at least 1891, the date of the quilt on display at the Falmouth Museums on the Green (www.barnstableCountyFAir.org).
At the fair, I got to see some of the animals that are on display at Coonamessett Farm, a 20-acre combination farm, attraction, restaurant and research center. You can feed Alpacas, Nigerian Dwarf goats, Shetland sheep and miniature donkeys; 10-acres of pick-your-own vegetables, herbs, berries and flowers. There are five greenhouses with demonstration hydroponics and aquaculture production. There are also “Down on the Farm” classes (presented by Lori Lieberman) for children ages 3 thru 8, and featuring a different farm theme each week, to be explored and enjoyed through stories, crafts, circle time, games and hands-on experience. The farm also hosts flea markets, buffet lunches and brunches, festivals and parties. You can also rent a canoe on the abutting 160-acre Coonamessett Pond (277 Hatchville Road, East Falmouth 508 563-2560 www.coonamessettfarm.com).
Families with children would enjoy Adventure Isle, Cape Cod’s largest indoor/outdoor amusement center; Leary Family Amusement Center, near town Hall in Falmouth; and the Cape Cod Children’s Museum which offers hands-on exhibits, pirate ship, planetarium, puppet theater, play area and daily programs.
Dinner with Music
Falmouth area offers such a range of dining experiences. Rachel Greenfield, CapeWind’s general manager, steered me in the direction of the British Beer Company, notable for its location (across the street from the beach), the atmosphere (a real British pub with stunning wood paneling), the food (fantastic), the drink, entertainment (live), and a sense of humor (“Your local pub & eatery; a tradition since 1066 AD). This was the place to be on a Friday night; completely filled, I opted to eat at the bar. You can get fish n’chips, Shepherd’s pie, but also ravioli, chicken fingers, ribs, the “Po’ Boy” (beer-battered cod, shrimp and clam strips on a toasted hoagie roll), and, my choice, the BBC burger, made with Black Angus on homemade rosemary focaccia that was delectable ($7.99).
I discovered that the Irish are also well represented: on Falmouth’s Main Street of charming and stylish restaurants and shops and a Village Green where there are concerts, I was drawn in to Liam MaGuire’s Irish Pub & Restaurant (273 Main St., 58-548-0285), by the amazing traditional and folk music of Liam MaGuire, himself, who regularly entertains, and then, by the enormous plates of food. Even when Liam is not on stage, there is live entertainment nightly and a fun and festive atmosphere (reservations accepted; you can call for an entertainment calendar, 273 Main Street 508-548-0285, www.liammaguire.com).
With such a vibrant intellectual environment, there is also a rich cultural scene, including the Cape Cod Theatre Project, the only professional theater in the Upper Cape, which brings together playwrights of new American plays with professional directors and actors, who are often from Broadway, for staged readings so that audiences can experience the birth of exciting new plays before they go on to stages around the country (www.capecodtheatreproject.org). Also, the Woods Hole Theatre Company, the Falmouth Theatre Guild, the Cotuit Center for the Arts, and the College Light Opera Company. There are also free concerts at the Peg Noonan Park on Main Street in Falmouth.
In season, Falmouth is really bustling, making the long, private drive in to CapeWind Waterfront Resort all the more remarkable; once you enter, you find yourself in this peaceful retreat, separated from the hubbub beyond. It is a waterfront haven on five lush acres overlooking the bay with the ocean just beyond.
CapeWind offers 32 rooms, outfitted to be with all the comforts of home. Every room opens out onto a sprawling lawn that falls off to the bay. Here, you can play badminton, croquet, bocce, pitch horseshoes, swim in a gorgeous lap-sized pool, take a paddle boat ride from the dock (if you brought your own kayak, you could launch it here).
The studio rooms are like studio apartments, outfitted with coffee maker, refrigerator and microwave, lovely china cups, cereal bowls and silverware, even a tub of saltwater taffy and a floral display which gives it the same charming touch as a bed-and-breakfast inn; color TV with remote control; there are plush soaps and shampoos in the bathroom; iron and ironing board.
Bigger units are called kitchenettes because they have a fully equipped kitchen-ideal for longer stays (some units are designated as pet-friendly).
The rooms have small porches, so even on a rainy afternoon, you can sit comfortably outside.
Many of the units connect making them ideal for larger families and multi-generational gatherings.
There is also a small sitting room like a lounge.
General Manager Rachel Greenfield, a remarkable woman who spent five years sailing the world in a 41-foot sailboat, fusses over her guests, downloading directions from Mapquest and giving suggestions on where to go, what to do, much as you would expect in a big resort or a cozy bed-and-breakfast.
CapeWind is unpretentious, homey, so comfortable, a pure delight. I could easily imagine it for a wedding, family reunion, or special occasion, business meetings or special group functions.
Families will also enjoy the wonderful playground across the road, at the local elementary school.
Returning guests can take part in CapeWind’s own “Reunion Weekend,” the third weekend in May, when they are invited to book one night and get the second night free.
CapeWind is located 20 minutes form the Bourne Bridge-secluded, but convenient. You could walk to the beach (a healthy walk), or as I did, bike there easily, but you can also purchase discounted parking passes.
Rooms are priced for double occupancy (studios from $100 to $200/night or $675/week in spring and fall, $1125/week in summer; five-night midweek special is $425 in spring and fall; $725 in summer; additional persons are $25 per night; kitchenettes are about $25/night higher. Children under 15 are accommodated at no extra charge. (CapeWind Waterfront Resort, 34 Maravista Extension, Teaticket, MA 02536, 508-548-3400, 800-267-3401, www.capewind.com)
For more information, Falmouth Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center, 20 Academy Lane, Falmouth, Cape Cod, 508-548-8500, 800-526-8532, www.FalmouthChamber.com.
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