Sandwich on Cape Cod in Two Days
Sandwich was built on glass and has endured in all its elegant charm, just 90 minutes from Boston. Established in 1637, it is the oldest village on Cape Cod. It remained an agricultural community until Deming Jarves, a Boston businessman, founded the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company in 1825 as a way of avoiding British import taxes on glassware. It closed 62 years later. The location was chosen not for its beach sand (insufficiently pure quartz silica that is needed for glass) – silica sand had to be imported from the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts – but for its abundant woodlands that provided the fuel to keep the glass furnaces burning at 2000 degrees 24/7. Of course they literally burned up their trees and later had to import coal from Pennsylvania.
Today it is home to just over 20,000 permanent residents, six beaches, and numerous ponds and museums. I start my visit at one of the most famous museums. The Sandwich Glass Museumdisplays a cornucopia of glass of all kinds, mostly produced over the decades by the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company established by Deming Jarves.
Besides the exquisite dining items and the elaborate lamps, I particularly love the decorative coin bank (below), few of which have survived since you have to smash them to get out your money, and the bosom shell, displayed in a “ladies’s only!” case (left) in the bathroom, used to protect nursing women’s clothes from leaking breasts.
The Museum offers a real-life glass blowing demonstration every hour on the hour. Our glass-blower Caitlin, who has been working there full-time for eight years, attempts the creation of a fish within a fish and the 40 spectators cheer through each delicate, difficult step along the way. When she fails at the final step of removing the fish-within-a-fish from the metal rod on which she has so painstakingly created it from molten glass, and cracks the tail, there is a stabbing cry of disappointment from the crowd. And when she tosses it, breaking, into the bin, a joint moan of anguish. It is an odd demonstration to be watching, seated before this red hot oven in an air-conditioned museum in the midst of the one of the most scorching weekends of my life, where the temperatures and humidity are near record-breaking levels.
I move to the 21 minute multi-media program featuring the voices and personas of original Sandwich settlers, including an eight-year-old boy, a local woman, and a male tavern keeper. The hologram projections are so effective that I am fooled at first.
Within walking distance is the Dexter Grist Mill, established in 1637 and rebuilt in 1702. Try as I might, I can’t think of anyone back home who would appreciate the gift of a $5 bag of freshly ground corn meal they are selling. The Mill sits on the beautiful Mill Pond, at the end of which is the old cemetery. Across from the Mill is the still-operative Town Hall, built in 1834 and recently refurbished. Down the road I stop at the 1848 First Church of Christ, known for its spire that is “reminiscent” of Christopher Wren.
I was motivated to visit Sandwich by my ongoing search for the perfect scone in America. Having lived in London for a decade, I find the icing, chocolate bits, and thick triangular lumps of sugary pastry passed off as scones intolerable. Across Mill Pond from the Grist Mill is The Dunbar Tea Room, featured on the cover of Bruce Richardson's book The Great Tea Rooms of America. Bingo! Dunbar provides a full afternoon tea of delectable salmon finger sandwiches, hearty mango chicken baguette, fruit bread with cream cheese, a spread of fruit, multiple luscious pastries, all topped with an extraordinary plain scone and its accompanying jam and cream (albeit not clotted).
The Dunbar is built around a perfectly restored 1740 dark-paneled gentleman’s billiard and smoking room. The owner and talented baker since 2000, Paula Hegarty, is gracious, the service is attentive, and the plates are heaped with heavenly treats. It is a dream come true for Anglophiles in general and scone lovers in particular. Dine in the historic room, the modern room, or out on the newly completed deck in the lush garden. Superb food in such handsome surroundings makes this a gratifying experience.
For some retail therapy as my large meal settles, I stop at a couple of second-hand and antique stores where glassware is abundant, and out of curiosity duck into a realtor’s office to gauge the market. Condos are available “starting in the 2s,” Shirley told me, “but they move very fast until about $350,000. Houses up to the 5s and 6s linger a bit longer.” A cheerleader for Sandwich, she says, “You can be anyone you want to be here. You can join or not join. It’s nice to be asked to dance even if you don’t want to.”
I return to my B&B, one of many charming homes that serve tourists. Cranberry Manor Bed and Breakfast, while right on Main Street, is just far enough from the razzle dazzle to have plenty of parking and a lush, flower-filled back garden, a veritable bird sanctuary.
The deck tables seat well over a dozen under generous umbrellas, and the picturesque screened-in gazebo is fine protection from the evening bugs. Heather and Doug, the hosts, have between them all the necessary skill and charm to ensure a welcome respite from the strains of being a tourist. The four guest rooms are designed with Feng Shui harmony in mind. In fact, “bed & breakfast” is a perfect description as they have paid particular attention both to fine bed linen and comfortable mattresses, and to Heather’s remarkable breakfasts. She describes them quite legitimately as “gourmet”, and the homemade food she serves on handsomely set tables on the deck are both lavish and elegant – from the spinach cheese quiche to the baked apple French toast and tangy fruit salads.
The Heritage Museums and Gardens is spread over nearly 100 acres, encompassing three gallery buildings, multiple gardens, an outdoor concert stage, a conference center, a maze, an 1800 windmill, and much more. It attracts over 100,000 annual visitors. At the J. K. Lilly Automobile Gallery, I visit the exhibition “Driving Our Dreams,” presenting dozens of concept cars – brilliant innovative creations that were never mass-produced.
These include a 1956 Buick Centurion (left) with a clear bubble top and a rear-mounted camera linked to a dashboard screen, eliminating the need for a rear view mirror; a 1954 Hudson whose doors open with part of the roof for easy access (left below); a car that turns into a plane; and another entirely covered and powered by solar panels.
The exhibit highlights the influence of Harley Earl, the designer at General Motors from 1927-58 tasked with redefining a vehicle derived from a horse carriage. He was heavily influenced by Italian style and aircraft design concepts.
It is a long, excessively hot hike to the gallery holding the museum’s famous 1912 Carousel, brought in supposedly as a “women’s attraction.” It is an old fashioned, festive free ride on carved horses and benches. In nearby gallery rooms, engaging examples of American folk art include signage, weather vanes, and carvings. I fall in love with a somewhat stern ship figurehead from 1875.
The heat prevents me from exploring the many gardens, except for the rapturously-blooming gardens I pass through on my way to the Gallery, the irresistible Windmill (below), and a look from a slight distance at the Flume Fountain, inspired by a kind of aqueduct called a flume once particular to New England grist mills.
Sandwich is a town of sea beaches, of ponds, and of creeks – so water activities are a crucial resource. I have contact with two wonderful companies offering an assortment of kayak trips, paddleboard rentals, and other water fun. I speak with Justin, the congenial proprietor of ECOtourz, who provides all that his kayak tour customers need – from sunblock to bug spray to dry bags for a camera – as he guides them through the marshes and estuaries of Sandwich. The ECOtourz office is very centrally located.
In the afternoon, I feel a desperate need to get into the water. I take a paddleboard lesson from Steve, who works for the other prominent Sandwich kayak company Rideaway Kayak, run by Mike Morrison. Rideaway offers lessons, camps, and classes, as well as sunset kayak tours. Their East Sandwich office is located near Scorton Creek, which runs from the bay through the marshes where it eventually dissipates. They assure me that my age of 65 would not prevent my mastery of the paddleboard. I do manage to go from kneeling on its knobby surface, to awkwardly raising myself (butt-first) to standing. I even learn to use the angled paddle as I stand upon the water. My companion does a better job than I do, but it all ends with my refreshing and welcome dismount into the Creek.
After a cooling shower and a lie-down back at the B&B, I return to East Sandwich to dine at the crowded Amari Italian restaurant. With décor that can politely be termed over-the-top, it has a traditional American Italian menu. The salad is all it should be, the pizza is crisp and satisfying, and the after-dinner mints quite a special treat. Which makes it all that more groovy when the hostess slips me a handful.
The Sunday traffic is already backed up a mile away from the Sagamore Bridge after my sumptuous B&B breakfast and I pack up and turn towards Boston feeling that I had filled two days full of Sandwich offerings, but well aware that there are plenty of additional attractions to anticipate for future visits. I note that the one upside of visiting on a weekend when everyone is seriously dehydrated from the heat is that I hadn’t had to wait in a single restroom line – there had been no lines! I crank the air conditioning up high in the car, as much for the health of the box of Dunbar Tea Room scones sitting next to me as for my own comfort.
All photos with permission from Barry Hock.
Sue Katz, an author, journalist, blogger and rebel, used to be most proud of her martial arts career and her world travel, but now it’s all about her edgy blog Consenting Adult. Sue is a regular contributor to Open Media Boston.