Friday, May 29, 2015

Travel Journal: Cape Cod, MA

Memorial Day Weekend presented us with an opportunity to brave the crowds on Cape Cod and check out some of the places I've already blogged about here. We were able to visit the Aptucxet Trading Post Museum in Bourne and the Old Indian Meeting House in Mashpee. I was very sad that the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Museum hasn't reopened for the summer after the renovation they did this past winter. They are planning a big Opening Day on June 3rd. I'll have to see if I can get back down there this summer.

Getting out onto Cape Cod by car is usually a trial as there are only two bridges over the Cape Cod Canal, the Sagamore Bridge to the north near Sandwich, MA, and the Bourne Bridge to the south between Buzzard's Bay and Bourne, MA. Most people take the Sagamore because it's on the expressway from Boston straight onto the Mid-Cape Highway (US Hwy 6), but because we were headed to Aptucxet first, we went south to Bourne. We were traveling on a holiday weekend so there should have been terrible traffic, although Memorial Day is a bit off-peak (July and August) and the weather wasn't very hot for day tripping beach-goers. We weren't sure quite what to expect, but we prepared for the worst and there was no traffic at all Saturday at mid-day. We zipped right across the Bourne Bridge, no problem. Lady Luck smiled on us!

The Aptucxet Trading Post Museum is just over the bridge and through the town center of Bourne, backing up to the Canal. In fact, it is possible to enter the property from the the Canal Bikeway and skip the town-side parking lot and the property's quirky collection of other buildings. Besides the historic trading post, there is a Dutch windmill which contains an art gallery, the old Sagamore Information Booth which was relocated here and is now the gift shop/ticket booth, and Grover Cleveland's personal train station for his Bourne summer home, Grey Gables.

But we came to see the trading post, so we hurried past towards the back of the property. The Plimoth Colony sent two men down the coast to this location on the Cape's south side to establish a trade house with both the Native people and the Dutch traders from New Amsterdam. They hoped to make enough money from trade in local natural resources like furs to pay off the debt they owed to their corporate backers. The Wampanoag Indians introduced the pilgrims to wampum, their quahog shell beads, which were adopted by the traders as the first local legal tender in the American colonies.

The current building is a replica, but it was built on the original surviving 1627 stone foundation which you can see in the basement. Much of the "replica" building is made from wood salvaged from another 17th-century house, and the exposed beams, wide plank floors, and salt grass insulation displayed in a cut-out of the old plaster wall are amazing to see.

The site administrator, Carol Wynne, who is Wampanoag herself, gave a us a kid-appropriate tour of the property, answered questions, and showed our six- and eight-year-old daughters all kinds of neat things around the trading post. She had beaver and otter pelts for the kids to touch and explained about how the pilgrims and their English clients preferred beaver pelts the Native people had already used because the scratchier outer hairs were worn off and the short undercoat and broken-in hide were softer. Ms. Wynne also showed the girls a ball made of leather and stuffed with deer fur and a traditional game made with deer bones and string where you try to catch bone rings on a stick. She showed us the gardens where they are growing traditional Native crops (the three sisters, Jerusalem artichokes, etc.) and local wildflowers alongside kitchen and medicinal herbs like sassafras for stomach aches.

This sign was an interesting piece: it clearly attempts to celebrate Native participants at the trade house, and it does use their real names (Ousamequin instead of Massasoit, Iyanough instead of Hyannis, Nope instead of Martha's Vineyard), but then it says, "Wetamo. Squaw Sachem of Pokanoket. Consort of Wamsutta, An American queen who later bravely met inevitable defeat" and "Iyanough. 'Indeed not like a savage save for his attire.'" A relic I guess, but it's not quite the complimentary citation it's trying to be. It was important to read their names, though, and see their personal marks.

The museum contains display cases of artifacts dug up around the old foundation during an archaeological excavation in the 1920's. We had a look at the small collection of deer bone tools, Dutch ceramic pipes and kitchen ware, and old panes of the diamond-patterned colonial leaded-glass windows. There was also a small display of the plants and animals the Wampanoag hunted and gathered in the area - and introduced to the English - during the four different seasons. Ms. Wynne showed us some Wampanoag pump drills and explained how they made the labor-intensive wampum beads from clam shells.

Our next stop was up Highway 28 in Mashpee, where we stopped to see the Old Indian Meeting House. It's a working Wampanoag tribal meeting house, so it was closed to visitors, but we were able to walk around and have a look from the outside.

Originally built in 1684 on the site of an even older Mashpee church (1670), the Old Indian Meeting House or Old Indian Church is the oldest Native American church in the Eastern US and the oldest church on Cape Cod. It's so old that it was moved to it's current plot from other location and remodeled in 1717!

Mashpee was one of the colonial era "Praying Towns." The Pilgrim settlers began a campaign to convert the local Native people to Christianity beginning around 1646. The towns required Native people who lived there to assimilate to European lifestyle as well as religion, but they did offer a certain amount of political self-determination, protection, and community, although that independence was slowly eroded over time. In 1833, the Meeting House became the central hub of the Mashpee Revolt led by Reverend William Apess (who was Pequot and a Methodist minister), as a protest against white intrusion on tribal land and governance.

Even though it is a reminder of the complicated relationship between Native tribes and Christianity, it has functioned as a church, a gathering place, a school, and a burying ground for the tribe for more than 300 years. On Memorial Day weekend, the burying ground around the Meeting House was decorated with flags on the military graves - a testament to large number of Native veterans that have served in the US Armed Forces.

The tribe recently renovated it, and it looks amazing. Even through the long, narrow windows, you can see the beautiful exposed beams inside. It would be a gorgeous spot for a wedding!

And because it is Cape Cod, we hit some beaches (even though we had to wear our fleece jackets), ate tons of fried seafood (we liked Fresh Ketch in Hyannis and the Fish Pier Market in Chatham) and way too much salt water taffy, and rode two different carousels. It would be amazing to be there in high summer when the beaches are inviting, but I'm not sure I could stand the crowds.

"Welcome to Hyannis 'Have a Fun Day!'"

Kalmus Beach, Hyannis

Dunbar Point, Hyannis

Kandy Korner, Hyannis

Heritage Museums & Gardens, Sandwich

Chatham Lighthouse Beach, Chatham

Chatham Lighthouse and US Coast Guard Station

There's still plenty to do. On future trips, I hope to finally get over to see the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Museum in Mashpee. We also didn't have time to take the ferries out to Noepe (Martha's Vineyard) and Nantucket to visit the Aquinnah Wampanoag destinations out there. Additionally, this summer 2015, the Pilgrim Monument Provincetown Museum is holding a special video exhibition called "Captured 1614: Our Story - A Wampanoag History" about the kidnapping of 27 Native men (including Squanto) who were sold into slavery in Spain.


  1. Hi
    your articles is so good .traveling.There's still plenty to do. On future trips, I hope to finally get over to see the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Museum in Mashpee.traveling

  2. For future trips, this place is nice and I would plan to make a tour of this place someday. Thanks for sharing this lovely post. best park and fly