The Beach Times

A Look at the Iconic Sandwich Boardwalk
Posted by Kinlin Grover | Monday, May 4, 2020

When you think of iconic boardwalks in the United States, places like Atlantic City, Coney Island, Myrtle Beach, and Venice Beach probably come to mind because those locations are major tourist attractions.

The popularity of those boardwalks is because they're lined with shops and restaurants, creating a festive environment that people from all over the country flock to annually.

As you know, things are a little different on Cape Cod, and the Sandwich Boardwalk is no different. Rather than chain restaurant and boutique stores, the Sandwich Boardwalk takes you over a creek, through a marsh, and onto one of the nation's most scenic beaches.

The payoff for walking the Sandwich Boardwalk isn't an expensive meal or a crowded park, but access to a secluded beach overlooking Cape Cod Bay.

The Sandwich Boardwalk is a different kind of iconic because it takes you to one of the most beautiful spots on the Cape, and that's why locals have fought so hard to keep the structure in place for over 140 years.

The Boardwalk's History

The Sandwich Boardwalk has a long history and has been rebuilt countless times over the years. There remains some discussion about when exactly the bridge first opened, as there are reports of a bridge over Mill Creek and the marshland to the beach far earlier than the official dates suggest.

According to these historical records, there was a footbridge over Mill Creek to Town Neck Beach as far back as 1835. This bridge might have been even longer than the 1,350-foot Sandwich Boardwalk, as it extended from State Street all the way to the beach.

Officially, however, the Sandwich Boardwalk was constructed in 1875 after a gale destroyed the original footbridge on December 21, 1874. Sandwich resident Gustavus Howland was paid $500 for building the new bridge, which crosses both Mill Creek and the marsh before coming out on the beach. 

In the early days, parts of the Boardwalk were lined by fish shacks, where local anglers would take their daily catches. The last fish shacks disappeared around 1950, but the Sandwich Boardwalk has remained an essential part of local lore. 

Storm Damage Over the Years

As you might expect in an oceanfront location, storms frequently damage the wooden bridge, and it has been rebuilt countless times over the years.

The first rebuilding likely occurred in 1899, after another gale destroyed the Boardwalk in November of 1898. At that time, the Sandwich Observer noted that John Percival had secured a contract to construct a new bridge and that he would likely use iron to make the structure more durable. The iron structure has never arrived, however, as the Sandwich Boardwalk is still the same wooden structure it has always been.

In 1991, Hurricane Bob roared through the region, destroying the wooden walkways once again. Hurricane Bob remains one of the costliest storms in New England history, as it did $1.5 billion worth of damage, including $1 billion in Massachusetts alone.

Rebuilding the Sandwich Boardwalk following the hurricane involved a slightly different approach: Cape Cod residents and businesses purchased planks engraved with their names and personalized messages. The planks were used in the Boardwalk's construction, and the money raised went into a maintenance fund.

February of 2013 would see another significant storm come through Sandwich, this time a blizzard. Once again, the Boardwalk was partially destroyed, leaving town crews with a considerable amount of work to rebuild it. 

Winter storms again damaged the boardwalk in 2018, putting a large hole in its middle section and washing away some of the steps down to the beach. It costs Sandwich about $86,000 to fix the Boardwalk, but the repairs are only temporary and might not stand up to the next major storm that comes through the area.

The Future of the Boardwalk

Because of the constant damage, there's talk of completely rebuilding the Sandwich Boardwalk, rather than having to make repairs almost every year. That's because the original Boardwalk has now outlived its intended lifespan and, therefore, fixes are no longer sustainable.

As part of the rebuilding process, the structure would be re-engineered to create a more sustainable design. Rumors suggest that the new construction would cost about $2 million, but would last for 20 to 30 years and would require fewer annual repairs.

This new design could include anchoring stainless steel posts into the ground, limiting the uplifting that often damages the Boardwalk during heavy winds. The new bridge might also have handrails, better lighting, and more width.

It remains to be seen how the Boardwalk will look in the future, but Sandwich residents aren't likely to give up on their iconic Boardwalk anytime soon.

Getting to the Sandwich Boardwalk

If you aren't familiar with Cape Cod, finding the Sandwich Boardwalk is a little tricky. From the Old King's Highway, you'll turn on Jarves Street and head north. You'll quickly reach Factory Street, where you'll turn left, and then quickly come to Harbor Street, where you'll turn right.

Harbor Street then turns into Boardwalk Road. Follow Boardwalk Road as far as it goes, and you'll come to a parking lot, which you'll use to access the Sandwich Boardwalk.

Take the time to enjoy the Boardwalk and appreciate its importance to the people of Sandwich. This structure isn't just a wood bridge but is rather the symbol of the community as a whole, and that's why the residents of the Cape's oldest town will ensure that the Sandwich Boardwalk remains for generations to come.

Sandwich Sandwich Boardwalk

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