The Beach Times

Cape Cod's Unique Architecture
Posted by Kinlin Grover | Monday, July 1, 2019


 

Although you're probably visiting Cape Cod for its unparalleled beaches, outstanding dining scene, and laidback lifestyle, it would be a mistake to miss out on exploring its architecture.

As one of the first North American locations to be inhabited by European settlers, Cape Cod is home to some of the continent’s oldest structures, and there are very few places where you can experience such a wide range of architectural styles in a single day.

Keep some of these old homes and buildings in mind during your Cape Cod vacation because taking a self-guided tour of the Cape’s architecture is an excellent way to spend a day.

 

The First Houses on Cape Cod

There are six houses built in the 1600s that are still standing on Cape Cod. Perhaps the two most famous, the Hoxie House and the Wing Fort House, are located in Sandwich. The Hoxie House dates back to 1675, when it was built for Reverend John Smith, his wife, and their 13 children. It was later owned by Captain Abraham Hoxie, which is how it got its name. The Fort Wing House was constructed in 1641 and has been owned by the Wing family ever since. Both buildings are now museums that are open to the public.

Remember Monopoly houses? Well, they were based on Cape Cod style houses, which first rose to prominence in the early to mid-1700s. These houses were very modest, often with only one room, and had a central fireplace to keep them warm in the winter. A walk through some of Sandwich’s historic districts will give you first-hand views of some of these houses, many of which are marked with plaques.

 

Changes to the Cape Cod Economy

As the economy on Cape Cod matured, the architecture changed considerably. Smaller houses were still being built, but the whaling era brought riches to the area, and captains had the means to establish larger structures for their families.

One example is the Georgian-style Winslow Crocker House, a surprisingly elaborate structure built in 1780. There remains some debate as to how Winslow Crocker obtained his wealth, as he was a trader who might have also dabbled in the rum-running industry. While Crocker lived in Barnstable, local philanthropist Mary Thatcher eventually took ownership of the home and had it moved plank by plank to Yarmouth in 1936. It remains there to this day, and you can visit the house on Saturdays and Sundays been June 1 and October 15.

Although it was built quite a bit later, in 1868, a French Second Empire home called the Captain Penniman House is also the result of the whaling industry. Captain Penniman spent years at a time at sea, making his fortune in the process. Upon retirement, he constructed a unique house in Eastham, complete with 13-foot high whale jawbones in the entrance. The house has a tower overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, as Penniman liked to keep an eye out for ships, and was one of the first homes on Cape Cod to have amenities like running hot water, a furnace, and electricity. The house is open for tours on various dates throughout the year.

 

Vacation Homes on Cape Cod

By the 1880s, Cape Cod was no longer a secret and vacation homes were being constructed by wealthy families from Boston and New York. This commute was possible because of train travel, as visitors could reach the Cape in a matter of hours.

In Falmouth, you'll come across Highfield Hall, which sits atop the town's highest hill on nearly 400 acres of conservation land. The home was constructed in 1878 by James Beebe and used Victorian-style architecture with elements of Queen Anne. Overall, it has 22 rooms, 16 fireplaces, and tons of hand-carved woodwork. The home and its surrounding woods are open to the public every day between April 15 and October 31.

There is an interesting story behind the Crosby Mansion, or Tawasentha, in Brewster, as it was built in 1888 around a small Cape Cod style home where owner Albert Crosby lived as a child. Rather than tearing down the old homestead, he developed a 35 room Queen Anne style mansion around it, with the addition featuring an entrance replicating the one at Buckingham Palace and a parlor designed after the one at the Palace of Versailles. The estate is is now an art gallery open for tours on select days throughout the summer.

 

Post World War II

After the Second World War, soldiers returning from battle needed places to live, leading to many houses being built on Cape Cod. Since the Cape Cod style homes of the 1600 and 1700s could be constructed quickly, they became the design of choice. The only difference is that this next generation of Cape Cod houses would be built for modern living with multiple bedrooms and, in many cases, at least two floors. Most of the Cape Cod style houses on the Cape come from this time period.

This period was also an experimental phase when a group of architects led by Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer constructed small homes with lots of glass and large decks in wooded areas around the Cape, particularly on the cliffs near Truro and Wellfleet. These Bauhaus-style homes utilized various types of wood, concrete, and recycled materials to create something never before seen in this part of the world.

An example of this experimental architecture is found at the Ruth and Robert Hatch Jr. House in Wellfleet, which was built in 1961 on Bound Brook Island. The house was constructed to fit into the natural environment, rather than take away from it, but differs from others of this era because it doesn't have glass in the windows, just shutters. The home is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

Experience the Architecture

As you can see, you can quickly move through quite a few eras of American architecture within a small area if you take the time to do so on Cape Cod. Whether you’re interested in seeing how the country’s first settlers lived or wish to see the lavish homes built by some of the Gilded Age's wealthiest people, the Cape has it all.

The great news is that many of these buildings have been converted into museums, complete with period décor, allowing you to step back in time during your Cape Cod vacation.



Cape Cod Architecture Captain Penniman House Crosby Mansion Fort Wing House Highfield Hall Hoxie House Sandwich Wellfleet Winslow Crocker House

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