The Beach Times

Getting to Know Eastham's Fort Hill Trail
Posted by Kinlin Grover | Monday, July 22, 2019


While heavily trafficked paths like the Cape Cod Rail Trail, Shining Sea Bikeway, Great Island Trail, and areas around Nickerson State Park get a lot of the attention, lesser-known places to hike are abundant on the Cape.

A small, yet incredibly scenic and worthwhile place to explore is Fort Hill Trail in Eastham, a one-mile loop trail featuring outstanding views, historic boulders, some of Cape Cod’s best birdwatching.

The trail will only take you about an hour to complete unless you venture down some of the smaller paths that shoot out from the main section. Keep in mind that these other pathways are only accessible during low tide because they head into the salt marsh. If you’re looking to spend a day away from the beaches on Cape Cod, you could certainly do worse than Fort Hill Trail.

 

Where to Start

There are two parking areas at Fort Hill Trail, both of which are on Fort Hill Road, just off the Mid-Cape Highway between Orleans and Eastham. If you're driving from the north, you'll turn left onto Governor Prence Road, which turns into Fort Hill Road. When arriving from the south, there'll be an exit onto a different section of Governor Prence Road, and you'll then turn right on Fort Hill Road. Highway signs mark where to turn in both directions.

As for the parking lots, the closest to the highway sits across from Captain Penniman House, an 1868 home constructed by a wealthy whaling captain. The home and its barn are open to the public in the summer and are worth a visit. The second parking area is at the end of Fort Hill Road. Both lots are free.

 

What's Along the Trail

The second parking area is less crowded in the summer, so we'll start there. As you begin, you'll immediately see secondary paths heading to the water. Check the tide chart before commencing your walk to ensure that you don't get stuck in high water.

Staying on the main path, you'll walk past a forest and reach a large glacial rock. The rock indicates that you're entering the most picturesque part of the hike because you can now see Nauset Marsh for the next stretch. You can also stand on the rock if you're struggling to see over the plant growth.

The next stretch of the trail takes you along Nauset Marsh, where you can see birds, boats, and scenic vistas. Eventually, you'll complete the section of the pathway that lines the marsh, but you can make a quick detour into the woods, which will take you to Indian Rock.

Once at Indian Rock, you'll have more great views of the marsh and can learn about this historic boulder, which was used to grind and polish tools for centuries before the arrival of Europeans. There is also a covered picnic area here if you've packed a meal.

The stretch of the path near Indian Rock heads onto Red Maple Swamp Trail, another scenic hiking area with a boardwalk, dense forests, and even a boat launch. Red Maple Swamp Trail is particularly scenic during the fall when leaves on the maple trees change color.

Finally, you can get back on the main path and complete your journey. The final stretch of the trail ends up at the parking lot near Captain Penniman House. From there, you'll walk on Fort Hill Road to your vehicle.

Overall, this is an easy hike with a gradual 64-foot elevation change, making it accessible for even novice hikers. You’re never far from your car when you explore Fort Hill Trail, but you’ll feel as though you’re miles from civilization because of the quiet atmosphere and scenery.

 

The Cape’s Best Birdwatching

Here's a little secret: those in the know believe that Fort Hill Trail is home to Cape Cod's best birdwatching. It seems incredible that such a small area would have such a distinction, but it's true.

The reason is that the marshland that runs parallel to the trail provides the perfect environment for both nesting shorebirds and waders that prefer to spend their time in the water.

On any given day in the summer, you could see nesting birds like the yellow warbler, cedar waxwing, Baltimore oriole, northern bobwhite, and willow flycatcher, in addition to waders such as the black-crowned night-heron, great egret, snowy egret, least tern, and osprey. It truly is a birdwatcher's paradise because there is so much to see in such a small area.

And that doesn't even include the winter when you could also see the Virginia rail, marsh wren, salt marsh sparrow, clapper rail, and American bittern, to name a few.

If you're visiting Fort Hill Trail during high tide, the birds will be closer to the shore, providing the best possible viewing conditions.

 

Make It a Day in Eastham

The Fort Hill Trail area in Eastham makes for a great place to spend the day. After your hike, you can have a picnic at the covered picnic tables at Indian Rock, followed by an afternoon spent kayaking or canoeing Nauset Marsh from Hemenway Landing, which is a short jaunt from Indian Rock.

If you didn't bring a boat with you on vacation, Cape Kayaking operates tours most days of the week throughout the summer. The voyage is $70 per person and lasts about three hours; it's the perfect way to finish off a day in Eastham.



Birding Birds On Cape Cod Birdwatching Captain Penniman House Eastham Fort Hill Red Maple Swamp Trail

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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