Sandwich, the first town you encounter when you cross the Sagamore Bridge, is as good a town as any to start your cultural adventure on Cape Cod.
Striking the perfect balance of history, art, and New England charm, Sandwich epitomizes the best that our creative economy has to offer. The oldest town on the Cape – it was established in 1637 and incorporated two years later – Sandwich transports visitors back to simpler times.
Nowhere will you get that feeling than in its quaint village which features an assortment of quaint shops, restaurants, and inns, some situated in buildings dating back hundreds of years. A short walk from downtown is Dexter Grist Mill, a favorite setting for photographers, which embodies Sandwich’s rich history.
Overlooking Shawme Pond, it was built by Thomas Dexter, one of the town’s original settlers, around 1640. The present structure was purchased by the Town of Sandwich in 1961 and restored with authentic parts, including a wooden waterwheel and millstones imported from France. When in operation, visitors delight in purchasing freshly ground bags of cornmeal which can be used to make bread, muffins, polenta, and pancakes.
Sandwich’s Rich Tradition of Glass Making
In 1825, Sandwich underwent a dramatic shift when Boston businessman Deming Jarves brought a new industry to town, opening the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company near the site of the town’s popular must-see boardwalk.
In a short time, Sandwich transitioned from a fishing and agricultural community into one known throughout the world for its production of glassware. By the 1850s, Jarves’ company produced over 500 million pieces of glass annually.
Today, the art of glassblowing remains strong in Sandwich. A stop into the Sandwich Glass Museum – a little under two hundred yards from Dexter Grist Mill – bears this out. Here, you’ll see glassblowers plying their trade from an impressive red brick furnace that burns brightly throughout the day.
Along with its awe-inspiring glassblowing demonstrations, the museum exhibits nearly 10,000 pieces of glass, some of which date as far back as the 1820s. Don’t leave without stopping into the museum shop where seasonal favorites – colorful pumpkins in the fall and shiny, glimmering Christmas ornaments hand-crafted by local artisans – make the perfect gift for a loved one.
Get Inspired by Nature
The Cape has long been known for its natural beauty and it’s on full display at Heritage Museums & Gardens. Boasting 100 acres of well-manicured gardens, trees, shrubs, flowers, and sweeping lawns, it is a place where the entire family will feel relaxed, rejuvenated, and revitalized.
At Heritage, they celebrate plants throughout the spring and summer with three separate festivals, starting with rhododendrons at the end of May. In July, Cape Cod’s favorite plant, the hydrangea, gets its turn. And in August, the Pollinator Festival showcases plants that attract bees, butterflies, birds, and beetles.
With 41 classic automobiles that span in age from an 1899 Winton to its latest acquisition, a 1965 Ford Country Squire station wagon, Heritage is a car lover’s dream. Among its notable pieces is a 1930 Duesenberg Model J Derham Tourster once owned by actor Gary Cooper (“High Noon”, “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”).
Heritage is also a popular destination for families with kids thanks to Hidden Hollow where children can navigate balance beams, climb stepping stumps, create nature-inspired art, build with blocks, make music, and engage in sensory investigation with plants.
Throw in its one-of-a-kind hand-carved carousel, created by Charles Looff in 1908, and there’s plenty to keep kids entertained. That is especially true this season when one of Heritage’s four new exhibits, Let’s Play: New England Toy Stories, will delight those young and old with an assortment of toys and games with regional roots, including Monopoly, Clue, Candyland, G.I. Joe and Erector sets.
“It’s part time capsule and part history lesson, but also a big play room and a fun interactive experience where the entire family can hang out and play games together,” says Heather Mead, the museum’s director of visitor engagement.
More Family Adventure Awaits in Sandwich
While the Green Briar Nature Center, located on the aptly named Discovery Hill Road, is famed for its kitchen where visitors can take cooking classes, making their own jams, chutneys, and marmalades in an assortment of flavors – strawberry, blueberry, apricot, and more – it’s the outside world that many will fall in love with here.
Inspired by Thornton W. Burgess’ Briar Patch, the center pays tribute to the prolific Sandwich native who penned 170 books, wrote thousands of stories, and created the beloved children’s character Peter Cottontail.
Throughout the year, the center offers classes, field trips, guided walks, and workshops focused on the natural sciences, all aligning with Burgess’ affinity for the outdoors.
Along with its proud history of the arts, this small Cape community is ensuring future generations embrace culture in new and exciting ways. Through the Sandwich Arts Alliance, those young and old can take a variety of classes, in the performing, visual, and literary arts, all from its home on Route 6A which opened in 2019. The alliance also holds a number of events – concerts, author talks, and art exhibits – the public can enjoy.
If nature is part of your Cape vacation, then you’re in luck in Sandwich. An ideal spot for photos is the Sandwich Boardwalk which is roughly 1,350 feet in length and crosses Mill Creek and the marsh, leading to Town Beach on Cape Cod Bay. It was originally constructed in 1875 by Gustavus Howland, the son of Ellis Howland who built Sandwich Town Hall. The boardwalk has been rebuilt multiple times since its inception.
At Scorton Creek off Route 6A, you’ll find trails that pass by the nearby marsh, bogs, and train tracks. If you’re looking to get out on the water, it’s the perfect spot to launch a kayak, Stand Up Paddleboard, or canoe.
Explore the Arts Year-Round
With events in the winter, spring, summer, and fall, Sandwich embraces its cultural roots all year-round. From the town-wide 4th of July festivities, featuring boat and walking parades, live performances, and a 3-mile road race, to its annual Sandwich Village PorchFest, complete with musicians performing live on the porches of homes and businesses in the fall, to its must-experience First Night celebration, Sandwich continues to place a strong emphasis on the arts.
And with one of Sandwich’s newest business in town, Cape Cod Coffee, offering live music featuring some of the region’s top musicians — Brian Sances, Carly Tefft, The Rick Lockwood Trio and more — in a fun, modern, laid back setting, visitors will have plenty to satiate their appetite for art.
“What I love about Sandwich is its combination of history and nature which makes it really special,” says Heritage Museum’s Heather Mead. “We’ve got a beautiful natural environment and a historic downtown that is so charming and so unique. No other town on the Cape is like it.”
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