Sixty years ago, on August 7, 1961, President John F. Kennedy formally signed a law creating the Cape Cod National Seashore. The new park set aside what would become more than 43,000 acres of prime Outer Cape property, from the elbow of Chatham to the tip of Provincetown.
Producer Dave Fraser shares part one of a three-part series on the National Seashore and how it invited visitors to experience a different kind of seaside: unpolished and undeveloped.
Watch more stories about the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Sixty years ago this week, on August 7th, 1961, President John F. Kennedy formally signed into law the creation of the Cape Cod National Seashore.
The new park set aside what would become more than forty three thousand acres of prime Outer Cape property, from the elbow of Chatham to the tip of Provincetown.
Tonight, producer Dave Fraser shares part one of a three-part series on the National Seashore and how it invited visitors to experience a different kind of seaside: unpolished and undeveloped.
Dave Fraser: ‘A grand place to be alone and undisturbed’ is how playwright Eugene O’Neill described the outer beaches of Cape Cod, a 40 mile stretch along the outside of the hooked elbow that shelters Cape Cod Bay.
Don Wilding, Cape Cod Historian: This was a — probably one of the most treacherous areas along the East Coast because of the way Cape Cod sticks out.
Guest # 1: I had no idea, you know, living in Chatham here as a kid, that there was this sort of wider Cape Cod.
Bill Burke, Cape Cod National Seashore: The waves are always shaping, reshaping, building up, taking away. ‘Cause Every time you go to the beach it’s a rediscovery
Cape Cod Resident: When people go out to the Dunes or to Race Point or Herring Cove and you watch a sunset or a sunrise, you’ve never seen anything like it.
Dave Fraser: Spending time on the Outer beach can induce a feeling of enchantment that led visitors, especially writers and artists, to feel themselves re-imagined while they were there.
Literary giants like Eugene O’Neill, e.e. Cummings, Jack Kerouac, Mary Oliver, and perhaps most importantly, Henry Beston, whose 1928 book, The Outermost House, chronicled the outer beaches, dunes, wetlands and harbors, and awoke Cape Codders to a landscape that needed protection.
Don Wilding: He was out there in the middle of this beautiful natural setting that he had always — it had always appealed to him, but he never got to experience it. And the more he was out there, the more he fell in love with the place.
So, he had a house built, out on what is now Coast Guard Beach. It had 10 windows. He said he had a rather amateurish enthusiasm for windows, “I had ten.”
I was told by one of his friends that nature and writing were synonymous with him. He talked about the rhythms of the waves, how they came in in threes. He was just so taken by that. And he said that the writing has to have rhythms just like the waves.
Dave Fraser: The water has always been the Cape’s calling card. Fishing built towns like Truro and Provincetown in the mid 19th century.
By 1920, Cape Cod boasted just under 27,000 residents. By 1950, that number had nearly doubled. People wanted what the Cape offered: its rural character and its unfettered access to the sea. But in coming here, they changed the very thing they were seeking.
Bill Burke, Cape Cod National Seashore: Cape Cod was at a crossroads in the 1950s, for sure. Land was still available and still inexpensive. And there was a danger of development taking off and turning the place into more, more densely populated coastal areas.
But at this point in the mid 1950s, there was still a 40-mile or so unbroken stretch of outer beach that, for the National Park Service, was enticing because it offered a lot of public recreation to people within a day’s drive of this area.
Dave Fraser: In 1955, a first term Senator from Massachusetts sponsored a bill that would largely serve as the framework for the seashore legislation.That senator would become President, and in 1961 signed the bill into law, creating the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Some three to four million people visit the National Seashore every year. For a small fee during the summer months, anyone can have access to this pristine beach, it’s blue Atlantic, it’s long sands, and it’s commanding high bluffs.
This isn’t a gated property. It’s there for all those who choose to come, which is what its creators had intended.
Bill Burke, Cape Cod National Seashore: I’ve worked over 30 years of this national seashore, and what I found here was, that Outer Beach, that sense of solitude, a place to escape, and that that is my go to place.
As park historian, I love the historic buildings, the lighthouses, the human stories, the dune shacks. But in my spare time, and when I need a break from the busyness of working at a park, I go to the Outer beach, especially on a foggy day or early morning or at sunset.
That is a great place to reignite the passion of working in a National Park.