IT is a singular fate that Cape Cod, a part of the oldest colony of New England, is hardly better known on its physical side than the coast of Labrador. Vague notions prevail of its surface, its shorelines and its origin. Its rocks and its soils are the victims of observations fantastically untrue, and its relations to the glacial invasion have tripped up many writers, who in their zestful appreciation of the human side of the Cape have desired not to neglect its prehistoric foundations.
Freeman, in the Falmouth chapter of his history of Cape Cod, refers to “A plentiful supply of granite from which exportations are sometimes made.” This must have been read by another good minister, who, on the occasion of the two hundredth anniversary of the town of Falmouth prayed” May its hills which Thou hast made of granite be utilized for improvements and its waters be filled with the tribes of the sea.” We may believe that the second of these devout petitions was answered, and we may pardon the hazy notions of the geology, as we must those of a later writer who says truly enough of Sandwich that there is plenty of rock in the landscape but proceeds to say also that “it is the backbone of the Cape jutting through.” This invites a rather useful observation at the outset. Underneath the soils and glacial drift of many regions of our continent, under the subsoils everywhere, and even under all of the sea floor, is what the geologist knows as bedrock, the more consolidated and compact earth material which makes up most of the earth’s crust. There is no bedrock to be seen on the Cape, or on that part of the mainland in Plymouth County from which the Cape springs. It is not to be found in any seacliff, by any lake shore, or in any roadside ledge. There are no stone quarries, and no boring has ever gone deep enough in this region to pierce the loose-textured earth waste and find the solid foundation below it. We may locate Brant Rock, on the south shore of the town of Marshfield; then draw a line southward reaching Buzzards Bay at some point between the villages of Wareham and Onset, and having fixed this line in our minds, we shall find no bedrock east of it in that part of Plymouth County; or in the whole of Barnstable County, which is the Cape. The rock is under the surface, but how far under, we do not know. Hard rocks are there in plenty, in surface fragments, in stones little and big, but these recite another story.
Outside of papers of a learned sort, in journals and reports of surveys, nobody has told us where the glaciers were, to which so much is credited, or how big they were, or whither they moved, or how they were the means of accumulating the mass of land waste that we call the Cape.
Here let a devotee of earth science put in a mild protest against further emphasis on certain analogies drawn from parts of the human form. Rather vivid they were when first used by a literary genius, compounding in himself the naturalist and the philosopher, but wearisome and trite after being solemnly quoted and paraded in every book or light essay on the Cape for some fifty years or more. We may learn more, and do the imagination no violence if we find other ways in which to describe the curving shores and the hilly relief of this foreland.
One writer, with painful ingenuity, finds here a “vast curling whiplash,” and we are compelled to look at the giant who had “whirled it about his head and dropped it into the sea.” We can afford, without loss to fancy or poetic feeling, to drop these fantastic and crude ways of picturing geographic forms, which too easily are a screen for our geographic ignorance. When we have put the Cape’s end into a class with Rockaway and Sandy Hook, and have followed them in the making, we shall not lose any of nature’s idealism if we learn to call them hooked spits, and we shall have gained some real and unforgettable knowledge of that marvelous zone where sea and land meet.
The eastern part of Plymouth County, bordering Cape Cod Bay and reaching across to the head of Buzzards Bay is a piece of country quite like Cape Cod in surface, in soil, in its vegetation, in its physical evolution and in its human story. From this Plymouth belt there springs out into the sea from the vicinity of the Canal, the Cape, southward to Woods Hole, eastward to Chatham, then northward to Provincetownin all if we follow the general course of the outer shore, a distance of about one hundred miles : if we follow the inner shore, about fifty miles. The Cape is wide on the west, but narrows as we go east-ward and still more toward the north, until it offers about the northern end an exposure to the sea which is unique on the mainland of the North American continent.
Along the Canal and the eastern shore of Buzzards Bay, Cape Cod is more than twenty miles wide. Such is the span from Cape Cod Bay to the end of Penzance, pointing toward the chain of the Elizabeth Islands. From the town of Barnstable eastward the width is from six to eight miles, though in places the reach from tide to tide is much less. On the northern extension of the Cape, the average is four or five miles northward into Wellfleet, with a drop to two miles at North Truro and less than a mile as we approach the village of Provincetown.
How little such figures tell about the Cape, is revealed by any good map which shows the ins and outs of the shoreline. If we should go over from the head of Bass River, to the nearest tidal run into the Bay, the portage would be little more than a mile long. And if in Truro, we should follow the tidal channel of what by custom is known as the Pamet River, a few steps would take us over a ridge of dune sand to the Atlantic Ocean. Bradford in his history of the Plymouth Plantation recounts the going to the rescue of a British ship in 1627, crossing the Cape by a portage a little more than two miles long from the head of Namskaket Creek in the town of Orleans.
There is no precise use of language in taking the whole of the venerable County of Barnstable, which is no inconsiderable part of the State of Massachusetts, and calling it a cape. By all the proprieties of geography, it is, and we suppose should be called, a peninsula. But who would have it so? Rather do we yield to the authority of three centuries of use, and call it with the millions who know this as historic ground, by the name, as short as it is simple and full of meaningCape Cod.
Back of Plymouth lies a range of hills, which carries the eye southward, with forested slopes and crests, along the Bay shore to the Canal. At the Canal there is a break, but no discontinuance. Crossing the narrow and steep-sided natural valley that now sees the passing of ships, the hills continue southward and also eastward. To the south, the hill belt, three to four miles in width, extends to Woods Hole. Monument Beach, Cataumet, North Falmouth, and West Falmouth, all centers of summer life, lie in its western fringe, where the forests give way and the slopes lead down to the innumerable coves and beaches of the Buzzards Bay shore. Woods Hole is at the southern end and Falmouth on its lovely plain lies at the eastern base of this imposing moraine.
Eastward from the Canal the hills run through the northern parts of Sandwich, Barn-stable, Yarmouth, Dennis and Brewster, into Orleans, or rather across Orleans to the open sea. This range of uneven upland lies near the Bay shore, leaving room for a string of villages and for farm lands of modest extent, for the north-shore state road, and for the railway as far east as Yarmouth. Yet all this needs to be put a little differently, for most of road and railway is to be found among the northern foothills or near the northern edge of the moraine, for moraine it is, accumulated on the rim of a wide lobe of ice that lay where Cape Cod Bay and Massachusetts Bay now are. At many points the moraine stops where the tide marshes begin and the traveler, eager for every glimpse of the blue waters is tantalized by finding himself lost among scrubby forests.
Hills and mountains are low or high according to their surroundings. Hence Bourne Hill in Sandwich, rising nearly three hundred feet above the sea, is the monarch of the Cape. Then there is Shoot Flying Hill in Barnstable, said to have its name from being a good place to shoot wild fowl as they migrated between the Bay and the Sound. Scargo Hill surmounted by a tower is in Dennis, being an-other hill of the great moraine and a welcome beacon to thousands of sailors bringing their craft from distant seas to the harbors of Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis and Brewster.
Higher than any of these is the master elevation of Plymouth, Manomet Hill, the culminating part of the Plymouth moraine, the greatest landmark between the Blue Hills of Milton and the Cape Cod Canal.
If we follow the moraine from Falmouth northward until it bends eastward in Sandwich, we shall find on the inner side a plain, springing from the base of the hills at about two hundred feet above the sea. This plain slopes southward toward Vineyard Sound. As we go eastward into Barnstable the hills are lower, and likewise the northern edge of the plain, which is here about one hundred feet in altitude. A little farther east, at Yarmouth Camp Grounds, the measure is only forty or fifty feet.
The relation of moraine and plain are perfectly seen at the Camp Ground. The cottages are on the northern border of the plain, and directly northward rise the hills, which the railway and the highway cross for a mile or more to Yarmouth Station. Three miles south are Hyannis and the head of Lewis Bay. Everywhere the plain slopes, imperceptibly to the eye, toward Vineyard and Nantucket Sounds. In the shoreward belt, where the plain is cut by inlets of the sea, are Falmouth, Cotuit, Centerville, Hyannis and various Yarmouths, Dennises, Harwiches and Chathams, all villages of the south shore.
From Falmouth to Chatham, between the moraine and the sound, lies this gently slanting surface, known to glacialists as an outwash plain. When waters flow out at the lower end of a glacier in a mountain valley they spread their ample load of sands and clays in a narrow belt down the valley. When an ice sheet spreads out on rather even ground, streams come out at many places from under its frontal edge. They grade up the ground in front of the glacier; they change their points of outflow and their courses below the outflow. They run into each other in braided and tangled patterns, but all in all, construct a sloping plain of outwash. This is what happened on the Cape, with ice in Cape Cod Bay and ice in Buzzards Bayice that reached far northward and kept pushing southward, and the melting never ceased while the ice endured, and the morainic hills were built and the frontal plain was spread and the upper Cape began to take shape; a shape which is little changed, and its appearance would be little changed, if the mantle of herb and forest were stripped away.
Within the outwash plain are the basins of scores of lakes and ponds of various sizes and shapes, with forested shores, sandy beaches and a wealth of natural beauty which in later years has been in process of discovery. In not a few places the plain is pitted with dry depressions, or kettle holes, whose origin is the same as that of the lake basins. Whether a lake is found in such a depression depends on the supply of water and the porosity or open texture of the subsoil. Gathering in a single sentence the forms of the upper part of the Capeit has ‘a northern section or axis of moraine, and a wide, sloping plain on the south, while on every shore, north, south, east and west, is a fringe of coast marshes and bays and tidal runs.
In the town of Orleans, there begin as we go north, those rather low and dreary levels known as the plains of Nauset in the town of Eastham. The traveler by the railway or in his motor car looks out upon this monotonous and half-desert vista and wonders if he has exhausted the natural scenery of the Cape. And his wonder grows when he is told that Indian corn was formerly raised there for out-side trade, and that a couple of decades after the landing of the Mayflower people there was a serious project to transplant the whole Plymouth colony to this flat and sea-girt ground.
As we approach Wellfleet the surface rises and through Wellfleet to High Head in Truro we find higher and hilly ground, with more forests, plentiful lakes and new surprises at each turn of the ever-winding highway. The physiographer speaks of these grounds as high plains, for he discovers, at altitudes varying from eighty to about one hundred and forty feet, enough harmony in the upper levels to warrant the name of plains. A plodding walker, however, without a relief map or a wide view, would call it very broken and hilly ground.
Here the Cape is higher in the south and east, or on the ocean side, and lower on the west and north, on the Bay side. Into the mass of loose glacial waste the Atlantic, unhindered and powerful, has cut its way and has fashioned here the noblest cliffs on the Cape, cliffs that begin in Orleans, and run northward beyond Highland Light to High Head in Truro. Here the waves of every winter and even the lashings of summer storms work on the cliffs, shift their materials along the shore and out to sea, and slowly move their crest lines westward.
Running across the Cape from east to west, in this region of high and broken plains are almost a dozen valleys, a mile or two apart, parallel to each other and having floors that slope toward Cape Cod Bay. One of the deepest and widest of these is threaded by that tidal water known as Pamet River, which heads eastward at Pamet Life Saving Station and Ballston Beach. But for the shoreline bar at that point, topped by dune sands, the Pamet channel would join the Bay to the ocean and set off all the northern stretch of Cape Cod as an island. This valley was the limit of the first excursion of Standish and his company from the Mayflower in Provincetown harbor, and marks the first discovery of a supply of corn.
Northward from Pamet are Longnook, a vale of gentle seclusion, not seen by the running tourist, and a little valley that begins on the golf grounds of Highland Light and comes out in the village of North Truro. It is the “Mosquito Hollow” of the golfer, who often has more to do than follow his ball from the sixth to the eighth hole. Southward from Pamet one of the loveliest of these valleys is Cahoon’s Hollow east of Wellfleet. It is bordered by pine forests and transparent lakes and through those forests and around those lakes one may pass on hard sand roads, uphill and downhill in quiet shades, that seem as remote for the hour as the forest depths of Maine or northern Wisconsin. It is such places that are not seen from cars that whirl over the tar-faced road at thirty miles an hour. The traveler who has rushed along the south shore road, shot down the main artery to Provincetown, and returned to Boston by Brewster, Barnstable and Sandwichhe has done well, but let him not suppose he has seen the Cape.
Some old libraries in New England can pro-duce a time-stained and limp pamphlet of about a dozen pages, by a Member of the Humane Society. The title is “A Description of the Eastern Coast” and the writer was the Reverend James Freeman. Its object was to locate for the shipwrecked sailor, the refuge huts erected by the Humane Society, and in this humble booklet is a careful description of this group of parallel valleys, of the very existence of which modern books and essays about the Cape give no hint. The most southerly channel is Plum Valley in Eastham. It is easy to see why this valley is thus named, and it is a fairly safe guess that most of the others would reveal the shrubby growths, the clustering colors and the wild flavor of the beach plum.
At High Head in Truro, we drop down to the beaches, marshes and sand dimes of the Provincelands, and let us anticipate our story to say that all below and beyond High Head is the product of forces working after the ice of the glacial period was gonethe creation of currents, waves and windsten square miles of fascinating country that is new, ac-cording to the geologist’s ways of counting age.
High Head is flanked on either side by salt marshesas they were in the old daysfresh marshes now: for the long beach toward Provincetown, built and almost completed by nature, was finished by man, shutting out the salt water, and furnishing a level track for the railway and the highway, both of which descend from the glacial highlands, at the pumping station near the inner shore. The great dune ridges carry the Cape around to the west, and springing from them is the hooked spit which by its spiral curve forms the harbor of Provincetown.
Going westward across the Bay, Plymouth on its harbor, nestles in the eastern slopes of another great moraine mass, which rises westward and extends southward, inclosing many lakes, and covered with woodland almost unbroken save for the sad-looking trunks and tops of the oaks ravaged by the gypsy moth. Going southward the moraine culminates in Manomet Hill, 394 feet, higher by about a hundred feet than any hill on the Cape itself. This great mass, and the high ground reaching southward through the town of Plymouth into Bourne, has been attacked by the waves of the Bay, and the results are seen in the boulder pavements of its beaches and in the cliffs that rise above them.
Edward Hitchcock was the distinguished President of Amherst College. He was also one of the great geologists in the earlier days of that science and about seventy years ago he put forth a report on the geology of Massachusetts, in two quarto volumes. He did not in this classic document venture much about Cape Cod, but he had an open and fertile mind, he had been reading Agassiz and Sir Charles Lyell, and had gained some knowledge of the startling glacial theory with which these men had set Europe thinking. Hitchcock pondered what he had seen on the Cape and put a postscript into his preface, including this remarkable paragraph.
” Is it possible that the whole of Cape Cod is nothing but a vast terminal moraine, produced by a glacier advancing through Massachusetts Bay and scooping out the materials that now form the Cape? In this case the moraines at Plymouth and Truro would form a part of the lateral moraines, and probably most of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard might be regarded as moraines of the same glacier, when it extended farther south.”
In a time when ice sheets were subjects for confused wonderment, much ignorance and some skepticism, this may almost be called an utterance of genius, for we, with the harvest of a thousand workers gathered in our hand, can ill appreciate the grasp, we might say, the daring of this great observer. It is no special credit to the physiographer of to-day that he is able to go into further explanation and to correct in some particulars the interpretation of Dr. Hitchcock.
Making sure of main factsthe reader probably knows that one of the great centers of ice movement in North America was in the Labrador peninsula, east of Hudson Bay. There centered an ice sheet known to glacial students as the Laurentian or Labrador flow. From that central region moved the ice south-ward and southwestward into New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and other States. Over New England, the flow, crossing the St. Lawrence Valley, was to the southeast, and the ice was thick enough and powerful enough to push diagonally across the north and south mountain ranges of western New England.
In southeastern New England the movement of the ice was more nearly south by southeast. Thus from the highlands of north-ern and central New England the ice pushed outward into the edge of the sea, or at least into regions that are now covered by the waters of the ocean. From grounds farther north these ice flows passed over Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
So far as is known, the extreme reach of the ice in the south extended to Nantucket, Martha’s vineyard, Block Island and Long Island. Terminal moraines have long been recognized as crossing these islands, in the hills of the northern parts of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, and in a double series running from east to west on Long Island. And south of each moraine belt of hills, the outwash plains are as evident as they are on Cape Cod. As on the Cape, the surface of the moraines shows fragments great and small, of bed rocks whose place of origin was dozens or hundreds of miles away in New England or in Canada.
When the ice began to melt at its front faster than it advanced, or when as we say, the ice retreated, it by and by assumed new frontal lines. These new fronts are likewise indicated by belts of moraine, as in southern Rhode Island, in the chain of the Elizabeth Islands, and in the great moraine which skirts Cape Cod Bay on its south shore, the moraine which runs from Bourne and Sandwich to the ocean side of Orleans.
It is an open question still, whether this retreat stopped on these lines of mainland moraine, or reached much farther north, to be followed by a new advance to the position of the moraine belts. Thus we recognize the fact that the glacial invasion was neither simple, nor of short duration, but was, as has been well shown in recent years, complicated, prolonged, and marked by several great advances of the icy mantle.
For the reader of these pages another bit of explanatory warning may not be without value. When we speak of an ice movement from a remote part of Canada, we do not mean that all the ice came from that center of movement. Throughout the ice period New England had its snowstorms and its moisture-laden air and thus made large contributions to the New England ice sheet. The central push and the direction of flow were in a way fixed in this northern region for reasons not altogether simple and not wholly known. But the ice that reached Nantucket or Barnstable County was no doubt mainly a product of New England.
We have referred to glacial ice as sometimes moving in lobate masses. How a “lobe” of ice behaves, it may be well to explain. We may take the basin of Lake Michigan as an example. Without much doubt, pre-glacial time saw a valley, where the lake now is. The ice entered this valley from the north, followed it southward and spread out in it. The central flow kept its way southward, but the side movements turned westward into Wisconsin and eastward into Michigan. Thus the lines of flow were somewhat on the pattern of the lines of a feather, or, to venture a technical word which has the authority of a distinguished scholar, the flow of a lobe of ice is “axi-radiant “it flows in the direction of an axis, but radiates in right and left directions.
The ice behaved in like fashion as it pushed from the St. Lawrence Valley, through the Champlain and Hudson Valleys. Now apply the notion to Cape Cod Bay. The ice pushed southward to its edge in Sandwich, Barnstable, and the other towns, and it pushed outward and westward in the Duxbury-Plymouth region : and outward and eastward in the region of the lower cape from Orleans to High Head in Truro.
On the west of the ice sheet of Cape Cod Bay lay another body of ice known as the Buzzards Bay lobe. Along this belt of territory the retreat from the earlier front on Martha’s Vineyard is marked by the Elizabeth Islands, which constitute a moraine parallel to much of the morainic belt on Martha’s Vineyard. At that stage the ice moving from far northward still held possession of the surface now covered by the waters of Buzzards Bay.
Now we have two great fanlike bodies of ice lying against each other, along the north and south line of the Plymouth Hills. These hills form a moraine between the two lobes and are therefore an interlobate moraine, a form of which the glacial-hill belts of our North Central States offer many examples. The irregular heaps of material that lie behind Plymouth and south of it, received contributions from the pushing ice and outflowing waters from east and west. Late in the history of such ice lobes the ice ceases to move, or is stagnant, its edges are often covered with rock waste, and when finally the ice melts out, the waste sinks and slides to stable positions, and the tumbled hills of the Plymouth type are evolved.
May we now go back to the retreat of the glacier from Nantucket to the inner curve of the Cape and see other changes that happened? Much of the older ice that lay on what is now the upper, wide section of the Cape, became stagnant and large blocks were covered by earthy waste brought by outflowing streams from the still existing Cape Cod Bay glacier. Precisely this condition may be followed for many miles on the front part of the Malaspina Glacier in Alaska at the present time. Even forests there grow on glacial waste which in turn is supported by ice. So, on the Cape, these dead and buried blocks of ice in time melted beneath their cover, let down the covering materials and formed the pockets or kettle holes in which nestle the innumerable lakes which dot everywhere the upper Cape.
Now we have brought to a degree of completeness the story of the great plain of the southern part of the Cape, with its forests, its fields of scrub, and its isolated clearings and hamlets. It was built by many changing streams flowing from the glacier of the Bay, and later was pitted by ice-block holes. The ground water filtered in and barring some re-cent changes of a minor character, the topography was complete, and we behold the marvelous beauty of Mashpee, Santuit, Spectacle, Triangle and Lawrence, Cotuit, Wequaket, the various ” Long ” ponds, and of scores of others great and small, with their blue waters, sandy shores and frames of leafy green.
Some streams of glacial waters, flowing down the outwash plain, excavated shallow and flat-floored channels along their lower courses. This is notably true in the southern part of the town of Falmouth, as it is on the southern plains of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The upper reaches of these channels are in some cases followed now by the outlets of lakes, Mashpee River being an example. In other cases these valleys are dry or merely swampy, the flat floors being bordered by steep sides. Into the southern parts of the channels, sea water has entered, making them into marine bays. In a number of instances on the Cape and on the islands these bays have been turned into fresh lakes by the building of shore bars across their openings.
There is a considerable amount of evidence that points to the existence of a vast glacier lying east of the Cape. If any reader is given to the idea that geologists deal much in theory he is likely to be startled by a proposal to invade with ice the Atlantic domain for a hundred miles and more beyond a strip of remote foreland that is already embosomed by the sea. But here are the facts with which we have to deal. We know that the continental glacier scored heavily the shore parts of Maine and moved out for an unknown distance where now is sea. Mount Desert is fifteen hundred feet high, stands on the sea border and was freely overridden by ice. This means a large invasion of the present sea territory on the south. We know also that the land was higher than now, causing wide recession of the sea to the southward.
These facts open possibilities. Over to the southeast of the Cape are those threatening and dangerous Nantucket shoals, which turned back the Mayflower, and have for centuries put the shipmaster on his mettle, if they did not lure him to his grave. Farther east, from a hundred to a hundred and forty miles distant, are other reefs and shallow waters, of what is known as St. George’s Shoals. There is a story of a ship’s crew playing baseball on a shoal bared at low tide. True or false, the yarn serves to fix in the memory this feature of our Atlantic waters. The Nantucket and St. George’s Shoals appear much like sub-merged terminal moraines.
Let the reader now recall those east by west channels in Wellfleet and Truro, to which we have perhaps seemed to give needless emphasis. Their floors descend from east to west. They were made by streams of water. Those streams must have flowed from east to west. They could not have had their sources in the ocean. Whence did they come?
Put all our facts together; or ratherset up a hypothesis and see if it fits the facts. Project a vast ice sheet over Maine, through the Gulf of Maine from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia, and southward. We know the glacier moved far south from the Maine shoreline of today. We know wide sea bottoms were then above sea-level. We know that St. George’s and Nantucket Shoals may well stand as the terminal accumulations of such an ice sheet.
And we know that the waters from that sheet as it melted would flow out on the west, in a manner suited to the making of the cross channels on the lower Cape. Perhaps we have gone too far in uncovering the method, being reluctant simply to assert, what on its face, unexplained, might seem an extravagant guess. But it is more than guess, it is a fairly fortified conclusion; and if true it means that the lower Cape, from Orleans or Chatham to Truro is an interlobate moraine between the “South Channel” glacier and the Cape Cod Bay glacier as the Plymouth belt of hills is interlobate between the glaciers of Cape Cod and Buzzards Bays.
It is believed that the smaller lobate ice sheets on the west were the first to melt away. As the retirement of the Buzzards Bay glacier left that region open, the waters from the waning Cape Cod Bay glacier spilled across the base of. the Cape and excavated that natural valley which is now followed by the Canal. Later, as the ice in Cape Cod Bay waned, the waters from the South Channel glacier swept across the lower Cape, dug the valleys already described, and shaped the broad plains of Nauset with their wandering outflows.
For the sake of clearness we have kept in the background the fact that the glacial history of the Cape is not so simple as it might appear. We have been dealing with what is known to glacialists as the Wisconsin invasion, which was the latest of several great episodes of the glacial period taken as a whole. With greater or less depth these later deposits cover most of the Cape, but below these more recent accumulations, are exposed older beds of clay, sand and gravel, belonging to earlier invasions or to interglacial intervals.
These older deposits are revealed by borings, as for wells; in some of the shore cliffs, and in clay pits, such as are found at the brick yards of West Barnstable. Many visitors have seen these older deposits in the splendid cliffs at Highland Light. Most conspicuous are the massive and tough clays, known there as the Clay Pounds, as they stand carved by wave and rain wash into the spurs and gullies which give to the great amphitheater there such an aspect of wild nature. Below these clays and above the recent sands of the beach, the observant visitor will see basal spurs of coarse gravel, so old that the pebbles are cemented into a conglomerate and rusted with the leaching and oxidation to which the materials have long been subject. It may be well believed, indeed, that the time that passed between the deposit of these gravels, and the making of the later moraines of the Cape, was many times longer than the span that brings us from the later ice to the present time.
Few results of the glacial invasion, first and last, have raised so many queries as the erratic masses of rock that are found far from their parent beds. Such drift boulders are conspicuous on many parts of the Cape, especially on the heights and slopes of the morainic ridges. They are common on the great hill belt from Falmouth to Sandwich and from Sandwich to Orleans, and on the inner or northern slopes of the latter section. This is what the glacialist calls the ice-contact, that is the slope that faced the ice as it melted away in retreat.
“Bearden” patches of great boulders occur in the hill forests of the Beebe estate west of Falmouth village and such a bunching of boulders in Pocasset is locally known as the Devil’s Den. Enos rock on the Nauset moraine in Eastham is thirty-four feet long. A boulder ten or twelve feet long lies by the roadside on the right as one approaches High-land Light and from it the adjacent hotel cottage is called “The Rock.” From these sup-plies of the coarser drift must have been taken the granite “for exportation” as described by the annalist of Falmouth. Myriads of smaller pieces lie in the gravels everywhere, migrants from the region of the Merrimac, from all northern New England, and from the foundations of eastern Canada.
The shortest journey on the Cape flashes on the eye a vision of blue waters framed in forest green. Back from the ocean, nothing else is so characteristic of the Cape as its lakes, and this is equally true of all of the Old Colony which lies in Plymouth County. Someone has said that one could, in the town of Plymouth, camp by a different lake every night in the year. This can hardly be true, but if county instead of town were named, it could probably be done. The topographic map, drawn with contours for altitude and showing the country on a scale of one inch to the mile, records one hundred and twenty-three lakes in the town of Plymouth and it is quite certain that the topographer missed some of the smaller ponds, hidden as they commonly are, by a complete encirclement of forest.
On the Cape, the same maps show two hundred and seventy natural lakes and ponds. They have the greatest variety in size, shape, depth, in their shore forms, the vegetation of their borders and the life of their waters. One of the largest is Long Pond in Harwich, with a maximum depth of 66 feet and an area of more than a square mile. There is no place on Cape Cod, perhaps, which rivals the neighborhood of the Pleasant Lake railway station in revealing the abundance and beauty of these unsalted waters. Let the traveler as he goes north from Harwich station watch for the place where he gets the vistas, losing them all too soon, of Long Pond on the right and Hinkleys and Seymour Ponds on the left, compensating him in a measure for those longer stretches of railway travel in which he is hid-den among morainic hills, while he looks in vain for the sea. Indeed we have thought of the Cape as so narrow and wave-beaten, that coming for the first time into it, we are astonished to find that it has an interior and forest spaces that seem as interminable as one might find in any other part of New England.
Another of the greater fresh-waters of the Cape is Great Pond in the town of Barnstable. To add to its attraction, this name has been superseded by Wequaket, which has a family resemblance to many other Indian names on the Cape. Whether a lobster dinner is more to be enjoyed on the shore because of the new name, we do not know. The lake lies in the northern edge of the outwash plain and from its northern shore rise the hills of the great moraine where on the north are the Great Marshes of Barnstable.
There is no lake, larger or smaller, which is more beautiful than Mashpee. It is deeply set in the outwash plain and fine forests rise on its borders, save where in two or three places a farmer in early days has cleared the slopes for meadow, or found a low pocket for a cranberry bog. The old Indian town never had many people and has but about three hundred now, and this sparseness of the destructive human animal may explain the seclusion which the lake has preserved. Into the lake from the east runs a wooded promontory which almost cuts it into two waters, and indeed the northern part is known as Wakeby Lake. This promontory is said to belong to the President of Harvard College and there could be no lovelier mingling of water and forest.
Where the highway crosses the outlet stream, an eighth of a mile below the lake, is the Hotel Attaquin, a plain two-story road house, where Grover Cleveland, Joseph Jefferson, and Daniel Webster in his time, found wholesome food, and a decent bed, and much good converse, when they were tempting the bass of the lake and the trout of the neighboring brooks.
Most of the Cape lakes are shallow, for the depths already recorded are slight for waters that are so large. The smaller Cliff Pond in East Brewster shows a depth of eighty-one feet. The cliffs for which it is named rise more than one hundred feet from some of its shores, and thus show that the ice-block kettle is at least two hundred feet deep, from the bottom of the water to the top of the adjoining upland.
In much the greater number, the lakes are of glacial origin. Some low areas that held lakes at the close of the glacial time now show only bogs, because wash from the surrounding lands and the accumulations of aquatic vegetation have filled the shallow basins of the old time. In other cases, the bays of the larger lakes have been made into separate ponds by the growth of barrier beaches, obstructing shallow passages at the mouth of small arms of the lakes.
A few lakes, particularly back of Province-town, lie among the sand dunes, and their shallow basins result from the accumulation of sand hills around small areas which escape the sand deluge. Perhaps two or three dozen ponds can be found on the shores of the Cape which were formerly arms of the sea. They have been isolated from the salt water by the growth of spits and barrier beaches. They are then replenished year by year by fresh water falling on their surfaces and leaching into them from the adjoining lands, while the original salts are lost to them by equally gradual movements of the ground waters. Oyster Pond, by whose shores the first settlers came to Falmouth, is such a lake, and several bays of the sea border of Falmouth have had a like history. Such changes go on from year to year, and any season may show another bay shut off as a pond, or unstable conditions of alternation may prevail until the cutting off is complete.
The old East Harbor in Truro, near Provincetown, had still withstood the closing process of nature when in the last century man completed the barrier which nature had far advanced in construction, and thus freshened this shallow water which everyone sees on his right, as he approaches the dunes at the door of Provincetown. At the southern end of Monomoy is Powder Hole, once a harbor frequented by ships, now landlocked and welcoming the travelers of the sea no more.
Quite by contraries, a few marine bays on the Cape shore were once occupied by fresh waters. These waters lay in morainic kettles, with a slight and frail barrier of drift separating them from the sea. The waves have removed the barrier and let in the ocean. No better example can be found than the lovely Quisset Harbor on the Buzzards Bay shore of Falmouth. Stage Harbor and Oyster Pond in Chatham, and Lewis Bay by Hyannis are doubtless in ice-block holes, but may never have been landlocked.
The beauty of the lakes can never be greater than in the past days of wild seclusion, but their usefulness is likely to grow, as the Cape fills and the summer person goes afield for a refuge. They will be increasingly useful as sources of pure water, or of ice when the winters are cold enough to form it, and as reservoirs for power, in the few cases where sufficient altitude and the presence of an outlet stream make this use possible. In not a few places, the lake waters are pumped to flood the cranberry bogs whose grades are higher than those of the lakes.
The irregularities of glacial deposition have not only produced lake basins, but have so impeded drainage as to bring many fresh-water marshes into being. Hence the Old Colony country abounds in boggy areas, with their peculiar groupings of vegetation, and their changing conditions. Such marshes abound in the southern parts of Dennis and Harwichindeed, in the southern part of the Cape, the extent of cranberry culture is a clear index of the frequency of these undrained areas. The physical history has been favorable to the existence of swamps, and the swamps have invited the growing of a certain fruitsuch is the chain of physical change and of human activity.
Peat has formed in a large number of the fresh-water marshes, and at the time of the first geological survey of Massachusetts, about seventy years ago, peat was dug in most of the Cape towns eastward and northward from Brewster. That the lower Cape with its scrubby and scanty forest growth would welcome a reserve of native fuel is not open to doubt, but it seems equally clear that for the present at least, the cost of utilizing the peat of the bogs is prohibitive.
Rivers are not a very significant part of nature’s machinery in the Old Colony. Around the circuit of the Bay, from Duxbury to Provincetown, the streams are small and few in number, even though they have been given so far as name goes, the status of rivers, presumably by early settlers who got their notion of the size of a river from the country of their birth. But even with them usage was not uniform, for the outlet of Billington Sea, though but a couple of miles long, is a respectable stream, but they called this “very sweet water” Town Brook, and Town Brook it is to this day. However, there was loyalty to England’s standards in naming Eel River, which drains Great South Pond and has for these parts the unusual length of five miles. Monumet River drains Great Herring Pond in the south of Plymouth Town into the Canal at Bournedale, formerly into Buzzards Bay.
On the Cape the main streams are the outlets of lakes in the outwash plain. In this group is the stream coming from Connemesset Pond in Falmouth, Mashpee River from Lake Mash-pee, Cotuit River carrying the overflow of Santuit Lake, and the outlet of several ponds whose waters turned the ancient wheels of Marston Mills. A little flow of fresh water passes through Sandwich northward. It hardly has a length that can be measured, but it is perennial, its waters form a mill pond which no longer supplies a gristmill but is as lovely as any natural lake, laving the edges of summer plantations and half surrounding the green promontory where sleep the fathers of Cape Cod’s oldest town. And it has its fish weir, for on the Cape the herring must never be forgotten. The streams of the outer Cape are hardly more than tidal runs, such as Pamet River at Truro, Herring River at Wellfleet and Boat Meadow Creek of Eastham and Orleans. As for the open Atlantic on the east side of the Cape, not a single fresh-water stream enters it, at least not one big enough to put on a map. Few of the lakes have surface outlets, for everywhere the porous subsoil allows a creeping movement of ground water that takes the place of the surface streams in a region of less porous foundations.
Since surface streams are the main instruments by which nature sculptures her land surfaces, and streams play but a small part in the Old Colony, we may safely conclude that the land forms have not much changed since the glacial time, save where the sea has wrought and where the winds have served in a large way as carriers. This means that the country back from the shores is almost as it was, but we shall soon pass on to see how revolutionary have been the changes that have molded and re-fashioned the shorelines of the bays, the sounds and the open sea.
NOTE. Maps of the Old Colony Region. In addition to the ordinary small-scale maps found in atlases, and advertising circulars, the reader who desires more than a cursory acquaintance may consult to great advantage, large-scale government maps. Primary in importance are the topographic sheets of the United States Geological Survey, which have a scale of one inch to the mile, the single sheet representing a quarter of a degree of latitude and a quarter of a degree of longitude. Each sheet therefore shows a territory extending about eighteen miles from north to south and about thirteen miles from east to west. The relief is shown by brown contour lines having a twenty-foot interval. The sheets covering the areas described in this volume are: Duxbury, Plymouth, Falmouth, Barnstable, Chatham, Wellfleet and Provincetown. They may be obtained by sending ten cents each, by Post Office order only, to the Director of the United States Geological Survey, Washington, D. C. They do not take the place of automobile maps for they do not give the character of the roads.
The shores and soundings of adjoining waters are shown in various maps published by the United States Coast Survey, (Washington). These are as follows: Cape Cod Bay, No. 1208; Buzzards Bay, No. 249; Hyannis Harbor, No. 247; Eastern En-trance to Nantucket Sound, No. 250; Provincetown Harbor, No. 341; Wellfleet Harbor, No. 340; Barnstable Harbor, No. 339; Cape Sable to Cape Hatteras, No. t000. The last shows the location of South Channel and St. George’s Bank.
NOTE. The geological reader will welcome a brief view of Professor Woodworth’s connotation, giving his generalized section of Cape deposits, from younger to older.
1. Post glacial; Beaches, blown sands, marsh deposits, lake silts, etc.
2. Wisconsin Epoch; Falmouth (Cape Cod) frontal moraine and outwash plain. Nantucket intraglacial deposits, including plains of gravel, till and kames, ice-block holes on south side of Cape Cod.
3. Vineyard Interval (Interglacial Epoch).
4. Manhasset Group.
Pebbly till at Nauset Head.
Jacob sands, above blue clay at Highland Light.
5. Gardiner Clay. At Highland Light (Clay Pounds.) > Appears also on the Bay side of Truro, on the shores of Pleas-ant Bay in Chatham, and in Sandwich and eastward to West Barnstable.
6. Jameco gravel at Highland Light under the Gardiner Clay.
7. Sankaty fossiliferous moraine sands in deep well near Provincetown, and reported in well at Orleans.