Incorporated in 1639, Sandwich is the oldest town on Cape Cod. It is named after the Town of Sandwich in Kent, England in large part because its harbor reminded the first European inhabitants of that area of England.
Sandwich, MA is located at the Upper Cape and can be gotten to by taking the first exit off of Route 6 when one first crosses the Cape Cod Canal. By car from Boston it takes approximately 1 ½ hours, but this can vary greatly depending on traffic, especially in the summer. If time allows for a longer trip, there are plenty of overnight options in the area or a family might want to make this one stop in a longer trip exploring the Cape.
Even limiting a visit to one town, it is hard to list everything that you could do to explore the history of the Cape in one day but these are some highlights one might want to see in a day trip to Sandwich, MA. If anyone has other suggestions, please do mention them in the comments.
The Heritage Museum and Gardens
At 100 acres, The Heritage Museum and Gardens is the largest public garden in Southern New England. One could easily spend almost a whole day amongst the gardens and galleries here. Whether it is scores of blooming hydrangeas, flower-laden Dexter Rhododendrons, or fall leaf colors the gardens are beautiful any time of year (The official season is mid-April through late October). Even on rainy days, there is plenty to do inside, including the J.K. Lilly Automobile Gallery. Families will love exploring all the gardens, but of special note are the Hidden Hollows and the Carousel. The cost for admission is $15 per adult, $7 for children aged 3 to 12, and free for active duty military personnel and their families through The Blue Star Museum program.
Windmill at Heritage Museum and Gardens
Though today this is a very unique piece, in the past these windmills could be found all over Cape Cod. For a description of those times, let’s look to Henry David Thoreau and his description from his work, Cape Cod.
The most foreign and picturesque structures on the Cape, to an inlander, not excepting the salt-works, are the wind-mills,—gray-looking octagonal towers, with long timbers slanting to the ground in the rear, and there resting on a cart-wheel, by which their fans are turned round to face the wind. These appeared also to serve in some measure for props against its force. A great circular rut was worn around the building by the wheel. The neighbors who assemble to turn the mill to the wind are likely to know which way it blows, without a weathercock. They looked loose and slightly locomotive, like huge wounded birds, trailing a wing or a leg, and re-minded one of pictures of the Netherlands.
Carousel at Heritage Museum
Included in the cost to the Museum and Gardens (though they do appreciate a donation for maintenance) the carousel is great fun for children of all ages.
J.K. Lilly Automobile Gallery
Whether to view the collection of early automobiles or to explore a special exhibition, the J.K. Lilly Gallery will not disappoint the car enthusiast, anyone interested in beautiful industrial design, or history buffs.
Dexter Grist Mill
Located in the center of Sandwich is the Dexter Grist Mill. Restored to its original design in 1960, this Grist Mill is one of the first on the Cape. As part of a pleasant stroll through the center of town, this is definitely a worthwhile stop. Admission is $3 and for an extra $5 you can buy a bag of cornmeal milled at the site (Yes, the mill still works).
Sandwich Glass Museum
Across the street from Town Hall and the Dexter Grist Mill is the Sandwich Glass Museum. At $6 for adult admission, the museum is a great value. One of the best parts is the glassblowing demonstrations. There are also hundreds of pieces, most from the Sandwich Glass Factory, and an overview movie which explains some of the history of Sandwich, and the Sandwich Glass Factory. In the summer and fall, the museum also sponsors free walking tours through this historic section of town.
Cape Cod Canal Visitor Center
Though the idea for a canal to avoid the oftentimes treacherous sailing route around the Cape began as far back as Miles Standish of the Plimoth Colony had the idea in the 17th century, the Canal was not built and opened until July 29, 1914. Today it is operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers. They also operate the Visitor Center seasonally from May to October. The visitor center includes a retired 41-foot U.S. Army Corps of Engineers patrol boat, a video explaining the history of the canal, scheduled public programs led by rangers. It also serves as a great starting off point for walking or biking along the canal, a walk to a nearby beach, or a seafood lunch at a nearby restaurant.