Cape Cod (1033 km²) is an arm-shaped peninsula forming the easternmost portion of the state of Massachusetts, in the northeastern United States. It is coextensive with Barnstable County. Although Cape Cod was originally connected to the mainland, the first Cape Cod Canal, completed in 1914, effectively transformed Cape Cod into a large island.
Cape Cod consists of three portions:
The "Upper Cape" is the section of Cape Cod closest to the mainland. This portion of the Cape includes the towns of Bourne, Falmouth, Mashpee, and Sandwich. While part of the city of Barnstable can be considered to be located on the Upper Cape, it is more commonly thought to be in the Mid-Cape area. Falmouth is the home of the famous Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and is also the most-used connection to Martha's Vineyard via the ferry.
The Mid-Cape includes the city of Barnstable and the towns of Dennis and Yarmouth. There are seven villages in Barnstable: Barnstable, Centerville, Cotuit, Hyannis, Marstons Mills, Osterville, and West Barnstable. There are many beautiful beaches in the Mid-Cape area, including Kalmus Beach in Hyannis, which gets its name from the one of the inventors of Technicolor, Herbert Kalmus. This popular wind surfing destination was bequeathed to the town of Barnstable by Dr. Kalmus on condition that it not be developed, possibly one of the first instances of open-space preservation in the US.
The "Lower Cape" is the narrower portion of the cape, which bends sharply to the north. This section includes the towns of Brewster, Chatham, Eastham, Harwich, Orleans, Provincetown, Truro, and Wellfleet.
The large area of water enclosed by Cape Cod and the mainland seacoast to the north forms Cape Cod Bay; west of Cape Cod is Buzzards Bay. To the south lie Nantucket sound; Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard (both large islands); and the mostly-privately-owned Elizabeth Islands in the town of Gosnold, of which the largest is Cuttyhunk .
Cape Cod is connected to the mainland by a pair of canal-spanning highway bridges from Bourne, Massachusetts and Sagamore, and a vertical-lift railroad bridge. The entire Cape is roughly bisected by U.S. Route 6, locally known as the Mid-Cape Highway, which runs as a four- and then two-lane freeway between Sandwich and Orleans, and a surface street thence to Provincetown.
Much of the east-facing Atlantic seacoast of Cape Cod consists of wide, sandy beaches. In 1961, a significant portion of this coastline was made part of the Cape Cod National Seashore by President John F. Kennedy, and is thus protected from development. Large portions are open to the public, including the "Marconi Site" in Wellfleet, a park built around the site of the first two-way transoceanic radio transmission (by Theodore Roosevelt using Guglielmo Marconi's equipment). The area near Provincetown enjoys the historical distinction of being the first, exploratory, landing site of the Pilgrims, on their journey from England to Plymouth Rock.
On May 15, 1602 Bartholomew Gosnold became the first European to discover Cape Cod.
On April 26, 1717, the pirate ship Whydah Gally sank off Cape Cod.
Although Cape Cod is inhabited all year round, it experiences a tourist explosion each summer between Memorial Day and Labor Day, as the New England cold gives way to a brief but comfortable summer. Many businesses are specifically targeted to the visitors, and close during the "off season" (roughly 8-9 months per year.) Some particularly well known Cape products and industries include cranberries, shellfish (particularly oysters and clams) and lobstering.
Islands off Cape Cod
Like Cape Cod itself, the islands off Cape Cod have turned from being natural, whaling, and trading areas to resort destinations for the Northeast, attracting old, wealthy families and prosperous tourists alike. The islands include Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, as well as the Elizabeth Island chain, which includes the Forbes family-owned Naushon Island, which was purchased by John Murray Forbes with profits from opium dealing in the China trade during the Opium War. Several prominent families have established family compounds or estates on the larger islands, making these Cape Cod offshore islands some of the wealthiest resorts in the Northeast, yet they retain much of the early merchant trading and whaling culture.