Contact the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism at 617-727-3201 for information on places to stay and things to see. I was happy to check in at the one hotel in town, the Dan’l Webster Inn (508-888-3622), since I’ll choose a hotel over a bed-and-breakfast anytime, but there are a handful of the latter in Sandwich, occupying fine old Federal or Victorian houses. Several groups offer walking tours of town. The one I took was run by the Thornton W. Burgess Museum (508-8886870). From 1911 into the 1950s Burgess was both a naturalist and a prolific author of children’s stories about cute animals, among them Peter Rabbit. That puzzled me because I had thought that the rabbit was Beatrix Potter’s creation. Checking in the Dictionary of American Biography , I find that indeed Burgess “was pursued by the charge that the name of his most famous character . . . had been pilfered from the British author. ...” This doesn’t come up on the walking tour, which focuses on houses in which the young Burgess and his mother stayed, as they were forced by poverty to move from one place to another. Other regularly scheduled tours include a nighttime stroll through Sandwich (New World Tours and Programs, Inc., 508-747-4161). The town boardwalk rises over marshland.
Definitely worth a visit is Hoxie House, built around 1675 and until recently thought to be the oldest dwelling on the Cape. Amazingly it was occupied continuously by only two families and never given electricity or running water. Now it’s run by a local authority and furnished with pieces on loan from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Heritage Plantation, a highly eclectic museum spread over seventy-six beautifully landscaped acres, is a two-minute drive from the heart of Sandwich (508-888-3300). Originally an Indian planting field, the land later came into the Lilly family of pharmaceutical fame, and in the 1960s Josiah K. Lilly, Jr., decided to house his various collections here. These include a group of rare early automobiles, Indian artifacts, toy soldiers, carousel figures from various places, now assembled into a working carousel, bird decoys, and a first-rate group of American shop signs and other pieces of folk art.
Not far from town are Sandwich’s working harbor and marina, crowded with craft and home to several pleasant, if not remarkable, restaurants. Sandy Neck beach, just over the border in neighboring Barnstable, is a Winslow Homer watercolor, where in late afternoon the sea reflects tints of gold, aqua, and plum, and the broad sands hold screaming gulls and antic children, but not too many of either.
The town boardwalk in its way is as characteristic of Sandwich as the glass museum. An elevated swath of one thousand feet that starts at the Boardwalk Road parking lot, near Jarvesville, it carries on across a tidal marsh and a line of dunes to the beach. The first boardwalk was built here in 1875; two versions have since succumbed to storms, the most recent destroyer being 1991’s Hurricane Bob. After that townspeople got together once again to rebuild, raising money by “selling” every one of the approximately fifteen hundred planks. Each purchaser was allowed to have a sentiment of choice engraved upon his plank. “Welcome aboard” reads the first board; “Simply Thoreau” is a cryptic salutation appearing further along, and finally, “If you build it, they will come.”