With the largest historic district in the country, lighthouses from Bourne to Provincetown, antique houses galore, and a medley of Mid-Century Modernist architecture, it seems as though every other Cape structure is on the National Register of Historic Places. Here now, a dozen of the most iconic buildings on Cape Cod, Kennedy Compound and elaborate pumping station included.Read More
12 of Cape Cod's Most Iconic Buildings, Mapped
1. Wing Fort House
East Sandwich, MA 02537
Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, the circa 1641 "Wing Fort House is the oldest house in New England owned and operated continuously by the same family over three centuries. Now restored, it is furnished almost entirely with Wing family antiques showing the different periods of its unique history." Best of all, the property is open to the public from June 15 to September 15 "for a small admission fee."
2. Falmouth Pumping Station
Falmouth, MA 02540
With water issues a constant source of drama on the Cape, we thought this historic water pumping station, on the National Register of Historic Place since 1998, was an appropriate icon. "The pumphouse is a three-section masonry structure measuring about 150 by 60 feet (46 m × 18 m). Its central portion, originally housing a steam engine, boiler room, and pump, was designed by Ernest Boyden, a Massachusetts architect noted for his waterworks designs, and dates to 1898. The eastern section is an engineer's dwelling that was added in 1903 (also to Boyden's specifications), and the western section is a newer pump building added in 1953. Boyden's section is the most architecturally elaborate, with a hip roof topped by a bellcast cupola, windows set in segmented-arch openings, and a larger round-arched main entrance with double doors. The engineer's dwelling is characterized by a porch with large fieldstone piers."
3. old indian meeting house
Mashpee, MA 02649
Built in 1684 by Deacon John Hinckley, the Old Indian Meeting House (also known as the Old Indian Church) was used by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe as a Christian church. In addition to being "the oldest Native American church in the eastern United States and the oldest church on Cape Cod," the meetinghouse is the site of the 1833 Mashpee Revolt "when tribal members and their minister, William Apess (Pequot), protested state intrusions on their self-governance, and white settlers' theft of wood from tribal lands." The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.
4. Sturgis Library
Located on the historic Old King's Highway/Route 6A/Main Street, Sturgis Library was constructed in 1644 for the Reverend John Lothrop, founder of Barnstable, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Not only is "the house which forms the original part of the Library is the oldest Library building in the United States," but the structure is also one of the oldest houses remaining on Cape Cod. In addition, "since Reverend Lothrop used the front room of the house for public worship, another distinction of the Sturgis Library is that it is the oldest structure still standing in America where religious services were regularly held. This room, now called “The Lothrop Room,” with its beamed ceiling and pumpkin-colored wide-board floors, retains the quintessential early character of authentic Cape Cod houses."
5. Kennedy Compound
Hyannis, MA 02601
The trio of white-frame clapboard houses overlooking Nantucket Sound known as the Kennedy Compound are no doubt Cape Cod's best known buildings and have been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972. Alas, only the main house of the Kennedy family's iconic threesome is occasionally open to the public for events benefiting the Edward Kennedy Institute for the US Senate. A privacy fence ensures that those on tour buses don't get to see much of JFK's summer White House and presidential retreat, so the best way to see the compound is by boat.
6. The Cape Playhouse
The Cape Playhouse dates to 1927 and "has been declared by Actors’ Equity Association to be the “Oldest Professional Summer Theatre” in America." As for the structure, it gets around: "In the 1920s, founder Raymond Moore wanted to create a summer theatre close to Boston and the more affluent Cape communities. He purchased three-and-a-half acres of land fronting the Old King’s Highway in Dennis, and found the abandoned 19th century Nobscussett meetinghouse located in another part of Dennis. Amazingly, Moore had the large meetinghouse hauled down the road and placed on its present site."
[Image via Cape Playhouse, Facebook]
7. Dillingham House
Brewster, MA 02631
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, the "2-1/2 story timber-frame saltbox is said to date to about 1659, making it one of the oldest buildings on Cape Cod. The saltbox style, although common in other parts of Massachusetts, is also quite rare on the Cape."
8. Chatham Lighthouse
Chatham, MA 02633
The 207-year-old Chatham Light sits at the Cape's "elbow" within the Old Village Historic District and had its first Keeper of the Chatham Lights appointed by President Thomas Jefferson. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987, it's the second oldest light on Cape Cod. "Today, the former keeper's house is an active U.S. Coast Guard station, and on-duty personnel living quarters. Search and Rescue, maritime law enforcement, and Homeland Security missions are carried out here. Flotilla 11-01 of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary operates from this station."
9. French Cable Station
Orleans, MA 02653
Built in 1891, this building operated "the American termination point for a telegraph cable that came directly to Orleans from France." Installed in 1898, the direct cable known as ""Le Direct" was almost 3,200 miles long and remained in operation until 1959. The Greek Revival structure was purchased from the government of France by 10 residents of Orleans in 1972 and is now the French Cable Station Museum and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
10. Paul and Madeleine Weidlinger House
Wellfleet, MA 02667
One of twelve, 20th century Modernist architecture properties owned by the Cape Cod National Seashore, the Weidlinger House was leased by the Cape Cod Modern House Trust (CCMHT) in 2012. In 2014, a restoration was completed and the 3BR was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1953 and "standing like a 3-D structural diagram, the house offers a glimpse into the thought process of one of the twentieth century’s great structural designers." Members of the CCMHT can pay to stay in the classic, supporting "the restorations and artists/scholar residencies while enjoying the architecture and natural setting."
11. Highland Lighthouse
Provincetown, MA 02657
The oldest and tallest lighthouse on Cape Cod was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. "In 1797, a station authorized by George Washington was established at this point on the Cape, with a wood lighthouse to warn ships about the dangerous coastline between Cape Ann and Nantucket." The current 66-foot brick tower dates to 1857 is "owned by the National Park Service, and cared for by the Highland Museum and Lighthouse, Inc., while the United States Coast Guard operates the light itself." While the grounds are open year-round, access to the light itself is seasonal.
12. Provincetown Public Library
"The Provincetown Public Library is located in the building that was once the Center Methodist Episcopal Church. This structure, like many in Provincetown, has had a long and varied history of use. When it was built in 1860 as the Center Methodist Episcopal Church it was reputed to be the largest church of Methodist denomination anywhere in the United States. It cost $22,000 to complete and could seat 900 people in its 128 pews." Although the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, the circa 1861 wooden structure did not open as the Library until 2005. In addition to views of Provincetown Harbor, the structure features custom-built cases made with the original mahogany arm rests from the church pews and "railings of the dual historic entrance staircases have been repaired and are now embraced by local artist John Dowd’s magnificent mural of the building and harbor skyline in moonlight."