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The Cape Cod Canal

1 rating: 4.0
A book Robert H. Farson.

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Tags: Books
Publisher: Cape Cod Historical Pubns
1 review about The Cape Cod Canal

A Quick Tip by qigongbear

  • Jul 20, 2011


The 1993 Second Edition of Robert H. Farson's 1977 THE CAPE COD CANAL is strikingly handsome. It is, alas, merely a tall, wide paperback, not the hardback you normally buy to display proudly on your parlor's coffee table. But both covers are eye-catching. The front cover shows the two-stacked coastal vessel the New York gliding authoritatively into the canal's powerful current. The much more colorful back cover dispays a perky tug hauling four coal carriers through a strait within the early canal. So buy two copies! Display them both together, front and back!


The pilgrims in 1620 built a colony at Plymouth on Cape Cod Bay. Military commander Miles Standish "made many trips down the coast. He discovered a valley the Indians used to portage their small boats across the isthmus at the cape's shoulder. ... the valley at his highest point was only twenty-nine feet above sea level. ... he suggested a canal be dug through the valley, connecting the two bays, and his idea, the first American public work project, was debated at Plymouth" (Introduction).


1620. 1720. 1820. No Cape Cod Canal. 


Elsewhere canals had erupted in France, England and the USA (the Erie, for instance), even in Egypt (Suez). When the Cape Cod Canal finally opened in 1914, its opening date was sandwiched between Germany's Kiel Canal and the mighty Panama Canal. By comparison with many others, Miles Standish's dream was not that difficult an engineering feat. When things finally got started in 1899, there were well-founded worries about Ice Age boulders (later 100 ton ones were found when the dredges dug 20 feet down) and some fairly elementary mistakes in selecting the most effective dredges made the work take two years longer than it should have.


But why did it take so long? Why from the 1620s to 1914?


Author Robert H. Farson says that the Cape Cod Canal was initially and for the longest time justified on two grounds: (1) it would prevent recurrence of the hundreds of costly shipwrecks due to mariners' need to approach and leave Boston skirting the treacherous northern edge of the Cape. In the American Revolutionary and 1812 wars, the British easily bottled up the one approach to Boston. (2) So there was also a strategic motive. But these two proved weak by comparison with the commerical glitter behind the Erie Canal and others. Money trumped altruism and prudence as a motive for building canals, argues Farson.


Robert Farson's THE CAPE COD CANAL has more pages of photographs than of straight narration. And the pictures (including a  half dozen maps or aerial photos, episodes in Cape Cod history, famous wrecked ships, key figures in building the canal, etc.) -- all 161 of them -- are listed even before the narrative text. It is easy therefore to assume that assembling these remarkable black and white representations meant more to Robert Farson than penning his lucid, straightforward chronological narrative. They make up a proud collection.


Who will read THE CAPE COD CANAL with pleasure?


-- Readers of the Cape Cod-based "Doc Smith" mystery series by Edgar Prize winner Rick Boyer. That's where I first learned of the Cape Cod Canal and its intricacies -- in several detective yarns.


-- People who live anywhere around Metro Boston and are keen on American and Canadian coastal hiistory.


-- Readers who cannot get enough of canals anywhere: moving huge amounts of sand, dynamiting boulders, getting legislatures to authorize the project, the financing, the entrepreneurship entailed.


-- Students of motivation. They will learn of a most unlikely third missing ingredient supplied by August Belmont, the man who finally financed and built the Cape Cod Canal: (3) family piety. Belmont said that he built the canal as a monument to the memory of his mother's seafaring ancestors, the Perrys, notably the victor on Lake Erie in the War of 1812 and his brother who opened up Japan before the Civil War.


This is a handsome book. It will indeed repose attractively on your favorite coffee table. And it is a wonderful guide to the waters and lands of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Not to mention its tides, currents, winds, howling storms, fogs and shipwrecks.



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