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October 9, 2017

Gone But Not Forgotten:
Railroading on Cape Cod - part 3 of 3

By Alan Petrulis


Real Photo Postcard

North Yarmouth station on Western Road was built in 1865 as part of the new line being laid to Orleans. It was later renamed East Yarmouth station and then Yarmouth Farms station. When the community it served shifted further to the south, the station was dismantled and shipped by rail to a more convenient location on Station Avenue in 1901. At this time it was renamed Bass River station. The depot closed in 1936 and was demolished the following year.

Real Photo Postcard

Once the obstacle of Herring River was bridged, the railroad finally reached South Dennis where a station was built on the Great Western Road in the late-1880’s. When rail service beyond this point was discontinued during the 1930’s, the station was closed and demolished. The right of way was purchased by Massachusetts in 1976, and converted into a bike path. South Dennis now marks the southern terminus of the Cape Cod Rail Trail that runs out to South Wellfleet.

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North Harwich station served both the cranberry and tourist industry that grew to the east of Harwich. When rail service beyond this point was discontinued during the 1930Õs, the station was closed and demolished.

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While Native Americans instructed European settlers in the uses for wild cranberries, Henry Hall of Dennis was perhaps the first to transplant the plants into cranberry yards. By 1946 the first commercial bog was established near Pleasant Lake. The industry grew after the American Civil War, especially around Harwich, where the railroad ran through lands favorable to this plant. The cranberries were then harvested by hand, placed into barrels or fruit crates, and then sent off by train to the big cities. While cranberries keep longer than fish, freshness was still a concern, and the farmers and railroads mutually benefited from each otherÕs presence. By the time postcards became popular, the fall harvest had become more mechanized and the railroads were an integral part of industry, but publishers tended to portray more traditional images that better pleased tourists.

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Harwich station was built in 1873, which served as the end of the line for some time. Additional facilities such as a freight depot and turntable were constructed there. Its importance grew when it became the junction between trains headed for Chatham or Provincetown. A second station was built at Harwich Center in 1887. Both these structures were demolished after the line closed in the 1930’s.

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Pleasant Lake is a village of Harwich directly to its north. This largely rural area was dominated by the cranberry industry, and being sparsely populated like much of the Cape’s interior, it did not warrant the construction of its own depot. While it was designated an official train stop, the Pleasant Lake General Store was used as a makeshift station.

Real Photo Postcard

Brewster station was built along what is now Route 137. When rail service on this line was discontinued during the 1930’s, the station was closed and demolished.

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There was also a station stop halfway between Brewster and Orleans called East Brewster of which little is known. The postcard above depicts the South Orleans station, which does not exist. Since there was no such stop, could the card actually depict the East Brewster station? The depots along this line were all of the same basic design, so while the possibility exists for it to be the elusive station, there is no way to prove it. While the images placed on view-cards were generally photo-based and represent real places, care was not always taken with their proper labeling.

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The original Orleans station was constructed in 1865 and rebuilt around 1890. This was the end of the line for many years as debate over extending service to Provincetown raged. As such, warehouses and a turntable were also built here. When rail service on this line was discontinued during the 1930&rsquo:s, the station was closed and demolished.

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Eastham station was built around 1870, as the first stop on the extension to Provincetown. It was noted for its two large water tanks that were fed through nearby ponds. When rail service on this line was discontinued during the 1930’s, the station was closed and then demolished in 1940.

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North Eastham station was one of the smallest on the line. It was closed in 1935 and the structure was sold.

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Another small station stood in South Wellfleet near the general store. The the use of decorative masks to frame the image on homemade real photo postcards was a common practice. The method was also adopted for printed cards as on the one above, in hope that the novelty might draw additional customers.

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Wellfleet station was built in 1870 near the intersection of Commercial Street and Railroad Avenue. When rail service on this line was discontinued during the 1930’s, the station was closed and demolished.

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Wellfleet was an important shipping point for goods, and warehouse were constructed along the sidings near the station. Trains also picked up hundreds of thousands of the townÕs famous eponymous oysters directly from the oyster houses that were built alongside the trestle that ran across Duck Creek. Views of this picturesque scene observed from Cannon Hill were a favorite of postcard publishers. An embankment of fill still stretches out from the shore but the trestle is gone and only a few pilings remain.

Real Photo Postcard

Truro station was built around 1870 just below the Pamet River at the west end of Depot Road. The line on both sides of this station proved vulnerable to severe weather. The real photo postcard above shows damage from a powerful nor’easter that came through in 1909. Passenger service ended in here 1938, but freight trains continued to use the depot until the tracks between Eastham and Provincetown were torn up during the early 1960’s and the station demolished. There was another station built just south of here in 1873.

Real Photo Postcard

On the north side of Pamet Harbor sits a summer community built upon Corn Hill. Since it was located just a little north of Truro station on the opposite side of the river, Corn Hill station built in 1896 was only operated as a flag stop.

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North Truro station was built in 1873 at the end of a long high stretch of fill where Pond and Twinefield Roads meet. While it served the residents of Pond Village, it was just as important as a shipping point for the fishing industry that grew next to it. Passenger service ended in 1938, but freight trains continued to use the line until the tracks between Eastham and Provincetown were torn up during the early 1960’s when the station demolished.

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One of the largest promoters of railroads on Cape Cod was the fishing industry because it allowed them to get their perishable product to market much faster. Pond Village exemplified these efforts. While the extensive use of fill to carry the railroad past Truro cut off traditional access to the town’s Pond by small craft, new facilities including fish houses and a canning plant were constructed on the bay along the high rail embankment. The invention of fish freezers had already revolutionized the industry, and one was built right next to the railroad line at North Truro Station.

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Provincetown station was built in 1873 at the intersection of Bradford and Standish Street where East End and West End meet. Other facilities were also placed here like a roundhouse located further back closer to Center Street. Although many packets and steamers plied the waters between Boston and Provincetown, the railroad became the preferred method of travel until surpassed by the automobile. Passenger service ended in 1938, but freight trains continued to use the line until 1960 when the station was demolished and the tracks ripped up.

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While Provincetown station was considered the end of the line, the tracks were extended down Standish Street and onto Railroad Wharf where both passenger and freight trains could directly meet steamships and fishing boats. It became a favorite place for tourists to stroll and thus a favorite subject for publishers to place on their cards. The tracks were removed from the wharf around 1920. This eliminated the street level rail spur that endangered the growing number of tourists.

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While the railroad wharf largely served commercial purposes, it was also the site of ceremonious arrivals as when President Theodore Roosevelt came to Provincetown in 1907 to lay the cornerstone of the Pilgrim Monument. Even though the president traveled here in the company of the U.S. Navy, the Marines that lined the route between the wharf and the monument were all transported here by train. President Taft also arrived at the railroad wharf in 1910 to dedicate the the Pilgrim Monument.

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When Railroad Wharf was built, many waterfront structures were not only demolished connect it to the station in town, an extensive freight yard was laid for the shipping of fish. When the tracks were ripped up around 1920, the area surrounding it retained the name of railroad Square even though it was now used as parking for automobiles. It is now called Lopes Square and is still considered the townÕs center. After Railroad Wharf was enlarged, it was renamed MacMillan Wharf, which still serves the town’s fishing fleet.

Real Photo Postcard

When the last rail line to be constructed on the Cape was extended to Chatham, South Harwich station built in 1887 became the first stop. This structure was demolished after the line closed in the 1930’s. The right of way between this point and Chatham has since been converted into the Old Colony Rail Trail.

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When the line to Chatham was constructed in 1887, the West Chatham and South Chatham stations were built to serve communities located to the west. Both these structures were demolished after the line closed in the 1930’s.

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Chatham station on Depot Road dates from 1887 and was the terminus of the last line to be built on Cape Cod. Its late construction allowed for a unique design featuring an ornate tower. The station was closed when service on the line was discontinued in the 1930’s. While the entire line was ripped up and converted into the Old Colony Rail Trail, the station building was left behind, and it now serves as the Chatham Railroad Museum.

Representations of all these stations may be good to spotty, but they probably provide one of the best visual records of Cape Cod’s railroading days that exists.


This article consist of three parts; click on the links below to continue reading.

Railroading on Cape Cod part 1
Railroading on Cape Cod part 2



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