top of page

The Ancient Roads of Sandwich

By Kaethe Maguire

Did you ever notice when driving down 6A how some of the houses appear to be very old and some look rather new?  I go by the foundations, frankly, to try to pick out the old ones.


The reason for these different construction dates is that portions of 6A as it is known now is old, and some sections are relatively new. So let’s explore where the County Road originally traveled. It was known over the ages by various names, which include The Old King’s Highway, still used today, The County Road, which per always helpful historian John Cullity, is the correct name, and later in 1937, the Grand Army of the Republic Road, which never really took hold. Old maps, but not ancient maps, simply call this stretch Route 6 long before the Mid Cape Highway was even a thought.

School and Main Map.PNG

The term “King’s Highway” goes back to England. If a road was named a King’s Highway it gave it a certain protection and was the responsibility of the king, not just some local community to care for it. [1] Of course that name fell out of favor once we began the American Revolution. By 1922 we were again ready to refer to this long West to East travel way as the Old King’s Highway.


Before we begin to trace the ancient County Road, it should be noted that some of the original route remains. Of course it is now modern, but the route is the same.

It has been speculated that as early as 1621 the Pamet Indians ran for 60 miles from today’s Truro to Plymouth to spread the news that a vessel was approaching. This was the Fortune, the first ship to visit the Pilgrims. This path was utilized again in 1627 by the Nauset Indians to carry the word that there had been a shipwreck on the back side of what is now Orleans. This was the shipwreck of the Sparrow Hawk.[2]


Simeon Deyo’s History of Barnstable County states that it wasn’t until 1685 that a visible road was established east of Sandwich.


The road was certainly not a straight shot in the old days. I can’t imagine being tossed around in a stagecoach over dirt roads of potholes, fording streams with washed out roads, traveling over high hills and deep valleys.  An article I read from the 1978 Register reported how in 1836 a trip from Centerville to Boston took 15 miserable hours, leaving at 5 am they stopped 3 hours later at 8 am for breakfast in Sandwich.


The first formal survey of roads was done in 1852 when prominent men in town were called upon not only to survey the roads, but arrange for their improvement and maintenance. This was a much-needed correction to the conditions of these roads


In our lifetime we have only known Sandwich as a town that ended at the western line at the Town of Bourne, so we will not focus on the County Road in what is now Bourne line. (Bourne was created in 1884 and divided from Sandwich).


The County Road route from the west into Sandwich village has been known by many names. You know it as Tupper Road. That too was an old Indian trail close to the ocean. For a time it was called Tupper Lane because it traveled past the ancient Tupper House, now sadly gone. After the American Revolution it became known as Franklin St. It wasn’t until 1917 that it was renamed Tupper Road. This road went right through the area of the Saddle and Pillion graves of Edmund Freeman and his wife, Elizabeth. This, now off Wilson Road, called “Wilson’s Hill”. Wilson’s Hill includes the high section of now Route 6A as you enter town and see that wonderful view of the ocean.

Main and Tupper Map.PNG

You would follow the road down through what is Main Street.  The original Main Street crosses over this section that is now 6A. That is a 1930 addition all along this area almost right to the Sagamore line. The County Road on the North side and is sometimes incorrectly termed Old Main Street. I only say that because Carolyn Crowell, who served with me for so many years on the Sandwich Historical Commission, drilled into me that this was simply Main Street, not “Old” Main Street. The County Road shortly then linked with what is known as Charles Street leading to the Town Poor House or Alms House.


As a matter of fact, what we know as Charles Street was called the “Poor Farm Road.” Another dirt road that we know existed as of the 18th century is what is now known as Crowell Lane.  Per historian Russell Lovell, this was indeed part of the County Road. Some debate this and claim that indeed the County Road did pass in front of what is now Crow Farm. The oldest house I know of in this area that is of an early period is now in deep demolition by neglect and that is 204 route 6A. This is a 1747 dwelling. A bit further along at the corner of 6A and Gully Lane, a very ancient road, is the 1760 Peleg Nye home, known as Aunt Sally’s and sadly now also in extreme demolition by neglect. So, it would stand to reason that the original County Road may well have passed this way. From the ages of the residents, I would venture that the County Road ended with Gully Road for some years.


The Poor Farm Road plowed through the woods and went high in the hills over what is now Crowell road. This County Road linking up to Discovery Hill Road and then Atkins Road to Old County Road .


Hopping back to Gully Lane for a bit, we know that it was used to wash the trees from the vast tree cutting area at the top of the hill down to the County Road when it rained heavily. When I lived up there we had huge old oaks and ash, the trees of baseball bats. Gully was just a dirt road for years.


Old County Road was one of the very important trails east. People out on Scorton Neck depended on it before there was any bridge or road in their area at all. Jones Road was the nearest access off Old County to the Scorton Area. The 1698 John Wing House (now gone) and the 1761 Edward Wing House (Wing Scorton Farm) would have relied on Old County to travel west.


As late as 1894 the Select Board petitioned for a state highway from Barnstable to Bourne. Working with Bourne, it was their civil engineer in particular who asked for a road from the Barnstable line to the 1847 Scorton Bridge. The request for a more manageable state highway happened in three different Cape towns at the same time. It wasn’t just Sandwich that wanted improvements. [3]


So when you cruise along through the north side of Sandwich, see if you can pick out possible spots where the original Indian Trail would have passed.

New Road Scorton Neck Map.PNG


[2] Adam Gamble, The Barnstable  Patriot. 1999. Pp 1 & 35.

[3] The Yarmouth Register, Dec. 8, 1894.

I'm a paragraph. Click here to add your own text and edit me. It's easy.

Spring Hill and Scorton Map.PNG
bottom of page