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Farms & Cow Tunnels

By Kaethe Maguire


The back side of the cow tunnel on the old Ewer Farm on Old County Road.  

(Photo courtesy of John Walker)

I first became aware of such a thing as a cow tunnel or cow underpass in the mid-1990s when Carolyn Crowell of the Crow Farm family introduced me to a tunnel for the milk cows of Roberti Farm, located behind what was originally Angelo’s food market built about 1977. That is now Stop & Shop. The cow tunnel going under Route 6A is in the area of the Sandwich Motor Lodge and is still somewhat visible but greatly overgrown.  


Through the knowledge of town historian John Walker, a Sandwich native and member of the Friends of the Sandwich Town Archives, I am told that Old County Road in East Sandwich, which was once part of the original County Road traveling through the Cape, has many such cow tunnels. John provided some of the photos shown here. 


Mary Bowker, owner of an historic home on Old County Road with her husband Roger, sent me some excellent cow underpass photos from her yard. It abuts the railroad, constructed about 1850 in this area of East Sandwich. The railroad reached Jarvesville in Sandwich in 1848.  It is believed that Mary and Roger’s home dates to 1844, if not earlier, and was the home of the Joseph Ewer farm. 


Reading Russell Lovell’s Sandwich, A Cape Cod Town, we know that there were farms all over Sandwich, which at the time included all of Bourne (Bourne didn’t form its own town until 1884). For example, in 1870 there were 242 separate farms in Sandwich producing 16,580 gallons of milk and 77,632 pounds of butter (Lovell, 1984, p. 472). Surely many people worked on each farm. 

Unfortunately, many of these old-time farmers resisted any idea of modernization or purification of the products.



The entrance to the Ewer Farm cow tunnel.

(Photo courtesy of Mary Bowker)

They refused to pasteurize their milk. They refused toimplement crop rotation, a big problem that led to the dust bowl in the Midwest and the demise of productive farms in the South. Only the Bourne farm at Head of the Bay Road, under various names, used tractors when introduced in 1915.


Farmers also refused to join any cooperate arrangements for purchasing and marketing their products because it would reduce their profits. Thus, the decline of many farms not able to compete with the more modern and safer farms. 


A more recent view of the tunnel entrance under the railroad tracks,

screened behind overgrowth. (Photo courtesy of John Walker)

So, who were these farmers in Sandwich as the farms went into decline?


Lovell reports that as of 1910 there were 734 “native white farmers,” 113 new immigrant white farmers (mostly Finns), and 17 farms owned by Native Americans and African Americans. By 1920 the number of native white farmers dropped to 548, immigrant white farmers increased to 115 thanks to the continued immigration from Finland, and Native American and African American farmers dropped to 12 (Lovell, 1984, p.  473). The number of farmers appears high, but remember that would include anyone who listed their occupation as “farmer.”

One exception to this decline was the wholesale Veg-Acre Farm of Forestdale covering 440 acres near Weeks Pond, named for that family. This was part of the Bear Hollow Farm which was established in 1941 by William Richards. It closed in 1972 with half the area becoming housing. Fortunately, 220 acres are now protected by the State Farmland and Preservation Act and it can only be farmland. 


Another well-known successful farm operation is Crow Farm, which began in 1916 when the Crowell family bought the land of the former Alms House. 


I assume this whole idea of pathways for cows from barns to pastures came from Europe because our first cow tunnels appeared about 1630 on what is now known as the Boston Common. The area was a pasture and grazing space for all manner of animals.  Historians tell us that cows were kept at night in the basements of mansions built along what is now Park Street as late as the early 1800s.  Governor Josiah Quincy, who had what was called a mansion on Park Street, was the owner of many cows using this method of conveyance. 

Eventually there were so many complaints about the wanderings and “leavings” of these animals once Boston became more sophisticated in the post-American Revolutionary period, that politician Harrison Gray Otis — yes, related to our revolutionary heroes Mercy Otis Warren and James Otis of West Barnstable — outlawed the grazing of animals on the Common. His house is now home to the Preservation New England structure, formerly SPNEA, near Mass General Hospital along Cambridge Street. In the 1820s his home was located at 42 Beacon Street, not far from the Common and the State House. Historians also tell us that the original Common was far larger than the space we see now. Just imagine hundreds of animals in the middle of downtown Boston!    


The interior of the cow tunnel with recent graffiti.

(Photo courtesy of John Walker)


The interior of the cow tunnel alight with graffiti.

(Photo courtesy of John Walker)

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