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Remembrances of Leavitt Crowell, Part 3

By Kaethe Maguire

Can you imagine military people on Town Neck Beach shooting off rifles for training?


I can’t either but I take it the population was so low and Town Neck not even developed, that there were no people to disturb.


Leavitt reminds us that the value of land, especially on the interior of Cape Cod in the 1920’s and 1930’s was very low. Most of the State Forest was taken over by Camp Edwards, paying $2.00 an acre maximum! Much of the land went for $0.50 per acre.

Camp Edwards 1920 - west section.jpg

West Section of Cape Edwards circa 1940

Since forest fires were a problem because once the native people moved off the land, the forests were not well taken care of and the maintenance fires no longer performed annually. The CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), a Depression Program begun during the Roosevelt Administration, fortunately, created what were called fire breaks and carefully planned replanted the 6,000 acres of the State Forest.

Typical Fire Tower circa 1920 Cape Cod.jpg

Another of the reasons for this was to replenish a market for timber. If you look at old photos, you will see that much of Cape Cod was empty of trees, all used for industry, fuel and building.


As Leavitt reports, “In an attempt to control fires when they did occur, a whole network of fire towers with human observers was established beginning in Bournedale all the way to Wellfleet. Each tower was equipped  with an ‘alidade” table covered with a map and a sight arm mounted in the center. The observer would take the “Azimuth” bearing on any suspicious smoke, and by ‘triangulation’ with the azimuth bearing from another tower the source of the smoke could be accurately pinpointed.


Of course, firefighting was a volunteer job back then. Firefighters were paid 50¢ an hour and high school boys were released from school to fight forest fires. Any training I wonder?


Finally in the 1930s someone came up with the idea of water trucks that could carry several hundreds of gallons of water. They would follow what was called brush breakers into the forest. Water was also pumped over long distances using those hoses from the nearest body of water.

Typical Fire Tower on Cape Cod in the 1930s.

Although it seems impossible for us to imagine in 2023 that Sandwich was such a sleepy town of the 1920s and 30’s that per Leavitt social life centered around the evening mail! Let us pick up his story here. “The night train from Boston came about six-thirty and the mail was brought up from the station by the Coffee Brothers. People would crowd into the Post Office until there was no more room with late comers spilling out onto the sidewalk.

This is where one met ones’ friends, talked politics, the younger set made their plans for the evening, and Dr. Beale did a large part of his practice on the sidewalk. “


“There was a certain pecking order as to where one stood in the Post office waiting for Mrs. McPharlin to finish distributing the mail and throw up the General Delivery window. The men all stood with their backs to the wall emitting great clouds of smoke from their pipes and cigarettes. The women and girls occupied the wall nearest the boxes and the young children stayed pretty much in the center of the room, with teenagers by the desk and window. “

Post Office circa 1920.png

Sandwich Post Office at the Corner of Main & Jarves circa 1920

“One evening while I was a senior in high school, I was standing with the men smoking my pipe when the town constable took it upon himself to tell me to stop smoking; and as I was surrounded by men smoking pipes, I thought he was joking. When I ignored him the constable reached up, grabbed my pipe of which I was very proud and threw it into the gutter. I went to retrieve it and he followed me shouting that when he told me to do something I had better do it.  When I found my pipe, it was broken. When I bent to pick up the pieces he put his foot on the broken stem. At that point I laid a very heavy punch to his stomach and another to his jaw knocking him down to the ground. While flat on his back he shouted, ‘You’re under arrest for assaulting an officer.’”


“As he had his breath knocked out of him and could not walk, I picked him up and carried him across the street to the Deputy Sheriff. In court, my lawyer filed a counter suit for assault when I got to the part of picking the constable up and carrying him to the Deputy so he could arrest me, the judge burst out laughing, found me not guilty and lectured the Constable.“

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