All I knew about Cape Cod, before I went there myself, I had learned from the movie Splash. I had always imagined going to that deserted white sandy beach where Darryl Hannah’s flowing blonde waves and the beach grass were both blowing in the breeze.
The sprawling beaches, quaint little towns, and of course, lighthouses all played a role in my desire to visit the East Coast and this fall, I finally got to experience that part of the country first-hand. It was October, the best time of year to visit so I’d heard, and one of my best girl-friends was getting married at a place called “The Lighthouse Inn”. We landed at Boston Logan Airport and set out to drive the hour and a half journey down the 6, or Mid Cape Freeway as it’s commonly known, except that our particular route ended up taking about twice as long thanks to my navigation skills. Whoever says that LA is hard to drive in must not have tried leaving Boston airport. Navigating around that city was like being stuck in a maze - confusing, full of tunnels, traffic, and always one step ahead of my mobile phone’s GPS navigation. However, getting lost in this extraordinary place turned out to be not such a bad thing. Historic buildings melded in with the likes of the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown, with beautiful parks seeping through the few open spaces there.
When we finally found the 6, we were at the Cape in no time at all. We arrived in the small village of West Dennis, on the south side of the Cape, around 9:50 pm and not a business was open. I began to think maybe I should call our hotel to make sure we could get in, but as we turned down Lighthouse Road, I could see comforting twirls of smoke rising from a chimney, a single light on outside the front door, and a flashing lighthouse welcoming us. I felt as if I was a visitor arriving at a friend’s home in the middle of the night, anxious to crawl into bed, and sleep off the long day of traveling.
A woman at the Inn greeted us by name, checked us in, and gave us our key - a real key, not a plastic card; how authentic! We hurried back out into the blustery night and across the lawn to our quaint, cozy ocean front cottage in the “Breezeway” and called it a night.
Upon waking the next morning, I stepped out to a view of the deep blue Nantucket Sound. The grounds were covered in green grass and cottages of all different sizes were scattered across the property. Tucked in the middle, a wooden playground beckoned children to come and play, with slides, swings, ladders and even a big pirate ship! And as if the sandy beaches and playground weren’t enough to keep children of all ages entertained, the miniature golf course, heated pool, shuffle board games and tennis courts surely would.
All I really wanted at that moment was a nice hot cup of coffee on a relaxing rocking chair on the porch overlooking the ocean. Nothing says vacation more than that, and Cape Cod is a place where you can quite easily leave all of your stress and worries behind, simply focusing for a time on the beauty, serenity and history all around. And in this place, there was lots of history.
Walking into the main building of the Inn to have breakfast, I had a chance to really take in the vast amount of antiques. Everything from the stained glass windows, to the wooden duck on the mantle, to the wallpaper going up the staircase, was a part of the original light house building or had been accumulated throughout the years. The main dining room over-looked the ocean, where guests enjoyed a complimentary warm breakfast. Sitting down I noticed there were no crowds out on the beach that morning - actually, there wasn’t really anyone out at all, except one lone fisherman casting his line over the small rock jetty. Our waitress was one of many to tell us once again that this was the best time of year to come.
The Light House Inn is seasonal, open from May to Columbus Day each year, and during the summer months, the beaches fill up to a point that would rival even T-street on a beautiful sunny day. Surprisingly, the water on this side of the Cape is warm this time of year - around 71 degrees - which is more than we could say for San Clemente water this past summer. This day it was in the high 70’s with a warm wind. However, one weekend away from their seasonal closing, a drop in temperature was in the forecast.
During the summer months, the Inn hosts many family reunions, weddings, annual conferences and vacationers from all over the world. It is a true family run, family friendly resort and has something for everyone right there on the property.
After breakfast, I chatted with Cyndi Williams, the event coordinator for the hotel and even met Gregory Stone, the owner and operator. Cyndi showed me around the property and even let us climb the two flights of stairs in the main lighthouse. Seventy-years-ago, this lighthouse and the building around it was all that was here. The Lighthouse Inn property was originally purchased in 1938 by Everett Stone with intent to develop. However, when papers were submitted too late to begin construction in the nicer weather, Everett and his wife Gladys decided to take in visitors to pay the mortgage. So many of the visitors from that summer decided to come back, that the couple revaluated their purpose for the property and turned it into the Lighthouse Inn that it is today.
Since there were very few restaurants nearby, the next year in 1939, Gladys and Everett decided their son Bob would run the dining room for the Lighthouse. Bob hired three waitresses from Wheaton College, including Mary Packard. Bob and Mary were married in 1942, starting the tradition of family operation of the Inn. They had five children of their own, and all worked at the Inn in some capacity. The day-to-day operations are now run by their son Gregory Stone and his wife Patricia. And after being dark for 75 years, the light was relit in 1989 as the only privately owned, privately maintained working lighthouse in the country.
“There are a lot of repeat visitors each year and we love that,” says Stone, “because we get to see these families year after year and get to be a part of their lives. People are always happy on vacation and we really meet some great families.”
That afternoon, we set out to explore the rest of the Mid Cape which seemed more like one large neighborhood, and included the villages of Barnstable, Yarmouth, and Dennis. As the commercial and industrial center of the Cape, this midsection only has two or three main routes - Main St., the 6 or Mid Cape “freeway” (two lane highway) and the 28. No one seemed to call these roads by the actual names which made asking for directions a little difficult, but the overall friendly demeanor of the inhabitants diminished any frustration we had with finding our way. Most of the architecture of this area originated in New England in the 17th century. Characterized by low, broad-frame buildings with steep, perfectly pitched roofs containing end gables, a large chimney and little ornamentation, this style of architecture is applied to almost every type of building from houses to gas stations, and even the Dunkin Donuts, which are literally on every corner. They infiltrate shopping centers with the same prevalence as Starbucks here. Most restaurants and businesses however were as unique as their owners, which made visiting them all the more fun.
The Cape is full of little tributaries, ponds, and marshes from the ocean which are sprinkled with sailing and fishing boats. Large expanses of sand spits and bars break up the water and create interesting geographical patterns. On the eastern edge of the Cape lies a town called Chatham, which is a stretch of white sand beach that is reminiscent of Malibu.
Walking out to the very furthest point there, it was strange to think that I was on the furthermost edge of the east coast of the country. Looking in an entirely different direction, over an entirely different ocean, I still felt at home listening to the crashing of the waves and bark of the seals, and feeling sand beneath my toes. Scallop-edged seashells, sand dollars and multicolored mussels freckled the sand, and picking them up I got nostalgic for a moment. I couldn’t remember the last time I had just looked for seashells. For the first time in awhile, I was able to focus solely on what I was doing right then and there - there was nothing but the sound of the waves and my own thoughts dancing in my head. And for me, that is what vacationing is all about - being able to decompress from the daily grind and remember to slow down enough to appreciate the simple pleasures of life. At that moment I knew I could go home to my own sand and shells in San Clemente and be reminded that across the country or even across the world we all can appreciate sand between our toes or the sound of the waves.
Cape Cod is a perfect place to find serenity and take an opportunity to slow down for a couple of days. Watching the Chatham Lighthouse flashing steadily in the distance I felt at home, even 500 miles away from my own. b
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