History of the Boardwalk

by Don Bayley
sandwich_boardwalkThe Sandwich Boardwalk (sometimes called the “Plank Walk” or the “Mill Creek Foot Bridge”) is about 1300 feet in length and crosses Mill Creek and the marsh, leading to the Town Beach on Cape Cod Bay. Originally constructed in 1875 by Gustavus Howland (1822 – 1905), son of Ellis Howland who built Town Hall, it has been rebuilt carefully following the original design several times. It is listed in the Massachusetts Cultural Resources Information System (MACRIS) under Inventory Number SDW.905. Read the full report HERE.

Naturalist Thornton W. Burgess and historian Russel Lovell have written about the historic and iconic Boardwalk. Click HERE to read.

Click for larger view to see old Plank Walk behind fish shack on left.
(Courtesy: Sandwich Town Archives)

A few fish shacks remained on the marsh near the Boardwalk until about 1950. In a personal interview in 1979 Lombard Jones recalled that one shack was owned by Eugene Haines; another by relative Isaiah (Ike) T. Jones. The Jones shack was originally a beach rescue shack and was moved from its location near the mouth of the Old Harbor. Jones used it to hold dories. Jack Mahoney, who lived in a boat cabin on the beach near the Boardwalk, died of carbon monoxide poisoning about 1920.

In 1941 Allan S. Beale was the owner of record of the Jones boathouse “on the edge of Dock Creek, adjacent to the Boardwalk.” Beale was the resident engineer for the construction of the Sagamore and Bourne bridges.

There are a few references in the Town Archives to an earlier boardwalk (or “footbridge”) constructed in 1835 over Mill Creek from Acorn Wharf (built by the Glass Factory) to the beach. “Townspeople would wade out during low tide in search of lobsters.” B. Haines sketched a picture of it. In 1862 William Denson fell through a hole in this foot bridge and drowned. On Dec. 21, 1874 a heavy northerly gale caused the sea to break through “near the foot bridge, a little west of the entrance to the harbor.”

Town Meeting Records (vol. 7 p. 161) Saturday, June 12, 1875 refer to “the laying out of a Foot Way to the Beach…on petition of George P. Drew and eleven others.”

(Courtesy: Sandwich Town Archives)

From “Lapse of Years:” “July 3, 1875: The new road to the beach was opened to the public on this date, also the footpath across the marsh.” The new Boardwalk was built by Gustavus Howland for $500.

In a personal interview on Dec. 2, 1982 Bert French (who stayed at a shack owned by Frank Reddys) recalled: “there was a plank bridge from State Street over to the Neck, wide enough for a narrow wagon and one horse. This was the way bricks were brought to the glass factory. There was a 2-story bathhouse with veranda all around it at left of the Boardwalk on the dunes. Destroyed in 1898 storm.”

Sandwich Observer, May 2, 1899: “Mr. John Percival has the contract to build the new footbridge to the Beach. There is a rumor that the town is to erect an iron bridge in place of the wooden one that washed away in the November gale. A very good idea…as it is a long distance to travel on foot around Town Neck road.”

The iron bridge was never built but the wooden walkway was rebuilt many times over the years and in 1991 was virtually destroyed by Hurricane Bob. Supporters rebuilt the Boardwalk by selling over 1700 planks to local businesses and residents personalized with engraved messages. Work was completed in June, 1992.

The Boardwalk was again partially destroyed by a blizzard in February of 2013.

The current parking lot was constructed on land known as “Tobey Island” and is slightly higher than the surrounding marsh. The Boardwalk remains one of Sandwich’s unique treasures, offering scenic views from the Cape Cod Canal to Scorton Creek. It was recently chosen by National Geographic as one of the Top 10 boardwalks in the United States.

8 thoughts on “History of the Boardwalk

  1. Boardwalk enthusiasts, the Literary Arts group of the Sandwich Arts Alliance will publish The Sandwich Boardwalk, a book of art, photos, stories, poems, and songs about the boardwalk. If you have any wonderful bit of history or a historic photograph of the boardwalk, please sent it to JanaDillonHamby@gmail.com. Our deadline is November 15, 2022. Entries should not be longer than 300 words. Include your full name, of course! You might be published in our book!
    Thank you!

    Jana Dillon Hamby, Coordinator of Literary Arts

  2. It is clear that historic designation will never be part of the Boardwalk that now crosses the marsh . It will remain an iconic structure far into the future with a new look once it is rebuilt. It will meet all Building codes and ADA requirements along with any new environmental laws. It will be built on the premise that it will be safe for all citizens, unlike in the past where that for some reason was never an issue. It also will be built to withstand the every increasing high water marks left behind by storm surges as a result of reduction of dunes that have filled in the once empty space from storm actions and folks walking all over the dunes in another time. The new visual look will include railings at a minimum of 42 inches, a 6 foot walk way and an higher structure over the marsh that may need to be some 9 feet of space under the board walk. It will provide many phototropic opportunities for those who like to take pictures and this time they will display an boardwalk that is legal and meets all Federal and State requirments, unlike in the past. Hopefully they will provide a marker to indicate the height of the water[there is one there now, but it needs more visual clarity to see, for those who decide to jump into the water and take a chance on getting cut from all of the broken glass and sea shells lying on the bottom . Low glow lights under the board walk could add another dimension for those who use Cape Cod Bay to boat or fish. It could become a visual marker for those at sea to identify where they are at in a heavy fog and become a life saver in the process. Peace and Prayers

    1. The town of Sandwich owns the boardwalk and the town continues to examine what the questions surrounding replacing this iconic structure, including the disbursement of the planks. You can view the latest information by watching the videos produced by the town management HERE:

    2. My family enjoyed swimming in the area for generations. Im not sure what the reference to “all the broken glass” comes from. We scoured the area for sea creatures, clams and blue mussels and sometimes loose change. The area is swarming with barefoot people in the creek from April to October each year.
      One shouldn’t be worried about getting their feet cut.
      A great place to be at low or high tide.

  3. Over the years we have purchased 2 planks in our sons memory….we certainly would appreciate coming down & picking up our sons plank if you are going to destroy the boardwalk.We are greatly disappointed, however we do feel that people should have been notified and given the option of getting any planks that were theirs.

    1. The town of Sandwich owns the boardwalk and the town continues to examine what the questions surrounding replacing this iconic structure, including the disbursement of the planks. You can view the latest information by watching the videos produced by the town management HERE:

  4. The argument that the Sandwich Boardwalk is not historic because of the date of its last renovation is not convincing. Even if it isn’t individually designated (something I don’t understand), it must be part of the Historic District and as such it should be treated as historic and a contributor to the Sandwich Historic District. What is being proposed sounds like it will be a huge intrusion in the District, and would cause an “adverse effect” under preservation guidelines.

    Clearly the restoration in 1991 did not bring the structure up to Building Codes which were in force at the time. This suggests that there was an intent to preserve the original character of the Boardwalk and in essence, by not enforcing the Code requirement for guard rails, was treating it as an historic structure. Thus the structure installed in 1991 was a “restoration” or a “reconstruction” attempting to resemble the original as would be required by the Park Service’s historic preservation office following the Secretary of the Interior’s Guidelines.

    It seems advisable to continue to treat the Boardwalk as a rehabilitation under the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. This would permit replacing existing deteriorated Historic Materials and Features with new materials (as they have been doing for many years). Under the Guidelines if it is not technically or economically feasible to replace original materials with the same material, something else which is “compatible” can be used. For example they might use tinted concrete piers (the color of wood ones) to replace the wood ones using coated reinforcing, which would be suitable in a salt-water environment.

    The Boardwalk does seem to be a candidate for reconstruction since there is plenty of documentation of the original structure prior to the work done in 1991. If a complete replacement is needed, it could be replaced with a replica of the original, raised up to accommodate the anticipated higher tides, and preserving the original relationship of the structure to the anticipated higher water level.

    I would love to know how many times it has been “rebuilt” and what changes were made. There are pictures of it (old ones) in Beths that make me think it has changed very little..

    1. –From Lisa Hassler, Sandwich Historical Commission
      Thank you for your comments regarding the Sandwich Boardwalk. I will share your thoughtful letter with the rest of the Sandwich Historical Commission at our next meeting. The town reached out to Brona Simon, the State Historic Preservation Office, for a determination of eligibility on the Sandwich Boardwalk.

      When the Sandwich Historical Commission was working on approval for our National Register Historic Districts, the preservation consultant determined, at that time, that the boardwalk did not fit the criteria required for inclusion in the National Register. Though the rebuilding was similar, it was not done as a replica of an earlier structure which also requires the same footing/fasteners and materials.
      However, the Sandwich Historical Commission has advocated for the Sandwich Old King’s Highway Historic District to consider its historic use, its cultural value and importance to the community, as well as its proximity to the Jarvesville National Register Historic District when making its determination of appropriateness. Since it is in the Old King’s Highway Historic District, it does require approval from the Sandwich Old King’s Highway Historic District Committee. It is on their agenda for Wednesday and I’ll attach the agenda below.

      Should the boardwalk require Federal permitting, a 106 review would be required and the Sandwich Historical Commission would have the opportunity to provide comments or express concerns.

Comments are closed.