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  • Don Wilding

Coast Guard Beach: What ‘Dr. Beach’ hasn’t told you

In a ritual that’s become as regular as northeasters, traffic jams at the bridges, and no left turns on Route 6 during the summer, Eastham’s Coast Guard Beach has once again been named to “Dr. Beach’s” top locales for 2022.


The good doctor lauded Coast Guard Beach’s “spectacular view” of Nauset Spit from the “picturesque” old Coast Guard station, and its accessibility by bike or shuttle bus from the Salt Pond Visitors Center, landing it at No. 10 on this year's list.


Dr. Beach’s recommendation is fine for those looking to spend “a day at the beach,” but, unless you’re David Letterman, there’s only so much information that can be squeezed into a “Top 10” summary.

So if Dr. Beach’s pick is what you brought you to this signature spot of the Cape Cod National Seashore, and you’re wondering how this stunning stretch of sand, sea, and sky achieved such lofty status over the years, here’s some of that background in a nutshell, or in this case, a clam shell:


* EXPLORERS WERE HERE BEFORE THE PILGRIMS: There’s a ton of debate over whether the Vikings landed here 1,000 years ago, but other European explorers were here before the Pilgrims. In 1605, the French explorer Samuel de Champlain’s ship sailed through the inlet into Nauset Harbor. Champlain marveled over the Nauset tribe’s structures overlooking the harbor (now Nauset Marsh), inspiring him to name the harbor area “Port de Mallebarre,” but a disagreement between the two parties led to the first European death here. Champlain’s visit to what is now Chatham the following year went even worse.


* ONCE UPON A TIME, YOU COULD PARK HERE: Prior to the storm of Feb. 6-7, 1978, there was a parking lot and bathhouse in front of the Coast Guard station. The “Blizzard of ’78” produced abnormally high tides that overran the barrier beach, wiped out the high dunes, and took out those structures. There was also a sand road along the Nauset Marsh side, where vehicles would drive to the inlet opening, then head back out on the beach. Thank the “Blizzard of ’78” for the prohibition of over-sand vehicle traffic and having to take the shuttle from the Little Creek parking area.


* THERE WAS ONCE A BEACH CAMP COLONY HERE: The 1978 storm not only claimed the bathhouse and parking lot, but also most of the dozen or so beach camps, such as Henry Beston’s “Outermost House” and Conrad Nobili’s “Butterfly House,” that lined the barrier beach. The Dill Camp was one of the survivors and now sits safely next to the Eastham Post Office. The last cottage was claimed by the elements in 1993. The colony’s demise was similar to what North Beach in Chatham has experienced in recent years.


* AND THEN THERE’S THAT “COAST GUARD” THING: In his 1928 book, “The Outermost House,” Henry Beston referred to this spit as “Eastham Beach,” some 35 years before the establishment of the National Seashore. The former Coast Guard station was in service from 1937 to 1958, and was also the first home for the Cape Cod National Seashore’s headquarters. From 1872 to 1937, the former U.S. Lifesaving Service station stood about 300 yards east of the newer station, along with several structures that housed some of the surfmen. That location is now a few hundred yards out at sea. The Nauset station was involved in many rescues along this dangerous shoreline, including the Castagna (1914), J.H. Eells (1887), and the submarine S-19, which stranded a half-mile offshore from Nauset Harbor.


So keep this history in mind the next time you happen to be taking in the “picturesque” and “spectacular” views, or when you’re on board the tram along Doane Road. There’s a lot more to it all than meets the eye.

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