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Often overlooked on the speedy drive up toward Provincetown on U.S. 6, Eastham is a town full of hidden treasures. Unlike other towns on the Cape, it has no official town center; the highway bisects Eastham, and the town is spread out on both Cape Cod Bay and the Atlantic. Amid the gas stations, convenience stores, restaurants, and large motel complexes, Eastham's wealth of natural beauty takes a little exploring to find.
One such gem is the National Seashore, which officially begins here and comprises thousands of acres of wooded areas, salt marshes, and wild, open-ocean beaches. The Salt Pond Visitor Center just off U.S. 6 is one of Cape Cod National Seashore's main centers, host to numerous nature and history programs and lectures; it also maintains a paved bike path. Nearby is the much-beloved Nauset Light, the red-and-white-stripe lighthouse saved from imminent destruction when it was moved from its perilous perch atop eroding cliffs. The Fort Hill area is another pretty spot, with lots of walking trails and a stately old mansion called the Penniman House.
It was here in 1620 that an exploring band of Mayflower passengers met the Nauset tribe on a bay-side beach, which they then named First Encounter Beach. The meeting was peaceful, but the Pilgrims moved on to Plymouth anyway. Nearly a quarter century later, they returned to settle the area, which they originally called by its Native American name, Nawsett. Eastham was incorporated as a town on June 7, 1651.
Like many other Cape towns, Eastham started as a farming community and later turned to the sea and to salt making for its livelihood; at one time there were more than 50 saltworks in town. A less-typical industry that once flourished here was asparagus growing; from the late 1800s through the 1920s, Eastham was known as the asparagus capital of the United States. The runner-up crop, Eastham turnips, are still the pride of many a harvest table.
Eastham at a Glance
- Cape Cod National Seashore
- Captain Edward Penniman House
- Coast Guard and Nauset Light beaches
- Coast Guard Beach
- Eastham Windmill
- First Encounter Beach
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