Cape Cod CanalThe Cape Cod Canal is a man-made waterway traversing the narrow neck of land that anchors Cape Cod to mainland Massachusetts. The Canal is roughly 17.4 miles long, and connects Cape Cod Bay in the north to Buzzards Bay in the south. The 540-foot width of the canal is spanned by the Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge and two highway bridges, the Bourne and the Sagamore.
Traffic lights governing the approach of vessels over 65 feet are located at either end of the canal.
The usefulness of a canal for maritime transportation was apparent as early as the 1600s, when residents of the Plymouth colony scouted the low-lying stretch of land between the Manomet and the Scusset rivers; however, the first attempts at building an artificial waterway did not take place until the late 1800s. One failed attempt had already been made by the time August Belmont's "Boston, Cape Cod and New York Canal Company" succeeded in completing the first working Cape Cod Canal. Construction on the Canal began in 1909, with the canal opening on a limited basis in 1914, and completed in 1916. This privately owned toll canal had a maximum width of 100 feet, a minimum depth of 25 feet, and took a somewhat difficult route from Phinney Harbor at the top of Buzzards Bay. Due to the narrow channel and navigation difficulty, several accidents occurred which limited traffic and blackened the reputation of the Canal. As a result, toll revenues failed to meet investors' expectations.
During World War I, German U-boats attacked ships travelling along the far Atlantic coast of Cape Cod, making the Canal an important "safe" shipping lane. During the war, the Federal Railroad Administration took control of the Canal. When the war was over, the disappointed "Boston, Cape Cod and New York Canal Company", viewing the Canal as a bad investment, refused to take it back. Eventually, the government opened the Canal as a free public waterway.
From 1935-1940, the government rebuilt the canal, increasing its approach width to 540 feet and its depth to 32 feet. The southern entrance to the canal was rebuilt to proceed directly from Buzzards Bay, rather than through Phinney Harbor.