Barnstable County Massachusetts, 1890

Barnstable County was incorporated June 2, 1685; and was named probably from its chief town. It embraces the whole of Cape Cod, together with several contiguous islands. In form it resembles the human arm bent inward at the elbow and wrist, and enclosing Cape Cod Bay upon the north. The eastern and the southern shores are washed by the ocean; the western by the waters of Buzzard's Bay; and the County of Plymouth forms for about five miles the northwestern boundary. It extends in length some 65 miles, and has an average breadth of about five miles, embracing an area of nearly 290 square miles.

The Cape Cod division of the Old Colony Railroad passes medially through it, terminating at Provincetown, and having branches to Hyannis on the south shore, and to Chatham on the southeast.

The geological formation is drift and alluvium, in which extensive meadows of peat occur. Bowlders are numerous upon the surface, which consists largely of plains, marshes, and sandy knolls. There are no rivers of importance, but in place of them many large and beautiful ponds diversify the scenery. Scrub oak is frequent. The principle timber growth is oak and yellow pine. Extensive tracts of land, in addition to the natural growth, have been planted from time to time for twenty or thirty years past, with the seed of the last-mentioned tree; so that there are now many thrifty young forests to be found in almost every part of the Cape.

The county contains fifteen towns, which are as follows: Barnstable, Bourne, Brewster, Chatham, Dennis, Eastham, Falmouth, Harwich, Mashpee, Orleans, Provincetown, Sandwich, Truro, Wellfleet and Yarmouth. The first of the list is the shire town. The population by the last census was 29,845; with 8,330 families. Its valuation in 1855 was $17,574,222, and the number of dwelling-houses was 7,797; of horses, 3,161; of neat cattle, 3,909; of sheep, 435.

The number of public school buildings in 1885 was 223; and there were twelve high schools. There was also one incorporated school, the Lawrence Academy, and the Sandwich Academy (under trustees,) which included the town high school. Of the fifteen towns comprised in the county, Barnstable is the most important; though in recent years Provincetown has gained an excess in population. Being the seat of justice for the county, it contains a commodious court-house and other county buildings. The records of the court and of deeds, from the separation of the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies down to September, 1827, were destroyed by the fire which destroyed the county offices. These were in a building separate from the court-house of that time, and the latter has been remodelled into a church for the Second Baptist Society. There were burned in this conflagration ninety folio volumes of the record of deeds, and several of the court-records.

The settlement of the county appears to have been made almost simultaneously in Sandwich, at the western extremity, and at Provincetown at the eastern; both towns having been incorporated on September 3d, 1639.* The settlement of Sandwich was in 1637, but for the other town we have no record of original settlement, and it is quite possible that variable settlements of fishermen may have been there for many years.

The agricultural products of the county are much below those of other counties, from the nature of the soil. In the western part there is considerable manufacturing, but the sea and shore fisheries are the great industry, all parts being more or less engaged therein, or in coasting and foreign commerce. The people are noted for their hardihood, industry, daring deeds, and sturdy patriotism.

pp. 63-65 in Nason and Varney's Massachusetts Gazetteer, 1890

*Nason may be mixing up the settlement of Provincetown with that of Barnstable. Provincetown was incorporated in 1727.

Gazetteer, Joseph C. Lincoln