Considered the last vestige of “old Cape Cod,” Truro (established in 1697) has no stoplights, no fast food outlets, no supermarket. It does have, though, the last working farm on the Outer Cape. And it has a lot of new construction — second homes that lie dormant during the off-season and lots of new year-round houses. Yes, Dorothy, the landscape is changing in Truro.
Still, though, both Truro Center and North Truro consist of only a few shops. Nothing more, nothing less. And local folks, summer people (vacationing writers and urban professionals who have built large houses in the rolling hills and dunes), and even the newcomers are determined to keep it that way.
North Truro is also tiny but has blue-collar ties to Provincetown. Compare Dutra’s Market (an institution) to Jams (a fancy food shop born in the ’80s) and the differences are readily apparent. As you head toward Provincetown, the only real development — in a nod to the tourist industry — consists of hundreds of tiny cottages, motels, and houses lining a narrow strip of shore wedged between Cape Cod Bay and the dramatic parabolic dunes on Pilgrim Lake. It’s an odd juxtaposition, but one I always look forward to.
There aren’t many human-made sites to explore, except for Highland Light and the Truro Historical Museum, but there are plenty of natural ones. Almost 70 percent of Truro’s 42 square miles (one of the largest towns on the Cape, in acreage) falls within the boundaries of the Cape Cod National Seashore (CCNS). There are hiking and biking trails as well as expanses of beach. Rolling moors and hidden valleys characterize the tranquil back roads east and west of Route 6.
Windswept dunes, lighthouses, beach grass, and austere shorelines will inspire you, as they did Edward Hopper. The painter built a summer home in Truro in the 1930s and worked here until 1967. In 2007 a land dispute erupted between a developer-owner who wanted to build a trophy house on nine acres of what many view as sacred Hopper land and views. Neighbors wanted to preserve the landscape he made famous. The Cape Cod Commission, arbiters of all things potentially contentious and historic, ruled in March 2008 that the Klines could go ahead and build their 6,500 square foot house. Such is progress.
Although today Truro is sleepy and rural, it has been, at times during the last few centuries, a hotbed of activity. The Mayflower’s Myles Standish spent his second night ashore in Truro. His band of 16 fellow Pilgrims found their first fresh water in Truro, as well as a stash of corn (which belonged to the Native Americans) from which they harvested their first crop.
And although you wouldn’t know it today, since Pamet Harbor choked up with sand in the mid-1850s, Truro’s harbor once rivaled neighboring Provincetown as a whaling and codfishing center. By the late 1700s, shipbuilding was thriving and the harbor bustling. Vessels bound for the Grand Banks were built here, and a packet boat sailed from Truro to Boston.
The whaling industry also owes a debt to early Truro residents, one of whom (Ichabod Paddock) taught Nantucketers how to catch whales from shore. In 1851 the population soared to a rousing 2,000 souls. But in 1860 the Union Company of Truro went bankrupt due to declining harbor conditions, and townspeople’s fortunes and livelihoods sank with it. Commercially, Truro never rebounded.
Today, the year-round population is also about 2,100 (despite a recent housing boom); the summer influx raises that number tenfold.
Cape Cod Light or Highland Light
Corn Hill Beach
Head of the Meadow Beach and Bike TrailHighland House Museum
Highland Golf Links
JamsJules Besch Stationers
Sweet Escapes and Savory Pizza Grill
Susan Baker Memorial Museum
If you’ve fallen in love with the Cape and want to take a deeper dive with exploring, my Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket: An Explorer’s Guide has been the region’s travel bible since it was first published in 1995.
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