Walk Through History at Pleasant Bay Woodlands

Red tailed hawk by Janet DiMattia

In many ways Pleasant Bay Woodlands, preserved by Harwich Conservation Trust (HCT), embodies how life and our shared landscape have evolved on Cape Cod.

The undulating terrain of this nearly 50-acre landscape is part of the Harwich Outwash Plain created by retreating glaciers 18,000 years ago. Looking to the north at that time, you would have seen a mile-high mountain of ice drawing slowly back toward Cape Cod Bay. The hills and swamps and shallow valleys you will find wrinkling the landscape were left behind by ice and meltwater streaming from the glacier. Glacial drift made up of sand and cobble stone you are standing on is more than two hundred feet thick.

Artifacts reveal that starting nine thousand years ago, seasonal groups of nomadic hunting bands passed through the forests growing up over the once barren glacial landscape. Pleasant Bay is believed to have been formed about six thousand years ago as rising seas inundated a glacial lake. A short time later some of those nomadic people settled here, attracted by rich sea life of the bay. For millennia they and other bands spread across the Cape. Their trails ran from the shore through these woods. Their village of Askaonkton where they gathered in the summer to celebrate the abundance of the land was just a half-mile to the south on Muddy Creek, or Monomoy River.  

Early European fishermen likely came ashore, and explorers such as Samuel de Champlain (1605 & 1606) and Thomas Dermer (1619) landed and left records of their encounters. In 1622, the Pilgrims traveled here to trade for desperately needed food for Plymouth. They were all the harbingers of a different world soon to begin with the arrival of settlers at Eastham (1644) and Chatham (1664). 

Our best guess is that this is the East Harwich School Class of 1872 (Photo courtesy of Susan Bartick)

Among the settler families, the Kendricks lived in this place for more than two hundred years. They purchased the land from the Monomoyick Quason family in the mid-1730s. Solomon Kendrick (1706-1790) was an early offshore whaler. His son John (1740-1794) was born here and became a renowned explorer who opened the Pacific for American mariners. He was known to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and other leaders of his time. Others who followed in the family became traders, fishermen and farmers who would operate saltworks at Round Cove, run a schooner and wharf on Pleasant Bay, and work with neighbors and local Cape Verdean men to create the cranberry bogs (1885-1905/06) from Atlantic white cedar swamps.

By the mid-1800s much of the Cape was clear-cut rolling grassy hills. Long after the Cape depopulated and most farming went under, the second and third growth trees began to come back. In the 1960s from the Kendrick house site, you could still see Pleasant Bay and the barrier beach beyond.

So as you enjoy the natural beauty around you at Pleasant Bay Woodlands, know that this is a special place. You are walking through history. And it’s not just the remote past; it’s the tale of constant change we are all part of.

(Note: This historical narrative appears in the timberframe kiosk at the Pleasant Bay Woodlands trailhead on Kendrick Road. To find a trail map, please click here.)