When the Pilgrims landed on Cape Cod, Massachusetts in 1620, they were not prepared for the harsh winds and rain that is indicative of New England weather. After all, they originally intended to sail to warm Virginia. However, after fairing some unfavorable sea weather, they were steered off course to the sandy tip of Cape Cod. The original settlers were simple people and fashioned their first homes in the style of the local Indian tribe, the Wampanoag. The first Cape Cod homes, or wigwams, were built of grass, twigs, bark and various other organic materials.
The Wampanoag also taught the settlers how to thrive off the land, which caused a growth spurt in the settler’s developments. The expansion of the colonies led to the desire to build traditional European-style homes that they originally inhabited in England. The construction of the English half-timbered houses did not prove to withstand the cruel weather conditions. Following many unfit housing designs, the English settlers finally developed a plan that would endure the unpredictable weather patterns coming from the Eastern shore as well as fit quaintly into their simplistic lifestyle. Thus, in the late 17th century, the idea for the traditional Cape Cod homes was conceived.
The plan was derived from a basic shape–the rectangle. In the center of the rectangle was a single wooden door. Two double-paned windows sat on both sides of the door, creating a symmetrical appearance. Fixed to each window were wooden sliding shutters, an extra resistance to the unforgiving winds as well as the only decorative adornment on the exterior of the home. The roof was steep and formed a triangular shape known as a gable. To prevent wind damage to the home, the roof hung a few inches over the perimeter of the house.
Traditional Cape Cod homes were only one room deep. The front arched doorway would open to one grand room with one additional room on each side. In the center sat a chimney, which would heat the entire house, as each room would have it’s own fireplace. As the families grew, additional rooms were added to the sides and rear of the house, creating more living space.
When the settler’s began to develop towns, an additional half floor was added to the design of the house. One key characteristic of traditional Cape Cod homes that came along with the addition of the half floor was the dormer, an extension of the top floor over the original base of the house. This gave the attic extra light, space, and ventilation making it a habitable area for families.
During the 1840’s there was an influx of European-style houses, phasing out the traditional Cape Cod homes. However, they made a comeback in the 1930’s during the Great Depression for economical purposes. They contained new features such as basements, detached garages, and modern living and dining spaces. Today, true to life replicas of the original Cape Cod homes can be found at Plimoth Plantation, an outdoor museum in Massachusetts.
Wendy Pan is an accomplished niche website developer and author.
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