Summer on Old Cape Cod

What was summer like on Old Cape Cod?

During my youth, Orleans boasted many summer camps, several of which specialized in sailing. Young people came from everywhere to attend the camps and develop skills in swimming, boating, and other activities. When there was a baseball game at Eldredge Park, buses would bring the campers to attend; after the game, we would see buses returning to the South Orleans camps and would hear the campers singing. What a joyful sound that was!

Jobs as counsellors were much sought after by college students, some of whom met their future spouses while working at the camps.

Sadly, increasing governmental regulations made the cost of operating the camps prohibitive by the mid-1970s. Unable to make a profit, one camp after another closed; the land was subdivided and the rustic cabins replaced by upscale homes. 

A summer beach on Cape Cod.


Another summer delight was the carnival sponsored every year by the American Legion. The carnival, eagerly anticipated by both children and adults, came for a week and was always well attended. My favorite ride was the merry-go-round, although the flying swings were a close second. I avoided the Ferris wheel, where teenage guys liked to rock the cars.

Some older friends once took me on the Octopus; once was definitely enough!


There were many games such as throwing darts to break balloons; picking a lucky plastic duck from its moving stream; pulling a string to reveal a door with a prize behind it, etc. One game involved jewelry prizes; a high-school boyfriend won me a ring and my mother quipped that she had never expected her daughter to get engaged at the carnival!

Also offered were a host of interesting edibles: candy apples, cotton candy, etc. The carnival was where I learned to appreciate vinegar on French fries! My mother used to warn me, for reasons of food safety, against eating hot dogs or hamburgers at a carnival. I remember as a young child seeing people eating just such items there and wishing I knew their names so I could check for them in the obituary columns! 


The camps and the carnivals are fond memories now, but people still come to swim, sail, and sunbathe; to hike the nature trails and ride the bike paths; and to enjoy this unique place where we are privileged to live. Long may it be so!

Mary E. McDermott is a 13th-generation Cape Codder living in Orleans. She worked for 17 years in the Orleans Assessor’s Office and 23 years as a commercial insurance broker at Pike Insurance Agency. She has been a justice of the peace to solemnize marriages since 1976 and has previously published two books of poetry, Tapestry and Handle with Care. Her poems have appeared in several publications including the Christian Science Monitor.

Read more about Cape Cod in Mary E. McDermott’s book Old Orleans, Memories of a Cape Cod Town.

Take a Cape Cod book to the beach with Moon Tide: Cape Cod Poems by Mary Petiet.

What Was School Like on Old Cape Cod?

The Education of an Orleans Girl.

Sea Crow Press author Mary E. McDermott reminisces about student life in her beloved home town Orleans. Her new book, Old Orleans: Memories of a Cape Cod Town, preserves stories of local life in simpler times.


The lives of Orleans baby boomers were influenced by a succession of teachers, all of whom had distinct personalities and who played various roles in shaping our education.

Our first-grade teacher, Mrs Eldredge, had high standards and an often-sharp tongue, but impeccable taste in literature. She introduced the class to Beatrix Potter’s Tale of Peter Rabbit and Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories, an introduction for which I am still grateful.

Third grade’s Mrs Wilcox (later Mrs Wright), had a wonderful sense of fun and humor, as well as empathy. On one hot day, someone from another grade brought her a bottle of Pepsi, which she would not drink in our thirsty presence. A nature enthusiast who lived near the school, she once walked the entire class over to her house at lunchtime to watch the birds at her feeders. 
On winter afternoons, an upperclassman would come by with a report as to which ponds were safe to skate on. Ice House Pond off Brick Hill Road in East Orleans—better known as “the pond behind Charlie Moore’s” —was usually among them.

Orleans High School back in the day.

The town’s first Catholic priest, Father James Lynch, had long dreamed of opening a parochial school, and his dream came true. The school building, which held grades from kindergarten through eighth, is now home to the St Joan of Arc thrift shop. A group of the Sisters of Divine Providence from Pennsylvania came to teach. Some, like Sister Georgette and Sister Marianne, were gentle souls who truly loved children. Others, who shall remain nameless, ruled by the ruler across the knuckles and soul-searing insults. But they all taught us to study hard; every afternoon, our book bags were heavy with homework. 

When I entered high school in 1960, the district had regionalized to include Orleans, Eastham, and Wellfleet. Brewster students could choose to attend Nauset or Dennis-Yarmouth, and those from Truro could come to Nauset or go to Provincetown, which today is part of the Nauset region. A few of the Wellfleet boys were jokers, and their jokes were not always funny. A few years ago, I asked one of them why they had picked on people, and he replied, “Because it was our first time on someone else’s turf, and we were scared.” That was a revelation.

The faculty included some first-rate teachers with knowledge and wit. English teacher Miss Elisabeth Hooker founded the Archy Club, named for the cockroach in Archy and Mehitabel; members could come in early for help with spelling and punctuation. Dr Stewart Brooks, who taught Latin and ancient history, invented the holiday Egredior Day, which fell on March fourth, because egredior in Latin means march forth. Mrs Betty Murphy made the French language a lot of fun and also participated as a cheerleader at the annual student-faculty basketball game. Mrs Frances Mayfarth knew that her juniors would not be able to focus on English the day before Christmas vacation, so she had us put our desks in a circle and take turns relating how we learned that there was no Santa Claus.

We may have come from a small-town setting, but we were sent into the world with as fine a background as could be found anywhere!

Mary E. McDermott is a 13th-generation Cape Codder living in Orleans. She worked for 17 years in the Orleans Assessor’s Office and 23 years as a commercial insurance broker at Pike Insurance Agency. She has been a justice of the peace to solemnize marriages since 1976 and has previously published two books of poetry, Tapestry and Handle with Care. Her poems have appeared in several publications including the Christian Science Monitor.

Old Orleans: Memories of a Cape Cod Town, is available now wherever good books are sold, especially your local book store.