The Cape Cod Canal was opened with much fanfare on July 29, 1914, a toll waterway put into operation less than three weeks before the Panama Canal opened. It bore only a slight resemblance to the canal we know today. The idea of a canal to connect Cape Cod Bay with Buzzards Bay had first been proposed by the Pilgrims, and ill-fated attempts at construction had been tried several times. The completed canal cut transit times around the Cape, but at just 15 feet deep it could accommodate only smaller vessels. Work continued to deepen the expanse, but without the larger ships as customers, the toll operation was a financial failure. Accidents due to dangerous currents and the bridges’ narrow openings further scared off traffic, and it was sold to the federal government in 1928. New bridges allowing safer navigation were completed in 1935, and the Army Corps of Engineers expanded the 17-mile waterway to the current 32-foot depth and 480-foot width by 1940.
This photo depicts the Bourne Highway Bridge on Dec. 31, 1926. The limitations of its clearance — even with the sides in the upright position — made navigation challenging. It was the site of frequent ship collisions. Lane Turner and Lisa Tuite