Historic Sandwich, Massachusetts: The Town that Glass Built
by Katharine H. Campbell
The town of Sandwich, Massachusetts, Cape Cod’s oldest town and the “town that glass built” celebrates its 375th anniversary in 2014. Festivities abound as Sandwich enthusiastically honors both its beginnings and looks to its future. Partnering in these endeavors, the Sandwich Historical Society and Glass Museum chronicles the town’s evolution from settlement to industrial leader to an historic, museum town.
Settled in 1637 and incorporated in 1639, Sandwich was originally settled by the English and established itself as an agricultural community whose main export was timber. Even during the American Revolution it remained primarily agrarian, supplemented by coastal fishing. But in 1825, the landscape of Sandwich would change because of Deming Jarves, a Boston businessman and former agent of the New England Glass Company of East Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Deming Jarves, the principal founder and manager of the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company, did not choose Sandwich as a site for the glass factory because of the beach sand that was readily available. Beach sand is too impure to make glass which requires pure quartz silica. The Company shipped in pure silica supplies first from New Jersey and New York and later from the Berkshire Hills in western Massachusetts.
Jarves did choose Sandwich because of its proximity to a shallow harbor and the possibility of a canal being built through Cape Cod that would all for the shipment of goods to ports south. The local availability of timber could be used to fuel the glass furnaces. Even the salt marsh hay and grasses could be used for packing material.
In the mid-1820s, American manufacturers began to experiment with pressing glass with the use of lever-operated machines. Sandwich was quick to utilize the pressing machine, Jarves did not invent the pressing process, but he did receive several patents for improvements in the pressing techniques and mold designs. One of the first items easily and cheaply pressed was the cup plate. It was the custom in the early 19th century to drink tea from a saucer. The cup plate became the coaster for the tea cup.
The molds for pressing glass were metal and hand-carved by mold-makers. The early pressing process often created surface imperfections due to the different cooling rates of the glass and molds. Small circles or dots were added to the early pressed designs, called stipples. The dots help refract the light through the glass and to draw the human eye away from those surface imperfections. Collectors often call this type of glassware lacy glass.
The Boston & Sandwich Glass Company was very prosperous and focused on producing quality pieces of glass. The company continued to grow and expand, creating an entire community around the factory, both fueling and depending on the factory’s business. The community incorporated all of the factory buildings, the workers’ houses, the mercantile buildings and other support buildings such as the train roundhouse.
In the 1840s and 1850s, the company perfected the pressing processes further to eliminate surface imperfections. They mass-produced a stunning spectrum of colored tableware, including lamps, spoonholders, perfume bottles, candlesticks and celery vases.
Deming Jarves was the main principal of the company until 1858, when he resigned over a dispute with its Board of Directors. The master craftsmen of the company presented Deming Jarves with a set of blown, cut and engraved glassware as a farewell gift engraved with the initial “J”. A portion if this collection resides in the Museum.
After his departure from the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company, Jarves soon began another glass company just down the street called the Cape Cod Glass Works. Jarves went into business with his son John. This glass company focused on tableware and lamps, as well as toys, dolphin candlesticks, and other novelty items. Unfortunately, John died a young man and his father was left to run the Cape Cod Works until his own death in 1869.
After the Civil War, the glass industry changed in Sandwich and New England. The areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, rich in coal, had a cheap and ready supply of fuel for the Midwestern glass furnaces (Sandwich had converted from wood to coal furnaces in 1836). With lower transportation costs, the Midwestern companies were able to produce cheaper pressed tableware in soda-lime glass, thereby squeezing out the New England pressed glass competition.
By 1870, the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company had changed its production line to include more delicate, finely blown, engraved and decorated glassware to appeal to an upscale clientele. At its production pinnacle, the factory employed hundreds of men, women and children in various processes of glass making and decoration.
In the early 1880s, there was another short-lived glass company known as the Vasa Murrhina Glass Company that took up residence in the former Cape Cod Glass Works that Deming Jarves had opened. Unfortunately, the mica in the glass formula proved to make the glass unstable and unsalable.
The final years of the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company saw a number of economic and labor problems, but the superintendent, Henry Francis Spurr, was committed to the factory and its workers, and tried to keep the factory afloat. However in 1887, the glass workers union called for a national strike. In sympathy, the Sandwich workers also went on strike. This event ultimately forced the company to put out the furnaces in 1888. The closure of the company caused a severe economic depression, forcing people to leave Sandwich or turn to other professions or jobs. Soon after the closure of the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company, many other New England companies were closed from Maine to Connecticut.
In 1888, several remaining glass workers created a new glass company and attempted to restart the glass industry in Sandwich. The Sandwich Co-operative Glass Company, 1888-1891, produced simple items as this spatter bell and oil lamp.
Other attempts were made to re-establish glassmaking in the old factory buildings. Two incarnations also called themselves the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company, and the last one produced a souvenir light bulb among their wares in 1904.
The last glass company to occupy the old factory buildings was the Alton Mfg. Co. in 1907. They produced an art glass called Trevaise, which was created by a former Sandwich and Tiffany & Company glassblower. But this venture too was short-lived because of the owner, Cardenio King, absconded with the funds from the first season of production.
In the 1890s, former glass cutters Nehemiah Packwood and John Vodon each set-up their own cutting shops in East Sandwich and produced intricate rich cut glass designs on imported lead blanks.
By the 1920s, the entire glass industry in Sandwich had come to a complete halt. The factory buildings were slowly torn down and dismantled. By 1944, there was barely a trace of a factory building near the marsh. A marker at the location of the factory is all that remains of this enterprise.
But the mantle of Sandwich’s glass industry was absorbed by The Sandwich Historical Society. Founded in 1907, The Sandwich Historical Society had its first glass exhibit in 1925 commemorating a century of Sandwich glass. They produced many other exhibitions and came to focus primarily on interpreting the glass industry of the town in its Sandwich Glass Museum, yet still collecting the historical material of Sandwich’s past.
The postcard craze began in the mid 1890’s and reached a fevered pitch before and after the First World War. Postcards were fast and new. They represented an inexpensive way to communicate effectively, much like social media today. An image, a quick note and a stamp allowed the sender to share thoughts and experiences efficiently. In fact, in some cities a postcard could be mailed in the morning and arrive at its destination later the same day. The public seized upon the fad and purchased and mailed postcards often. Postcards, as a collectible, seem to resonate and personalize a specific historical moment. Both buyers and recipients could bear witness to places and events with a visual immediacy not available with other methods of communications. Moreover, the messages within the cards brought the past back to life for collectors and those who came later.
Postcards served a history lesson and a record of technological, social, political and artistic development. They allowed both the user and the collector to actively participate in history. So popular were postcards in their heyday that shops existed that sold the medium exclusively and was sold on street corners like the newspapers of yesteryear.
Wish You Were Here, Postcards from Sandwich joins together the strands of Sandwich’s history – art, graphic design, politics and the forgotten aspects of daily life. The exhibit allows us to move seamlessly between the public and the personal – allowing for connections and making historical interest uniquely individual.
Wish You Here, Postcards from Sandwich runs February 1 – June 8, 2014 at the Sandwich Glass Museum.
In the first half of the 20th century the most significant event for Sandwich was the completion in 1916 of the Cape Cod Canal. Remarkably, it was almost 300 years in coming. In 1623 the Pilgrims, under the leadership of William Bradford and Miles Standish, scouted the land between the Manomet and Scusset rivers, a traditional Native American portage, and determined this would be the best route for a canal. In 1697 the General Court of Massachusetts considered a formal proposal to build a canal, but no action was taken. In 1776 George Washington, concerned about its military implications, had the location examined, and further surveys took place in 1791, 1803, 1818, 1824-1830, and 1860. Attempts were made later in the century to actually dig the canal, but soon failed. Finally, in 1909 work was begun by the Boston, Cape Cod, and New York Canal Company that had been established by a New Yorker, August Belmont. The Cape Cod Canal is now the longest sea-level canal in the world.
Only a mile of the canal, however, lies in the town of Sandwich. Had the canal been built before 1884 when the town of Bourne was created from the western half of Sandwich, the entire length of the canal would have been in the town of Sandwich. Before that time Sandwich stretched across the entire width of Cape Cod, from Buzzard’s Bay to Cape Cod Bay. The Bourne proponents of the split won the day by measuring the distances that its citizens had to travel – some, like those living in South Pocasset, as much as 12 ½ miles – to the seat of government at the Sandwich Town Hall.
SWINGING THE LAMP
In recognition of the 100th Anniversary of the opening of the Cape Cod Canal and Sandwich’s maritime history, the Museum will present Swinging the Lamp – Ship Models from the USS Constitution Model Shipwright Guild. Thirty expertly crafted model ships will be on display by members of the Guild, many of whom are from New England, across the United States and from around the world. They vary from 12” to 48” long and will be showcased in this special exhibition. Replicas of whaling ships, Grand Banks fishing schooners, pilot schooners and early tug boats along with models of the Albatross, the Elsie, the Hesper and the Rose Standish will transport visitors back to a time when ships were at the forefront of travel. The Albatross was the first ship built by the United States government for the sole purpose of ocean research. It was built in 1882 and assigned to the Woods Hole Institute, in Falmouth, Massachusetts. The Rose Standish was the first ship to travel the Cape Cod Canal on its opening day, July 29, 1914 transporting financier and mastermind August Belmont and Massachusetts Governor Walsh. “Swinging the lamp” is a nautical term for telling sea stories. It refers to lamps slung from the deck head which swing while at sea. The exhibit will run from July 1-November 2, 2014.
Archives at the Sandwich Historical Society/Sandwich Glass Museum
Klich, Lynda and Benjamin Weiss, The Postcard Age, Selections from the Leonard A. lauder Collection, Boston, MA, MFA Publications, 2013
Lovell, Jr. R.A. Sandwich, A Cape Cod town, Town of Sandwich, Massachusetts, Archives and Historical Center, 1984, Print
Archives of the Sandwich Historical Commission
The Sandwich Historical Society and Glass Museum is a 501 (c ) (3) tax-exempt organization. It is open to the public seven days a week. Hours are Monday-Sunday from 9:30 – 5pm. Glassblowing daily, on the hour. Admission is $8.00. For directions and information visit www.sandwichglassmuseum.org.