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Corps of Engineers supports activities for Cape Cod Canal centennial celebration in July 2014: Corps centennial opening ceremony set for July 29th

Published May 23, 2014

CONCORD, Mass. As the 100 year anniversary of the opening of the Cape Cod Canal approaches – on July 29, 2014 – the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District is working with local communities, groups and the Cape Cod Centennial Committee to support the celebration and planned activities.


The Corps will co-host a Cape Cod Canal Centennial Opening Ceremony on Tuesday, July 29, 2014 at 2 p.m. in Buzzards Bay Park in Buzzards Bay, Mass., to mark the achievements of those responsible for the Canal: financier August Belmont Jr., who built the Cape Cod Canal in 1914, and the Corps of Engineers team of engineers and others as they continued operation and maintenance and made improvements once the Federal government purchased the Canal from Belmont’s company, the Boston, Cape Cod and New York Canal Company, in 1928.


Corps officials anticipate that dignitaries from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington, D.C., and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will participate in the opening ceremony.


Although various people through the years had thoughts about building a Canal at Cape Cod and a few even tried to construct one, it wasn’t until August Belmont got involved that the idea became a reality. On June 22, 1909, Belmont held a groundbreaking ceremony to signal the start of construction.


Although there were numerous challenges to Belmont and his construction team, they persevered and on July 29, 1914 they held a grand opening of the Cape Cod Canal, a privately operated toll waterway with a controlling depth of 15 feet. The Canal was not completed until 1916, when it was finally dredged to 25 feet, per charter requirements.


Vessel traffic steadily increased and by 1916 records show there were 4,634 vessel transits with a gross tonnage of 3.5 million tons. Unfortunately, the original Canal never achieved the level of traffic or revenue the investors had envisioned and they explored the idea of selling it to the Federal government.


During World War I, in an attempt to provide coastal security, the Federal government temporarily took control of the Canal. After the War, the Canal returned to the control of Belmont, but negotiations for sale of the Canal continued. Finally, on March 31, 1928 the Canal was obtained by the Federal government for $11.5 million. Congress then directed the Corps of Engineers to operate and improve the Canal.


In 1933, federal funds were provided to build three bridges over the Canal, to replace Belmont’s three smaller bridges. On June 21, 1935 two highway bridges (Sagamore and Bourne) were opened. In  December 1935, the vertical lift railroad bridge was completed.


Construction of a 480-foot wide, 32-foot deep, and 17.4-mile long channel was approved by the Rivers and Harbors Act of Aug. 30, 1935. This allowed the Corps to enlarge the Canal Belmont’s team designed and built to allow for larger shipping vessels. The work was initiated in 1935 and completed in 1940, making the Canal the widest sea level Canal in the world at that time. This broader, deeper and safer two-way Canal attracted three times as many vessels and eight times as much cargo tonnage as had Belmont’s Canal in its last year of operation.  


The Cape Cod Canal Centennial Celebration week will be observed from July 25 to Aug. 3, 2014. Numerous activities will be held. For a list of planned activities and historic photos visit the local website: www.capecodcanalcentennial.org.


Through the years the Corps has continued operation and maintenance of the Canal and its bridges that provide a vital connection to Cape Cod and southeast Massachusetts. Periodic maintenance of the bridges keeps them in good, workable condition for continued safe operation.


Despite all the changes to the Cape Cod Canal through the years, August Belmont’s vision from the early 1900s continues to this day: with a thriving commercial waterway, bridge and rail traffic connecting to Cape Cod and countless visitors to the Canal each year who continue to admire the engineering marvel.


For more information on the Cape Cod Canal visit the website at:



For information on recreation at the Cape Cod Canal visit the website at:

http://www.nae.usace.army.mil/Missions/Recreation/CapeCodCanal.aspx. For general information on the Corps’s New England District visit the website at: http://www.nae.usace.army.mil/.

Tim Dugan

Release no. 2014-066