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Communities, Corps of Engineers observe 100 year anniversary of the opening of the Cape Cod Canal

Published July 30, 2014

CONCORD, Mass. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District, joined with local communities, groups and the Cape Cod Centennial Committee on July 29, 2014 to observe the 100 year anniversary of the opening of the Cape Cod Canal with a ceremony in Buzzards Bay, Mass. They marked the achievements of those responsible for constructing the Canal: financier August Belmont Jr., who built the Cape Cod Canal in 1914, and the Corps team who continued operation and maintenance and made improvements once the Federal government purchased the Canal from Belmont’s company in 1928.


“The Cape Cod Canal is just one of the many marvels the Corps of Engineers has constructed in the United States and around the world,” said Col. Charles Samaris, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District, headquartered in Concord, Mass. “For 239 years the Corps of Engineers and the United States Army have been supporting the needs of the nation during peace and during war.”


Through the years, various people had thoughts about building a Canal at Cape Cod and a few even tried to construct one, but it wasn’t until August Belmont Jr. 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 many challenges to Belmont’s 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. It was dredged to 25 feet, per charter requirements, in 1916.


“Cape Cod is a treasure,” said Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy, whose office is headquartered in Washington, D.C. “The Corps has provided more than eight decades of service to the Cape Cod area. Corps efforts have contributed to the economy and quality of life in the region, and to those who live, work and play here.” Darcy establishes policy direction and provides supervision to the Department of Army functions relating to all aspects of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works Program nationwide. These responsibilities include programs for conservation and development of the Nation’s water and wetland resources, flood control, navigation and shore protection.


“Today, approximately 15,000 vessels of all types use the Cape Cod Canal annually and approximately 3 million visitors a year take advantage of the sightseeing, salt water fishing, swimming, picnicking, and camping facilities available, all of which they learn about at the Cape Cod Canal Visitor’s Center,” she said.


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.


“Constructing it was truly a herculean task that was accomplished not only through machines and heavy labor, but through the wonder of human ingenuity,” said Brig. Gen. Kent Savre, Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, North Atlantic Division, headquartered in New York, N.Y. “We are a nation of creators, of designers, of entrepreneurs and of engineers. We are a nation that pulls ourselves up by our bootstraps and faces any challenge. And we are a maritime nation, with a proud history of using our waterways to transport our goods and safeguard our way of life.”


Savre oversees an annual program of more than $5 billion to plan, design and construct projects to support the military, protect America’s water resources, mitigate risk from disasters, and restore and enhance the environment. The North Atlantic Division is one of nine regions providing engineering and construction services to the Nation and Corps headquarters for the Northeastern United States, Europe and Africa.


Samaris thanked the Cape Cod Canal Centennial Committee, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the communities of Barnstable and Plymouth counties for their support and hard work on the Canal events. Rear Admiral Richard Gurnon, President of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and Marie Oliva, President and CEO of the Cape Cod Canal Region Chamber of Commerce, are co-chairs of the Cape Cod Canal Centennial Committee, and also provided remarks and thanked all the supporters of the Canal celebration.


The Cape Cod Canal Centennial Celebration is being observed through Aug. 3, 2014. For a list of planned activities and historic photos visit the local website: www.capecodcanalcentennial.com.


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. 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:




Tim Dugan

Release no. 2014-094