Upper – Mid – Lower & Outer Cape
- Upper Cape: Bourne, Falmouth, Sandwich & Mashpee
- Mid Cape: Barnstable, Yarmouth & Dennis
- Lower Cape: Harwich, Brewster, Chatham & Orleans
- Outer Cape: Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro & Provincetown
Cape Cod is essentially one big island formed when the Cape Cod Canal was built in the early part of the twentieth century. It’s a land of beaches, ponds, marshes, and rivers. It is a diverse land with a wide range of ecosystems. Each area of the Cape has its own character and charming towns. At some point, locals started referring to the areas of the Cape in terms of regions to distinguish which part of the Cape you were from. Those four regions now are the Upper, Mid, Lower and Outer Cape.
Is the Lower Cape below the Upper Cape? & Other Silly Questions
This is one of my pet peeves about Cape Cod. The names of the different regions make no sense today. They’re simply illogical. The Upper Cape is on the same latitufe as the Lower Cape. It is NOT above it in any manner. To make matters worse, the Outer Cape was once considered part of the Lower Cape, making Provincetown somehow located be-low Sandwich and Bourne.
There are some explanations out there. David Beatty explains that it has to do with the Cape being like an arm with the upper arm being like the Upper Cape and the lower arm being like the Lower Cape. Another explanation seems more plausible we think, in this rationale, these divisions are a holdover from an era when nautical terms were much more prevalent than they are today. As WikiTravel notes:
The western cape was “upwind,” while the eastern cape was “downwind”. This theory is backed up by the same terms used on Martha’s Vineyard: the western half of the island is called “the upper island” and the eastern half, “the lower island”.
As you look at a map, Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet, and Eastham should be the Upper Cape, with Bourne, Falmouth, Sandwich, and Mashpee being the Western Cape or the Gateway Region. I know, I’m not supposed to say these things out loud. I will only cause more confusion by talking about this. In my own way of thinking, a much better regional division naming design would be the Gateway/West, Mid Cape, Lower/East Cape, and Upper/North Cape, but as we all know, I am not in charge here!
History of the Cape Cod Canal
Before the Cape Cod Canal, two rivers flowed through this valley. To the southwest flowing into Buzzards Bay was the Manomet River, later called the Monument River. To the northeast, flowing into Cape Cod Bay, was the Scusset River. As the bird flies, little more than a mile of land no more than 33 feet above sea level separated these rivers. Read more.
Great Old Maps of Cape Cod
Great Old Maps has an incredibly good supply of old maps of Cape Cod. Many of his maps are available for use online and others are available for purchase.