The Heritage Museums and Gardens is one of my favorite attractions on Cape Cod. In addition to the 100 acres of gardens, the park features galleries of American folk art, antique automobiles, and a vintage carousel. People of all ages can visit the museums and still have time to explore other wonderful things to do in Sandwich, Massachusetts.
Just over the Cape Cod Canal lies historic Sandwich, Massachusetts, the oldest town on Cape Cod, founded in 1637. For centuries Sandwich was a small fishing & farming community until the canal (and bridges) made the Cape a popular destination for tourists. Sandwich grew from a tight knit community or 1500 to ~20,000 in just 50 years. Fortunately the residents of Sandwich made a commitment to historic and environmental preservation and the town retained its character.
History of Heritage Museums & Gardens
Heritage Museums & Gardens is situated on land originally settled by a branch of the Wampanoag nation. Historical artifacts found indicate the land was used as a summer garden and that a small building was on the site.
In 1921 Charles O. Dexter, a textile manufacturer from New Bedford purchased the land and named it Shawme Farm. Mr. Dexter was an avid horticulturalist and began experimenting with rhododendron on the property. The success of his work in producing hardy plants with large blossoms is evident not just in Sandwich but all over New England.
In 1967 the Lilly family purchased the property to establish a museum for the family’s collection of antique cars and American art. In 1968 they relocated the Old East Windmill, a historic grist mill originally built in 1800, to the garden grounds. The historic buildings, the gardens, and the collections contribute to this being an outstanding museum of American culture and Cape Cod’s premier cultural attraction.
The Museums and Gardens Today
Now the largest public garden in southern New England, Heritage continues the work of Charles Dexter with test gardens where botanists experiment with varieties of plants. The North American hydrangea test garden is located here and is open for visitors to explore. But that’s not all! There are beds of native plants, dazzling daylilies, and flowering trees to enjoy throughout the garden. Development continues and the property now includes a significant collection of specialty gardens including the Hart family maze garden and the McGraw family garden of the senses. There are also a number of outdoor art installations and water features, including a spectacular flume fountain.
Visiting the Heritage Museums & Gardens
The Heritage Museums and Gardens are located at the end of Grove St, a quiet residential street off of rt. 130. Immediately upon entering the garden you’ll see the automobile gallery on your left. Visit now if you’d like, though we usually leave the classic cars until the end of our visit after we’ve enjoyed walking through the gardens.
The garden’s paved walkways lead to all the gallery buildings. The furthest building – the carousel gallery is about a half mile from the entrance but there are a few hills that might make navigating the park difficult for some. In that case, a free shuttle service will transport those who need it.
Visiting with Children: Deep within the garden is the interactive family-friendly area – Hidden Hollow. Kids will love the water features, tree house, and the nature trails. Each month there’s a different theme for the kids to explore. Fun fact: this is called a ‘hollow’ because it’s located in a two-acre dry kettle hole. Kettle holes are deep depressions formed by glaciers and are common on the Cape, though most are full of water.
Travel Information and Visiting Tips
The museums and gardens are just a few minutes from the Sagamore Bridge over the Cape Cod canal. Plan on a half day to enjoy a walk and visit to the art and classic automobile galleries.
Special exhibits and events – The 2022 season features several exhibits including an outdoor art installation focusing on waste and pollution – Treasured Trash. Six artists contributed to works of art made out of recycled trash – in particular, discards from the local environment including fishing lines and beach trash. Check the museum website for information on more exhibits and special events.
The museums and gardens offer a gift shop, handicapped accessible restrooms, and an outdoor café.
For information on directions, opening hours, admission fees etc. visit the Heritage Museums & Gardens website
Why should we visit botanical gardens?
Well, first of all botanical gardens are beautiful, and spending time in exploration of the natural world is a pleasure. But beyond that, botanical gardens are important as they preserve a wide variety of living plants for scientific research and education.
More Things to Do In Sandwich, Massachusetts
Plan a day or two in the historic town of Sandwich to enjoy the Heritage Museums and other attractions on Cape Cod.
My favorite stop after a visit to the Heritage Museums – tea at Dunbar House Tea Room and Wine Bar,
Cape Cod Canal bike trail (runs on both sides of the canal)
Sandwich Boardwalk (closed at present due to storm damage)
Scusset Beach State Reservation – a spectacular beach on Cape Cod Bay just over the bridge in Sagamore.
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