About Orleans, Massachusetts on the Lower Cape

Orleans is located in southeastern Massachusetts, at the elbow of Cape Cod. Bordered by the town of Eastham on the north, the Atlantic Ocean on the east, the towns of Chatham and Harwich on the south, and the town of Brewster and Cape Cod Bay on the west. Orleans is about 22 miles from Hyannis; 88 miles southeast of Boston; 93 miles east of Providence, Rhode Island; and 270 miles from New York City.

You get to Orleans by traveling east on Route 6 or 6A, and its about a 30 to 45 minute drive once you cross the Sagamore Bridge. Orleans is off exit 12 on Route 6, or by way of the Route 6 rotary, the next major highway landmark after exit 12.

History of Orleans, Massachusetts
The Town of Orleans, incorporated in 1797, is considered a resort community on the outer Cape. In 1642 the first permanent settlement was established by Nicholas Snow and his family. Settlers had purchased rights to the town from Mattaguason, sachem of the Manamoyick Indians. To this day, “Snow” is a name synonymous with businesses in Orleans and throughout the Lower/Outer Cape Regions.

The ocean has greatly influenced the economy of Orleans throughout history. The Colonial economy was built on agriculture, especially corn, rye and wheat, plus the growing of hay and vegetables. In the 18th century commercial fishing and shell fishing supplemented local incomes and residents worked on herring boats and went after whales. By the 19th century, coastal packets from Boston were being serviced and several windmills created power resources in the town, but the heaviest reliance by residents was on cod and mackerel fishing. Salt works were located on the bay and Town cove shores. There were many domestic needs for salt and the fishing fleet’s requirements were large for fish preservation.

Fishing in Orleans declined as competition from larger boats and larger ports grew, but the town had established a commercial importance on the Cape as a market center for other communities, that continues into the 20th century. With the discovery of salt deposits in the U.S. the salt-making industry became obsolete in the 1850s. Today there is a large charter boat sports fishing fleet located in Rock Harbor, which has been the Orleans center of maritime commerce and history.

Small businesses were welcomed by the town, but the major modern change in Orleans was spurred by the impact of summer development and vacationers from Boston and the surrounding metropolitan areas. This resort home development, which accelerated between 1915 and 1940 and still continues, has had the greatest effect on the town and in turn has supported increasing commercial development along Route 6, Cape Cod’s only major highway.

It’s interesting to note that all three main roads (routes 6, 6A, and 28) on the Cape converge here, so on summer weekends, traffic can be fierce. Still, the community has done an effective job of limiting the commercialization aspect of the town, and it is known for the many small shops, boutiques and art galleries located throughout the town center. In addition, Orleans has the advantage of having access to the milder ocean bay on one end and the colder Nauset beach on the other, which directly faces the Atlantic Ocean.


Orleans Travel Resources


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