Cape Cod: The History and Legend of Scargo Tower and Scargo Lake

March 26, 2012 |

Scargo Lake, image courtesy of Simon Hunton

When mentioning tall structures and look-out points related to Cape Cod, it’s natural to have images of lighthouses flashing into your head. But there’s another structure that also fits the description.

Proudly perched atop Scargo Hill, surveying the breadth, and much of the length, of scimitar-shaped Cape Cod, is historic Scargo Tower. It is a wonderful, circular stone tower that Rapunzel herself would have felt at home in and is the literal high-point of Cape Cod.

The original tower was a wooden structure built in 1874 by the Tobey family of Dennis. Located next to their large Nobcusset House, which is now the famous Nobcussett Hotel, the tower served as a tourist observatory.

The Tobey family in Dennis was descended from Thomas Tobey, who had settled in Sandwich in the 1600s. The original tower had a brief two year life before the strong winds across the Cape proved too much and blew the structure down. Rebuilt, again from wood, the second structure lasted a little longer before it succumbed to flames in 1900.

Image courtesy of capecodtoday.com

The Tobey family, however, were (and I have no doubt still are) a resilient lot and set about to rebuild a third tower, this time from cobblestone. That tower was completed in 1901 and still stands today some 111 years later. The Nobcussett Hotel, which, along with the Belmont Hotel in West Harwich, was one of the preeminent luxury Hotels of the “well-to-do” vacationing on Cape Cod in the early 1900’s, unfortunately closed its door for the last time in 1930.

The tower was gifted by the Tobey family to the town of Dennis in 1929 as a memorial to their ancestors and was at that time referred to as Tobey Tower. Over the decades, the name changed to today’s Scargo Tower. A plaque at the tower entrance reads: “This Tower and Hilltop were given to the town of Dennis in 1929 as a memorial to Charles Tobey (1831-1888) and Frances Bassett Tobey (1833-1913) . Loyal sons of the village of Dennis where their Tobey ancestors settled in 1678.”

The current tower is 28ft high and sits upon the 160 ft Scargo Hill. It provides breath-taking views across azure Cape Cod Bay from Provincetown to Plymouth. At night, it’s also worth climbing the 36 steps to the top of the tower for some wonderful star-gazing. Within its interiors you can read a hundred years of graffiti from visitors past, some more poetic than others!

At the tower’s foot is the picturesque Scargo Lake, which is steeped in local Native American legends. The lake, which is fish-shaped, is believed to be either the legacy of giant god Maushop or a princess named Scargo, whose handmaidens scooped it out with clamshells at the behest of her father Sagem, who was chief of the Bobuset tribe. The princess had built a small pond in which to keep four baby fish given to her by a young brave from another tribe with whom she had fallen in love. He promised to return to her before the fish were fully grown. One day, the princess awoke to find the lake had dried out and all but one of the fish were dead. Her tears of sadness kept the last fish alive until her father had built her a lake for the fish. The boundary of the lake was marked by the landing points of four arrows fired by a tribe brave.  As promised, the princess’  brave returned before the fish matured and they were married. They continued to live at Scargo Lake, where the descendants of the fish continue to swim. Other people will tell you that the lake was formed by glacier activity, but frankly I find that hard to believe!

Simon Hunton enjoying the view of Scargo Lake

This post was written by our friend Simon Hunton of the Platinum Pebble Inn in beautiful Harwich, MA. The Inn is offering a special deal for customers who book a stay between March 19th and April 16th. Click here for more information.

Spread the good word!