The Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District will be celebrating its fortieth year in the fall of 2014 with events still in the planning stage. As the largest historic district in America, it consists of the entire southern shoreline of Cape Cod Bay. The District contains more than eighty square miles of universally recognized historic and natural beauty. The first European settlers were drawn to the area nearly four hundred years ago, and the song “Old Cape Cod,” with its refrains of “sand dunes and salty air / Quaint little villages here and there” suggests the District’s unique appeal. Residents enjoy the special character of the Regional Historic District and heritage tourist, worldwide, come to the area to enjoy the many scenic beaches, historical settings and many fascinating destinations.
The backbone of the Regional Historic District is Route 6A named by the Massachusetts Legislature as the “Old King’s Highway” and designated as a state highway maintained by the state with the local protection of the Scenic Road Act. The scenic road crosses six town lines (Sandwich, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, Brewster, & Orleans), as it meanders through the regional district. The road dates back to pre-colonial times as a trail connecting Native American encampments and villages. Three hundred and seventy-five years ago, the initial European settlers traveled this route from Plymouth and beyond. Today, the road is described by National Geographic as one of the “World’s Most Scenic Drives,” Yankee Magazine has declared it “iconic and timeless,” and Smithsonian Magazine has described it as the “most appealing” highway in America. Museums, antique shops, theaters, inns and restaurants, abound while still maintaining the District’s “quaint little village” character. Cape Cod’s traveling visitors will bring close to a billion dollars in direct spending to its local economy.
Within the District are located original examples of the many periods in American architecture dating back to the 17th 18th 19th & 20th Centuries. Unlike many other historic districts that only reflect a specific time in architectural history, the Regional District reflects a changing evolution. As a livingdistrict, with more than 45,000 residents, change is a constant. The recycling of a large sea captain’s home to a stately B&B or capturing an appearance from the past in a modern home or residence is an important part of the role-played by the Regional Historic District.
The Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District Act is a unique regional preservation and architectural review regulation that was created by a Special Act of the Massachusetts Legislature and adopted by the resident voters in all of the affected towns by a district-wide referendum on November 5, 1974. The Regional District regulates the construction, alteration and/or demolition of all signs, buildings and structures within its boundaries. It is the only regional historic district in Massachusetts. As a regional district it is different from all other existing historic districts and protects a very large and uniquely rural historic and aesthetically important region of Cape Cod. In addition to preserving from destruction existing historic buildings and structures, the District works to preserve and protect the spectacular scenic beauty of the area by the maintenance of appropriate settings and reducing the negative visual impact of obviously incompatible new buildings and structures. *
* The Regional District consists of six Town Committees and a Regional Commission. Each of the six towns has a five-member town committee. Four of the members are elected by district vote and one is an appointed architect or builder. There are two alternate members appointed to fill any vacancy on the committee. The local Town Committee conducts public hearings and initially acts on all proposed signs, buildings or structures that are to be erected, altered or removed from within the designated district.
The Regional Commission is made up of the chairperson from the local six (6) Town Committees. The administrative pyramid structure of the regional district places in the hands of the Regional Commission the responsibility to coordinate the overall efficient operation of the large district. The legislation gives to the Regional Commission the authority to adopt rules and regulations that are to be followed by the local Town Committees and to hear all initial appeals to the Town Committee decisions. This structure allows for a consistent coordination of new development within the regional district and protects the overall area from an unwarranted intrusion by obviously incongruous structures. The Commission’s Bulletin serves as a handbook for the Regional Historic District.