Bourne Historical Society Exhibit Showcases Canal Centennial

Gioia Dimock in front of the exhibit
MICHAEL J. RAUSCH/ENTERPRISE - Gioia Dimock in front of the exhibit "In the Beginning ... the Construction of the Cape Cod Canal."

As the town prepares to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Cape Cod Canal at the end of this month, people can take a trip back in time to when the canal was dug by taking in an exhibit on display at the Bourne Historical Society. The exhibit, titled “In the Beginning…the Construction of the Cape Cod Canal,” includes photographs taken during the digging of the canal as well as the events that took place on July 29, 1914, to celebrate its opening.

The exhibit was assembled by Gioia L. Dimock, a professional photography historian and consultant to the Bourne Archives, Jean Campbell, director of the town archives, Samantha A. Gray, park ranger for the Army Corps of Engineers, and Judith H. McAlister, director of the Bourne Historical Society. The exhibit is made up of items from the town archives, pieces already collected and owned by the historical society and some donated materials, Ms. Dimock said.

“We’re very proud of this,” Ms. Dimock said.

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Ms. Dimock said that 90 percent of the photographs on display were taken by Frederick Small, who served as postmaster in Bourne for 30 years.

The exhibit numbers roughly 40 items and also includes maps, clothing and a diorama of the canal. A wooden board in an upper corner of the display room is an original poster advertising a pageant held in August 1914 as part of the festivities for the canal’s opening. The photos chronicle the men and machinery that were instrumental in the digging, including one of a man standing next to an enormous boulder. The man, Charles Venn, was nicknamed Dynamite by his fellow workers, Ms. Dimock said.

“He was the one who found these giant boulders and set the charges that blew them up,” she said. She added that the photo of Mr. Venn, dwarfed by the gargantuan rock, is one of her favorite pieces in the exhibit.

Ms. Dimock said that it took about three months to put the exhibit together. She said the historical society, as a subcommittee of the Cape Cod Canal Centennial Celebration Committee, was charged to put something together.

They were also invited by Senator Therese Murray’s office to create a display for the State House in Boston, she said. They began their efforts late last summer, and by January they had put together an exhibit that was placed outside the Senate chambers at the State House.

Ms. Dimock said the exhibit was at the State House from January until April. When it was brought back to Bourne, where it opened to the public on June 28, members of the historical society realized they had more room than was available at the State House; so more items were added.

“We have so much material on this. It was fun to take things out and choose them for the exhibit,” she said.

Among the new additions are several photographs taken from a scrapbook that an anonymous donor left on Ms. Gray’s desk at the Army Corps of Engineers

“They said they didn’t want it, so we digitized the photos,” she said.

Among the photos from the scrapbook is a ship passing beneath the raised railroad bridge as part of the boat parade the day the canal opened. Another shows four men in a rowboat heading out to check out the breakwater as part of the construction project. A third photograph shows the inside of the office of the engineer for the canal construction project. Ms. Dimock said the latter photo is also one of her favorites from the exhibit.

“We don’t have anything like that,” she said.

In the center of the exhibition room stands a diorama of the canal, built by engineering, technology and woodworking students at Bourne High School. Ms. Dimock said that the historical society had approached all the Bourne schools about doing a canal-inspired project, “but this was the only one that got done.” She said that Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School did build a display, but “it was so big they couldn’t bring it here.”

Included in the exhibition room is a display case housing a large portrait of President Grover Cleveland, painted by American artist Charles S. Raleigh. Ms. Dimock said the portrait was added to the exhibit because it was painted around the same time as the opening of the canal. She said it was donated to the historical society by the Wareham Historical Society. The painting was also put on display during the reopening ceremonies of

President Cleveland’s train depot in Gray Gables last month. However, because the depot is not manned by the historical society, the portrait could not stay there as a permanent fixture, Ms. Dimock said. She said that it needs to stay under glass, so it will remain at the society’s center.

“In the Beginning…the Construction of the Cape Cod Canal” will be on display at the Jonathan Bourne Historical Center, 30 Keene Street, until June 2015. Ms. Dimock said there is no specific plan yet for the exhibit items after it closes, but the hope is to display them somewhere else.

“We want them to continue to be on display somewhere for others to enjoy,” she said.

The center is open Mondays and Tuesdays from 9:30 AM to 2:30 PM, and every second and fourth Wednesday from 6:30 to 7:30 PM.

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