Orleans is the only town on the Cape with a French name. Officially incorporated in 1797, Orleans was named in honor of Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, in recognition of France’s support for the 13 colonies during the American Revolution, and because the town did not want an English name, as they had been captured twice by the British during the war.
The town has the distinction of being the only U.S. site of attack by the Germans in World War One. A German U-boat fired upon the tug Perth Amboy and four barges in the Nauset area in July 1918. Earlier, during the War of 1812, an attack on Rock Harbor, Orleans by the British Marines from H.M.S. Newcastle was swiftly repelled by the local militia with one fatality to the British.
Early history, like much of the Cape, revolved around fishing, whaling and agriculture. As the fishing industry grew, salt works sprang up in the town to help preserve the catches. However, the town’s growth helped deplete the town of lumber, a situation that did not begin to be remedied until the railroad came and brought lumber from the mainland in the mid- to late-1800s. The rail also helped bring tourism to the town. The town’s tourism industry was helped in 1961 with the creation of the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Places to Visit:
Nickerson State Park
Nickerson’s 1900 acres offer more than 420 campsites, including yurt camping, an amphitheater, eight miles of roads, hiking trails, an eight mile bike path that connects to the 22 mile Cape Cod Rail Trail, and ponds stocked year-round with trout. Cape Cod Bay is within walking or bicycling distance. You can swim and canoe at Flax Pond; birdwatch or catch-and-release fish at Higgins Pond, or participate in the many seasonal interpretive and recreational programs offered by park staff.
The park was named after a banking and railway tycoon who used it as a wild game preserve in the early 1900s. Roland Nickerson imported elk and bear for weekend guests to hunt. In 1934, his widow donated the property to the state. During the Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps planted 88,000 trees and built roads and trails throughout. The park is so popular that campsites, especially those for trailers, must be booked months ahead. The biggest attractions are “kettle ponds,” some as large as lakes, created millennia ago by huge melting ice chunks left behind by retreating glaciers.