SANDWICH (CBS) -- Erosion is a bitter enemy to many residents along the coast of New England. But in the Cape Cod town of Sandwich, erosion has taken on the role of archaeologist.
"It's bittersweet," says Sandwich Historical Commission member Lisa Hassler, "Because we're losing land, but at the same time, we've just found a very significant historical site."
Stacks of red bricks have been exposed along the coast, buried in clay and sand – a mystery solved. The erosion has uncovered the old Sandwich brickyard, which played a prominent role in history, during the War of 1812.
"The brickyard may have saved the town of Sandwich from attack," says commission member Don Bayley.
The British warship appeared in Cape Cod Bay in 1814 and sailed up and down the coast, exacting payments from towns and sending cannon fire into the communities. At that time, the brickyard was in full swing, making bricks from the rich natural clay found here. There were dozens of men and active smokestacks, going round the clock.
"They were going all through the bay here threatening all the towns and demanding several thousand dollars. If you pay us, we won't fire on you. ... When the ship, loaded with 74 cannons, saw the brickyard, the smoke and the stacks and all the workers, they thought it was a fort, and the ship disappeared," Bayley said. "They never came closer than five miles out. So it's this brickyard that very well may have saved Sandwich from being fired on."
Not long after the war, the brickyard shut down. For the last 100 years its location was a mystery.
The stuff of legends, now exposed by the force of nature.
"It's like natural archaeology unveiling layers of history right before our very eyes," said Hassler.
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