Community Profile

Truro is Cape Cod's wilderness outpost

By Carol K. Dumas, Globe Correspondent, 10/07/2000

Truro at a glance
Incorporated: 1709
Area: 35 square miles
Population: 1,835
Distance from Boston: 106 miles
Median house price: $185,000
Tax rate: $7.60 per $1,000
Schools: Truro Central School, K-5; Nauset Regional School District (which serves Brewster, Eastham, Orleans and Wellfleet) or Provincetown Junior Senior High School
Nearest hospital: Cape Cod Hospital, Hyannis

TRURO - Guy Strauss was born in Paris and lived in New York and Boston, but for him, there's no place like the remote seashore town of Truro. [an error occurred while processing this directive]

"We are all drawn to the environment. . . . It is wild, gentle, tough and tender," says Strauss, who moved here full time seven years ago, although he's been a summer visitor since the 1940s.

Truro, the Cape's smallest town, is like a wilderness outpost compared to other areas of the Cape. Seventy percent of the town lies within the Cape Cod National Seashore, which has checked development and maintained the majestic beauty of the Atlantic coastline's towering sand cliffs, pristine beaches and woodlands. The remaining 30 percent of land available has nearly been gobbled up by development in the roaring real estate market.

Homes are selling, for the first time, above a million dollars. There are only 30 homes currently on the market, starting at $295,000 up to $2.2 million. A three-bedroom Cape used to run in the high $200,000 range, Brown says; now the price tag is in the high $300,000s.

"We're seeing a 25 to 30 percent increase in house prices in the last 12 to 14 months," said Nick Brown, owner of Thomas E. Brown Real Estate Associates. "This is largely because of the increase in land prices."

Fourteen to 18 months ago, you could buy a lot in Truro for about $55,000. Today, land runs from $100,000 to $140,000 for a buildable lot. Waterfront properties are located on the bayside (which is not in the National Seashore), from classic Capes to hard-edged contemporaries. Desirable homes within the national park are sometimes on the market, but owners cannot expand their homes more than 50 percent of what the home was in 1955.

"Most people in the Seashore have respected this," Brown said.

Chief executives, dot-com and tech execs with huge amounts of disposable income and looking for a second home are today's buyers. "Last week, we sold a $1.4 million home to a couple fleeing the Hamptons," Brown says.

Year-rounders include retirees and people employed in the building trades. Citizens are active in town life and passionate about issues affecting the town's future. Residents rallied to save Cape Cod Light, the Cape's oldest lighthouse, from tumbling into the ocean, through a fund-raising campaign, and rallied around the elementary school principal - saving his job - when the superintendent of the one-town school district decided not to renew his contract. The whole town turns out for the annual "Dump Dance" at the transfer station, part of the fall community festival called Truro Treasures Weekend.

"The town seems to attract an amazing collection of people with talents in many fields, who can't seem to give up and just lie down and retire," noted Strauss, an actor and director who last summer founded Payomet Performing Arts, which presents plays, readings and music. "They just keep on going, and they contribute in many ways to the quality of the town's life, and are constantly challenging each other to keep searching, reaching."

The town has addressed growth management issues, such as a building cap and one-acre zoning, but they have failed at town meeting. The health department has succeeded in implementing regulations that prevent nitrogen loading in sensitive areas, such as near public wells (Truro provides Provincetown with its water supply).

Affordable housing is nearly nonexistent, although Brown, a planning board member, says the town has the wherewithal to finance it. The high cost of real estate is shutting out low- to middle-income residents. "If they haven't already owned here, they're in trouble. Unfortunately, it means they have to travel farther away or settle for rental housing."

Artists and writers have been coming to Truro for years, inspired by its natural beauty. American scene painter Edward Hopper lived more than 30 years in the Pamet River Valley. Sebastian Junger ("The Perfect Storm"), former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel are among the contemporary literati who own homes here. Summer arts workshops attracting world-class artists and writers are offered by the Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill, a 25-year-old institution.

The Pilgrims were among the first explorers. Their first drink of fresh water in the New World came from Pilgrim Spring, and the cache of Indian corn they found helped them survive their first winter. The town has been home to fishermen and once schooners were built on a site near the Pamet River. One of the nation's oldest golf courses, the Highland Links, is located on a bluff near Cape Cod Light.

This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 10/07/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company
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