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Did the Internet Get Its Start in Truro?

Cape Cod is a lot of things, but a burgeoning tech hub it is not. You won't find expansive dot-com headquarters or research centers anywhere on the Cape, and you'll never mistake the region for the Silicon Valley.

However, that's not to say that Cape Cod hasn't played a role in tech innovation. In 1874, the Cape was the endpoint of the second transatlantic telegraph cable, which ran between Brest, France, the Miquelon Islands, and Eastham, Massachusetts.

There's also the story of interactions occurring between a modem and device in Truro in the early 1950s. This communication is one of the first of its kind on record and a noteworthy event for scientists.

This tale of the early internet is often overlooked in Cape Cod lore, but it's worth exploring because of its historical significance and the fact that the buildings' ruins where it occurred are still there today.

What Happened?

The 1950s were an intense period in American history because of the Cold War. Monitoring Soviet communications was essential, and the threat of armed conflict was always present.

Cape Cod's maritime location made it crucial strategically during the Cold War. The Cape is one of the United States' easternmost points, and the dunes on the Cape Cod National Seashore give unabated access to the open ocean.

For that reason, when the U.S. Department of Defense gave MITRE Corporation a contract to set up radar systems to monitor Soviet bombers in the early 1950s, it chose Truro as the location.

The purpose of these radar units was to provide an early warning when Soviet planes were approaching, in case an attack occurred along the Eastern Seaboard.

The compound contained three radars and some buildings. While the radars are long gone, their footings remain, as do the laboratories.

How This Related to the Invention of the Internet

Radars on their own don't necessarily have anything to do with the internet, even though they allow for wireless monitoring.

However, these particular radars connected the Whirlwind computer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology through digital modems. These modems allowed the radar systems to send information directly to these computers, eliminating the need for manual transmission.

This transmission is one of the first times digital information traveled between a device and a computer, making it a historic, albeit forgotten, event on Cape Cod.

It's worth noting that this transmission speed was plodding by today's standards, as smartphones are over 10,000 times faster. Still, it was a groundbreaking technological advancement for its time.

The internet wouldn't reach Cape Cod homes for decades, but Truro residents can brag about the town having internet access about 70 years ago.

Where are the Ruins?

The area that surrounds this abandoned location is accessible yet mysterious. To get there, you'll take Route 6 to South Truro, and moments after passing the Truro sign, you'll turn onto Rose Road.

From Rose Road, you'll turn right onto Collins Road and follow it into a wooded area.

It gets tricky from there, as you'll need to find Fox Bottom Road, which isn't marked. However, it's one of the only roads that diverts from Collins Road, making it possible to locate.

As you enter Fox Bottom Road, there's a pullout on the left where you can park. Fox Bottom Road is paved, but it isn't in the best shape as you might imagine from a street abandoned decades ago. It's also blocked off to vehicle traffic.

You won't have to walk far along Fox Bottom Road to reach a set of ruins, and there are three different sites in the area in total.

All of the ruins have fences around them, so you'll have to look from the outside when searching for your glimpse of Cape Cod history.

As a bonus, the road passes through the woods and comes out at the ocean. If you complete the hike, you'll end up on a secluded section of the Cape Cod National Seashore, and there's a good chance there will be no one else around.

Part of the Cape's History

Living on Cape Cod means having history all around you, no matter which town you call home. For Truro residents, these ruins provide a look at more modern history, where American ingenuity was on full display during the Cold War.

While many historians give ARPAnet credit for delivering the first message from one computer to another in 1969, this type of communication occurred nearly 20 years earlier in Truro. That should be a source of pride for residents.

Published January 15, 2021 in Did You Know?