Look Back: Cape Cod Living, 20 Years Ago Today

In celebration of Cape Cod Magazine’s 20th anniversary, writer Lisa Cavanaugh goes back in time to dig up fun facts from the past. Here is a look at some comparisons of life on the Cape between 1998 and today.

By Lisa Cavanaugh


In 1998, you could get a taste of the world-famous chowder at Mildred’s Chowder House in Hyannis. Although Mildred’s closed more than 15 years ago, you can still find a great cup or bowl of Cape Cod’s signature soup at the Seaside Pub on Main in Hyannis, last year’s winner of the WCOD Cape Cod Chowder Festival.


The Black Crowes and Bruce Hornsby performed at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in the summer of 1998, playing hits like “She Talks to Angels” and “The Way It Is.” This summer, the Melody Tent will embrace a retro atmosphere with acts like Straight No Chaser, The Temptations, The Four Tops and The Beach Boys.


Back in ’98, the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce license marketing committee kicked off a campaign to sell specialty Cape & Islands license plates (MASS-DOT first began issuing them only two years prior.) Radio listeners heard Dan Rather, Patti Page and Charles Osgood encouraging locals and visitors to purchase the plates to benefit local Cape Cod nonprofit groups. Since then, the Cape & Islands plate, which features Eastham’s iconic Nauset Lighthouse, has become the most successful specialty plate program in the Commonwealth with more than 45,000 plates on the road.


If you wanted to dig into a good romance novel in the summer of 1998, you had three Danielle Steele bestsellers to choose from. But you would have to wait two years to start to enjoy the romances from Nantucket’s own Elin Hilderbrand. Her debut novel came out in 2000. Since then, she has written more than 20 books, including two published last year, so there’s a good chance you could be reading a brand new Hilderbrand romance this July.



Listening to music on your (soon-to-be-obsolete) Walkman in 1998 might have meant singing along to Usher or Shania Twain. This year, we expect a lot of music lovers will be streaming Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars or Cardi B on their Sonos systems at their Cape houses.


In 1998, you might have seen “Shakespeare in Love” or “Saving Private Ryan” at the Airport Cinemas in Capetown Plaza in Hyannis (which closed the next year), but not at the Chatham Orpheum Theater, which didn’t reopen until 2013. And even though most of Cape Cod’s old drive-in theaters are now gone, you can still catch movies, like 2018 upcoming releases “Incredibles 2” or “Ocean’s 8” at the Wellfleet Drive-In Theater.


In the summer of 1998, the top prospect of the Cape Cod Baseball League was pitcher Kyle Snyder of the Chatham Athletics (the name changed in 2009 to the Chatham Anglers). Snyder would go on to play professionally for the Kansas City Royals and the Boston Red Sox. This summer, look for him during Boston Red Sox-Tampa Bay Rays games: Snyder is the new pitching coach for Tampa Bay.


The number of annual births at Cape Cod Hospital has not fluctuated much in the past 20 years, but babies’ names have changed. Little ‘Ashley’ or ‘Jacob’ would have made their first trip to the beach in 1998, while this summer we should expect to hear the names Sophia or Lucas.



Ice cream is a forever favorite on Cape Cod, but in1998 you wouldn’t have been able to eat at the Cape Cod Creamery, one of the most popular ice cream places on the Cape today. With locations in Yarmouth and Hyannis, the parlor didn’t open until 2005. But frozen treat lovers still had plenty to choose from 20 years ago, including Sundae School Ice Cream, which has been serving cones and cups since the 1970s, and opened their Harwich Port location in 1998.


Many of us regularly bank on our phones these days, but it was big news when Cape Cod 5 opened their “Internet bank” in 1998. Customers were able to use the online service to view account activity and transfer funds between Cape Cod Five accounts for the first time.

Fred Savage | Photo by photo by Alan Light, via Wikimedia Commons


Theater lovers bought tickets to see Fred Savage of “The Wonder Years” perform at the Cape Cod Playhouse in 1998 in a play called “Wendell and Ben.” This season’s schedule includes “Million Dollar Quartet” and “Altar Boyz.”


In 1998, 34.2 million cars crossed the Cape Cod Canal, over either the Sagamore or Bourne bridge. In 2018, it might feel like it is a trillion or more! (Last year’s estimate was 47.5 million.)


Participants were thrilled when, in 1998, the Cape Cod Marathon in Falmouth inaugurated a new, earlier 8 a.m. start time (now 8:30 a.m.), meaning less traffic and missing the warmest part of the day. This coming October, runners can compete in not only the full 26.2-mile marathon and the relay course that were part of 1998’s program, but also a half marathon and the Cape Cod Chowdah Challenge (started in 2011): Compete in both the half marathon and full marathon, running 39.3 miles over two days.


Sending a picturesque postcard from Cape Cod is a time-honored tradition. In 1998, that would cost you 20 cents in postage; this year, it’s 34 cents.


Baby, it’s cold outside! The high temperature on Jan. 1, 1998, at the Cape Cod Coast Guard Air Station reached 35 degrees. This year, the low on the same date hovered at a frigid 0 degrees.


A wedding on Cape Cod in 1998 would have included disposable cameras on every table. This summer, brides and grooms will be asking everyone to post their pics on Instagram with their special nuptial hashtag.


The Falmouth Free Clinic opened in 1998 to provide free health services to uninsured residents of Cape Cod and the Islands. Today, the nonprofit organization is called the Community Health Center of Cape Cod and welcomes a range of patients at three locations in Mashpee, Falmouth and Bourne.


The Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra has grown over the past 20 years, merging with the Cape Cod Conservatory of Music and Arts (now known as Cape Conservatory) eight years ago and currently numbers nearly 75 musicians. In 1998, the conductor was Royston Nash and today the symphony is led by Jung-Ho Pak.


Both JT’s Seafood Restaurant in Brewster and Bass River Marina’s Sailing Cow Cafe (now in Dennis Port) opened in 1998, joining hundreds of other eateries featuring local Cape Cod seafood. In 2018, commercial clam diggers on Cape Cod will harvest more than five million quahogs. That is a lot of clam rolls!


There was no Facebook in 1998, but Cape Cod Magazine’s Facebook page this year has more than 7,000 followers.

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