The Story Behind White Chimneys on Cape Cod

Cape Cod is full of history, even when that history isn’t so easy to spot. Understanding some of the region’s history requires turning your gaze high up to the rooftops.

White chimneys with black bands are the staple on Cape Cod, but have you ever wondered why? It turns out, a white chimney with a black top is something that may even date all the way back to the time of the American Revolution.

Some say white chimneys marked the homes of Loyalists, or rather homeowners who were sympathetic to the British. While it’s quite a story, it may not actually ring true because there’s no official historical record to prove it.

There’s also the argument that people who were Loyalists probably wouldn’t have wanted to alert their neighbors in such a visible way. There are other stories that the white chimney served as a secret signal in the 1800s.

That’s when some say they were used to designate the homes of abolitionists. Some reports suggest homes with white chimneys marked locations where escaped slaves could seek out help or shelter on the Underground Railroad.

While there are records proving some locals did indeed help former slaves around that time, chimneys were, again, never mentioned. By the 1900s, stories explaining the trend of white chimneys became a bit less secretive.

It’s said they were used mostly for function or even just style as the Colonial-era took hold across the area. It’s said the chimney was painted in a way to help prevent damage from moisture, and the black tops were probably used to help hide smoke stains.

These days, you’re likely to find quite a few white chimneys in places like Dennis, Sandwich and on Nantucket. If you spot a strange looking chimney pot, it may have been added to help combat the seaside winds.

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