Barnstable is named for Barnstaple, Devon, England. The area was first explored by Bartholomew Gosnold in 1602. It was one of the first towns to be settled, in 1636, and was incorporated in 1639, as were the other Cape towns of Sandwich and Yarmouth. The early settlers were farmers, but soon fishing and salt works became major industries in town. By the end of the nineteenth century, there were some 800 ships harbored in the town. But this came to a decline with the rise of the railroad, which had arrived in 1854, and by steam salamanders, a type of train.
By the late nineteenth century, however, Barnstable was becoming world-renowned as the tourist destination it is to this day. Many prominent Bostonians spent their summers on the Cape shores, as did Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Grover Cleveland. However, the most famous family to summer in the town was, and still is, the Kennedy family, who can still be found living in their compound in Hyannis Port. It was the summer home of President John F. Kennedy during his administration, and, in fact, Senator Ted Kennedy's home is still in the town.
Today, tourists come in droves to the town during the summer months. There is abundant shopping in the quaint shops of Hyannis, as well as the John F. Kennedy Museum and several other museums. The town's many beaches are popular as well.
Barnstable is located at (41.659158, -70.353059), about halfway along the "biceps" of the Cape Cod "arm." According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 76.2 square miles (197.5 km²), of which, 60.0 square miles (155.5 km²) of it is land and 16.2 square miles (42.0 km²) of it (21.26%) is water. It is bordered by Cape Cod Bay on the north, Nantucket Sound on the south, Sandwich and Mashpee on the west and Yarmouth on the east. Barnstable is approximately seventy miles southeast of Boston.
The Town of Barnstable contains seven villages:
Barnstable is a town of many facets. To the north lie the dunes of Sandy Neck along Barnstable Harbor, tipped by the Sandy Neck Lighthouse. The central part of the town is dominated by the pines and oaks around Wequaquet Lake. The south is where the bulk of the population lives, many along the beaches of Centerville and Hyannis Harbors.
Freight rail service is provided by the Massachusetts Coastal Railroad. The Cape Cod Central Railroad operates seasonal tourist excursions from Hyannis to Sandwich and Sagamore, with some scheduled weekend stops at the West Barnstable depot on Route 149 near Route 6A. The nearest inter-city (Amtrak) passenger rail stations are Boston's South Station and Providence. The Kingston/Route 3 and Middleborough/Lakeville stations of the MBTA's commuter rail system provide the closest direct service to Boston.
The town is the site of two airports. Cape Cod Airport is a smaller airfield, used primarily for private travel, and Barnstable Municipal Airport at Polando Field is used for regional flights, especially between the Cape and the Islands. The nearest national and international air service can be reached at Logan International Airport in Boston. Hyannis is also the site of the main ferry lines to Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.
There were 19,626 households out of which 26.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.4% were married couples living together, 10.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.7% were non-families. 27.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.38 and the average family size was 2.88.
In the town the population was spread out with 22.0% under the age of 18, 5.6% from 18 to 24, 26.8% from 25 to 44, 25.5% from 45 to 64, and 20.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42 years. For every 100 females there were 91.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.9 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $46,811, and the median income for a family was $54,026. Males had a median income of $41,494 versus $30,442 for females. The per capita income for the town was $25,554. About 6.3% of families and 8.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 11.7% of those under age 18 and 5.9% of those age 65 or over.
Barnstable is represented in the Massachusetts House of Representatives as a part of the Second, Third and Fifth Barnstable Districts. The town is represented in the Massachusetts Senate as a part of the Plymouth and Barnstable and Cape and Islands Districts, the former including Bourne, Falmouth, Kingston, Pembroke, Plymouth, Plympton and Sandwich and the latter including the rest of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. The town is patrolled by the Second (Yarmouth) Barracks of Troop D of the Massachusetts State Police.
On the national level, Barnstable is a part of Massachusetts's 10th congressional district, and is currently represented by Bill Delahunt. The state's senior (Class I) member of the United States Senate, re-elected in 2006, is Ted Kennedy. The junior (Class II) Senator, up for re-election in 2008, is John Kerry.
The town is governed by the council-manager form of government, led by a town manager and town council. (This governmental structure makes it officially a city by Massachusetts law, however it is incorporated as a town) The town hall is located within the village of Hyannis, and the police station is located on Route 132, closer to the geographic center of town. There are eight fire stations, seven libraries and ten post offices located throughout the town, with the largest or central branches usually being in the downtown Hyannis area. Hyannis also is the site of the Cape Cod Hospital, which serves the central Cape region. Also, as the county seat of Barnstable County, the town is the site of the county courthouse and juvenille lockup at the old house of corrections, as well as the offices of the Cape and Islands district attorney.
In addition to its public schools, there are also several private schools in the town. There are three Christian schools: Bayberry Christian Academy (K-3), Faith Christian School (PK-12), and Trinity Christian Academy (PK-12). There are two Catholic schools, Saint Francis Xavier Prep (5-8) and Pope John Paul II High School, which opened in 2007. Barnstable is also home to the Academy of Early Learning (PK-6), Veritas Academy (K-8), and the Cape Cod Academy, a private K-12 school. There are also two special education schools (Southeast Alternative & Beacon Point), as well as the Sturgis Charter School, which serves high school-aged students. Additionally, high school students have the option of attending Cape Cod Regional Technical High School in Harwich free of charge.
The Boston song, "Rock and Roll Band," contains the line: "Dancin' in the streets of Hyannis."