The land that we now know as Orleans has many significant sites that provide physical reminders of the past. The sites range from the Nauset Heights area where the Nauset tribe farmed and fished, to the homes of sea captains who captained ships carrying goods to far off ports, to more than 50 homes that pre-date the Revolutionary War. The agricultural, maritime, religious and trading histories are well represented.
Certain sites within Orleans have been determined to be so worthy of historic preservation that they have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places. By virtue of being National Register-listed, these are all on the State Register of Historic Places as well. These are
Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat CG 36500 (listed 2005 with local, state and national significance) berthed at Rock Harbor in the summer. This is the actual boat that was used in the famous rescue of the shipwrecked SS Pendleton in 1952 off the coast of the Cape. The boat was launched from the Coast Guard station in Chatham, MA and the heroic crew braved heavy surf, gale winds and extreme cold to rescue nearly all the survivors of the SS Pendleton. The rescue is known as one of the most daring rescues of the US Coast Guard. Open for visitors seasonally.
French Cable Station (listed 1972 with state significance) at 41 South Orleans Rd. Now a museum, this wood-framed building built in 1891 housed the American terminus of the first direct Atlantic cable. Inside the structure the original equipment is on display. The cable line began in Brest France, then to St. Pierre off the coast of Newfoundland, and finally to Orleans. Messages were received at the station in French and translated by the Orleans operators before being relayed. The building is open seasonally for visitors.
Sea Call Farm (listed 2008 with local significance) at 82 Tonset Road. The land and the buildings on it are representative examples of the architecture of Orleans and demonstrate the agricultural community development. The property is owned by the town of Orleans and is run as a community garden, with 30 plots. It is open to visitors.
Universalist Society Meetinghouse (listed 1993 with local significance) at 3 River Road. This Greek Revival style church, constructed in 1834, is currently the home of CHO, the Center for Culture and History in Orleans. In 1971 the Orleans Historical Society acquired the building and it has been used as a museum since that time.
The following is listed solely in the State Register of Historic Places:
Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District (created in 1973 as a special local historic district by an act of the Massachusetts legislature). It is the largest historic district in the nation, running from Sandwich to Orleans along Route 6A. Within Orleans, the district is designated as the area north and west of Route 6 beginning at the border with Brewster on the south and bounded at the north roughly by Rock Harbor Creek .