History: In My Footsteps, At the Atwood House

A Column by Chris Setterlund

A Column by Chris Setterlund

CHATHAM – Cape Cod has a rich history going back to the Pilgrims’ Mayflower voyage in 1620.

Cape towns and villages even have a few homes dating back more than 300 years with each filled with history and deserving of its own article.

One Chatham home that is 262 years old is full of history and open to the public to explore is the Atwood House and Museum in Chatham.

The Atwood House is said to be the oldest structure in town and dates back to 1752.

Nestled in a shady, cozy area in Chatham not far from Mill Pond, the Atwood House can be a passing stop or a longer affair taking in all that this museum of Chatham history has to offer.

The house was originally the property of Captain Joseph Atwood.  He is said to have been was one of the first local men to command vessels on the long and dangerous journeys to European ports and beyond to the West Indies.

Atwood’s house was one of the most expensive properties in town when it was built.

The Atwood House is thought to be one of the oldest houses in Chatham.

The Atwood House is thought to be one of the oldest houses in Chatham.

The Chatham Historical Society purchased the property in 1926 and has performed extensive renovations twice since that time.

Inside the house are several galleries.  The fishing gallery is dedicated to the history of Chatham’s commercial fishing industry.

The Joseph Lincoln Gallery features original manuscripts, first editions, and illustrations from the Cape Cod author.

Lincoln wrote the book Cap’n Eri in 1904 which depicted Chatham at the turn of the century. It was adapted into a movie entitled Golden Boys in 2009.

On the Atwood house property, there are two pieces of interesting local history that visitors can see up close.

The Nickerson North Beach Camp is a dune shack that was originally built in 1947 out on North Beach off Chatham’s coast. It was for many years used as a summer cottage by the Joshua Nickerson family.

A beach shack is among the businesses on the grounds of the Atwood Museum.

A beach shack is among the businesses on the grounds of the Atwood Museum.

The shack was threatened by erosion and was moved to the Atwood House grounds in 1991.

Sadly there are only a few cottages left on North Beach Island, including one owned by an old friend of mine. He and his family have to deal with their cottage being primed to be torn down due to the erosion.

The Nickerson North Beach Camp on the Atwood Museum property is a tangible example of the reality of erosion on Cape Cod; luckily it was not lost to the sea.

On the right side of the house’s property is another great piece of Cape Cod history: the former lantern room of Chatham Lighthouse. Visitors can get up close to the light without the hazard of climbing all of the stairs to the top of a lighthouse.

The lens of the lighthouse dates back to 1923 and was manufactured in France.  The lantern room in which the lens resides dates back to 1877.

The Atwood House Museum is in Chatham.

The Atwood House Museum in Chatham includes a historic lighthouse lens on the grounds.

The Atwood House also has seasonal exhibits and lectures.

Have fun and happy traveling!

If You Go: Atwood House and Museum – 347 Stage Harbor Rd., Chatham

Chris Setterlund, who lives in Yarmouth, is a lifelong Cape Codder and the author of In My Footsteps, a guide to historical sites on Cape Cod.

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