Hotel Chatham: The Cape’s First Luxury Hotel You’ve Never Heard Of

Hotel Chatham in 1890 courtesy of The Atwood Museum in Chatham

For generations Cape Cod has been one of the premiere vacation destinations. Its population routinely swells 250% every summer. However, this was not always the case. There was a time when Cape Cod was a place where things barely got above a whisper. There was a time when businesses only dreamed of bringing more people to these shores. The time was the late 19th century, long before television or even radio advertising. It was before automobiles and paved roads, when trains ruled transportation.

As the 1800’s drew to a close the desire to make the Cape more appealing to tourists reached a fevered pitch. An idea was pitched that was to be a first on the peninsula. The idea was a luxury resort hotel. Today places like Wequasset, Chatham Bars Inn, Ocean Edge, and others attract people with their spectacular rooms, amenities, views, and more. 130 years ago lodging on Cape Cod was simple and the idea of a mammoth luxury resort was foreign.

The concept of such a resort was brought to the forefront in 1889 by the Chatham Real Estate Trust led by the future owner of Jordan Marsh, Eben Dyer Jordan, and Edward Taft, President of the New York & Boston Dispatch Express Company. They had chosen a peninsula in Chatham Port known as Nickerson Neck for development. The groundbreaking ceremony would take place in July 1889 for the resort that would be appropriately named Hotel Chatham.

A few months later in November 1889 construction began. Newspapers at the time reported that more than 150,000 bricks were used for the masonry. The buildup ahead of the opening included a 23-page pamphlet, complete with a concept art sketch of the future finished Hotel Chatham, sent out to build interest.

On February 11, 1890 the Chatham Monitor newspaper had this to say about Hotel Chatham’s impending opening: ‘It looks like a thing of beauty and we hope it will be a joy forever to the stockholders. It will without doubt be one of the finest buildings in this part of the state when completed.’ The obstacle of the hotel’s seclusion was combated by the construction of a new railroad station in West Chatham. It would take prospective guests out to the resort via railway.

The 4th Hole fairway at Eastward Ho, the hotel would have been sitting diagonal across the photo, this shot would be looking toward its right side. Photo courtesy of Christopher Setterlund.

The hype and high praise led to a successful grand opening in July 1890 with the 30,000-square-foot hotel costing a total of $150,000, roughly $3.8 million today. At three floors and more than seventy rooms hundreds of guests could occupy the property which overlooked Pleasant Bay and sat on 300-acres of land. The beach front location was only the beginning as Hotel Chatham also included a large horse stable, bowling alley, ice-house and bath houses.

Hotel Chatham would hold weekly dances called ‘social hops’ bringing in some who could get a taste of the hotel without spending the night. The first season was booming, albeit short, as they closed not long after Labor Day. Still, this encouraged the ownership to enlarge the property to 100 guest rooms for the 1891 season. After reopening in June more positive press came when the hotel hosted an event for then-Massachusetts Governor William Russell and his staff in July. The success continued into the 1892 season when in August the hotel and its 100 guest rooms were full.

Courtesy of Google Maps

There were glimpses of success however the obstacles would come hard and fast after the 1892 season. The Panic of 1893 closed numerous banks and ruined countless businesses causing a depression which lasted into 1897. The ripple effect would spell the beginning of the end for the secluded luxury resort. Business suffered greatly as people held on to what money they had. This coupled with the relative difficulty accessing the hotel caused its demise.
In June 1894 the first reports of the hotel being up for sale were reported. The ownership had never turned a profit despite some early success and shut down the resort after the season. Despite the bleak outlook this was not an immediate end for the resort. In April 1895 the $150,000 property was purchased by Marcellus Eldredge for $16,000 with the intention of reopening for the 1895 season. This was not to be. Eldredge decided to move much of the purchased furniture to his other venture, The Dill House which opened that same summer near the present day intersection of Main Street and Shore Road in Chatham.

After his death in 1898 Eldredge’s properties were sold including Hotel Chatham to Samuel Nickerson in 1900. The property sat in limbo with a stock market crash in 1907 putting a damper on any plans of reopening.

The hotel property would be sold in 1909 to H.E. Austerland, and again in 1910 to Robert Sanderson. He had the intention of renovating the resort and selling off the rest of the land in plots. This also would not happen. Late in 1910 the demolition of Hotel Chatham finally took place. It would be remembered as a flash in the pan which spent more time shuttered in limbo than in business. Ironically in 1912 funds were raised to improve the road leading to the former hotel property as automobiles came into prominence. The remote location and several financial crises doomed the first attempt at a luxury resort on Cape Cod.

The second attempt came in 1914 with the opening of Chatham Bars Inn which is still open more than a century later. The Hotel Chatham property would gain new life in 1922 when it became home to the Eastward Ho Country Club. The next time you are enjoying a round of golf at Eastward Ho, or are driving along Fox Hill Road, take a moment to look toward the 4th Hole fairway. This was the spot where an ambitious luxury resort once stood in the first attempt to create a summer destination on Cape Cod.

By Christopher Setterlund
737 West Main Street
Hyannis, MA 02601
Contact Us | Advertise Terms of Use 
Employment and EEO | Privacy