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Chatham Historical Society

posted Feb 2006
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August 1, 1926
pp 5, 6, 24

The Saving of a Landmark
By Joseph C. Lincoln

    This year the United States of America is celebrating its one hundred and fiftieth birthday as a nation. It is therefore still a young country, still growing, still gaining strength and wealth and wisdom, and although already one of the controlling powers of the world, it is yet—or so we Americans believe—a long way from the full measure of the grandeur which it is destined to attain. One of the characteristics of youth is that it is so concerned with the present and the future that it is likely to pay too little attention to the past. In our American cities and towns the march of change goes on, lanes become streets, streets become avenues, cottages are torn down to give place to mansions, and mansions fall to make way for skyscrapers. In such a march much is trodden underfoot, and oftentimes it is not until too late that we awaken to the realization of undue precipitancy, the conviction that perhaps we have trodden too recklessly and that what has gone can never be replaced.

    The homes which our forefathers built, the buildings which they erected and which are saturated with historical memories, once demolished are gone forever, instead of remaining to be treasured as milestones along our path of greatness. There are thousands of such instances of too hasty demolition. What would Boston now give to see the fine old John Hancock house still standing upon Beacon Street? It was torn down to make room for blocks of brick buildings having no historical associations whatsoever and which are already falling in their turn, their sites to be covered by higher and more modern steel-framed structures. Had the Hancock House been permitted to remain, under the care of the city or of some historical society, it would now be one more shrine toward which the feet of Americans would turn reverently, just as they turn to the old South Church or the Old State House, or a dozen other Boston relics connected with our country's making.

kitchen door


Practically unchanged through nearly two centuries, this rare example of simple craftsmanship in the early days of American home-building now will pass into the hands of those who will deal gently with it. Note the naive decorative touch on the door lintel, the fine proportions of the panels, and the hand-wrought latch and hinges.

    To everyone who cares for such things—and most of us do although we are likely to be careless and forget to care until it is too late—the preserving of some old building connected with the history of a community is a matter for sincere congratulation. Every Cape Codder and every lover of the Cape may therefore congratulate himself or herself upon the fact that the old Atwood House in Chatham has been acquired by the Chatham Historical Society and is to be preserved as it is, and as it was, an example of the kind of home which our great-great-great-grandfather built and occupied in the days when Cape Cod was a part of Britain's New England colonies and the dream of a declaration of independence would have been a terrible nightmare not to be mentioned outside the family.

    The Atwood House stands on Atwood Street in the town of Chatham and has stood there since 1752, or thereabouts. There is no record of the exact date of its building, but in "The History of Chatham" by William C. Smith, we find it stated that "By deed dated February 13, 1752, Joseph Atwood purchased of Colonel Elisha Doane of Eastham a tract of thirty acres between the road to the Stage" — "Stage" was the old name for what is still "Stage Wharf" — "and Mitchell's River, formerly the William Mitchell farm."   

    William Mitchell, according to the same interesting history, was the son of the first William Mitchell, and he, the second William, sold the farm, before 1740, to Richard Knowles, who in turn sold it to Colonel Elisha Doane. In all these deeds of sale there is no record of any house on the tract. Therefore Mr. Smith concludes and with reason, that there was no house there before 1751.

    That there was one before the end of that year, or immediately after, is satisfactorily proven by the life story of Joseph Atwood himself. His great grandfather, Stephen Atwood, also mentioned as Stephen Wood, was enrolled at Plymouth in 1643, when he was sixteen years of age, as one "able to bear arms." Soon after this he came to old Nauset, where he married Abigail Dunham. Atwood, if the records are correct, could have then been but seventeen or eighteen, for the date of the marriage is November 6, 1644. He and his wife settled in Eastham. He died in that town in 1694, leaving a large family of children. Joseph, his third child, was born about 1650. He married Apphiah (Bangs) Knowles, widow of John Knowles and daughter of Edward Bangs. They had five children. Joseph, Junior, was one of these and he married Bethia Crowell, by whom he had nine children. His son, the third Joseph Atwood, was born in February 1720 and moved to Chatham, where he married Deborah Sears in 1742. (Abigail, Apphiah, Bethia and Deborah, a fine collection of old-fashioned Puritan names, those of the Atwood brides!) This Joseph Atwood built the Atwood house. He was a prominent citizen of Chatham, a ship master in foreign commerce, us so many Cape Codders were in those days and for years thereafter. He died in 1794. Since then Atwood has been an influential name in Chatham. Sears Atwood, one of his descendants, married Azubah Collins, (there is another fine flavored name for you!) lived in the old house and raised their seven children there. Everyone of those children — with the exception of Sears, Junior, who died young—settled in the immediate neighborhood, giving the family name to the street and the school which stood thereon. It is said that old Sears Atwood used to boast that he could stand in his door and make all his children hear his voice in their own homes. The voices of deep-sea captains were trained to carry over distance and through weather disturbances.

    Since then the old house has remained on Atwood property, although its owners have sometimes been far removed from it and Cape Cod. Now, under a deed of April 12, 1926, Jane Atwood of Beaver, Pennsylvania; John A. Atwood of Beaver; Albert W. Atwood of Princeton, New Jersey; and Edwin H. Atwood of Olean, New York, have conveyed the title to their ancestral home and the land upon which it stands to the Chatham Historical Society. And the old Atwood House, by far the oldest building in Chatham, is, according to the terms of the deed, to be "Conserved for the benefit of all," and its beauty and that of its site are not to be impaired.

    That there is such beauty no lover of the Colonial home will contradict. The house is low, gray-shingled and of the purest Colonial architecture. Its rooms are small, but charming, and have never been spoiled by so-called "improvement." During the current summer it will be, as it has been for several summers, occupied by a New York lady as a tea house, but in the fall the Historical Society will take possession, furnish it as nearly as possible as it was furnished when used, and throw it open to the public as a historical museum and memory of the fine old Puritan Cape Codders who built it.

    Chatham—and the whole Cape it seems to me—should be thankful that this is so. The old Atwood House is a beautiful example of the best in Cape Cod architecture. It has remained in the possession of one family since the beginning, of itself a great rarity in our American life. Now it will be preserved for all Americans to see and enjoy. The Chatham Historical Society is deserving of the gratitude of every resident of the Cape and of every visitor.

Nearly all these old Cape Cod Houses faced the south. The "East room" was the family living room. The "West room" was the "best room," later called the parlor. Here, again, fine old hardware from the  village smithy is in evidence. Even in the double closet doors by the fireplace the panel scheme of the larger single doors is maintained.

The mirror, of course, arrived after this old fireplace ceased to function as the cookstove of the home. The oven is concealed behind the little door. The door at the right is mounted on the first step of the stairs—a plain board door whose principal duty was to keep the bleak chamber chill from invading the rooms below.


Atwood house

The Chatham Historical Society

invites you to participate

in purchasing the old

Atwood Homestead for

its home.


to be raised July 15th to Aug. 15th

Make Checks Payable to
Chatham, Massachusetts


(Continued from page 2/)

    Mr. Lancy Snow and Miss Fiances Gallagher of New York are spending their vacation with Dr. and Mrs. E. A. DeWager at their Beach Point cottage, Provincetown. 

* * *

    Harriet F. Bain of Kenosha, Wisconsin, is in Provincetown for the summer, stopping with Miss Nancy Ferguson, the well-known artist.

* * *

    W. H. W. Bicknell, the famous etcher, has opened his studio in Provincetown.

* * *

    V. B. Rann of Wilmington, N. C, has arrived at his Provincetown studio on Pearl street for the summer.

* * *

    Misses Grace and Jessie Brigham of Atlanta, Ga., are in Provincetown for the season.

* * *

    Miss Zoie M. B. Morse of Providence and Provincetown has opened the Tree Top for the season.

* * *

    Mr. and Mrs. John Whorf and Mr. and Mrs. Harry Whorf are at their cottage for the annual respite. John Whorf is one of the younger artists well known for his vigorous style and many successful exhibitions.

* * *

    Mrs. Frederick Hoadley of Boston is at the Eight Bells cottage, 5 Tremont street, Provincetown.

* * *

    Leonard Richards of Utica, N. Y., is the guest of Mrs. Albert Cox and family at Race Point.

* * *

    Mrs. Steuart Pittman of Grosse Pointe Park, Mich., is numbered among those who are this year spending their first season on Cape Cod. Mrs. Pittman has taken a cottage in the West Harwich colony.

On the Provincetown Road
A Libby Luncheon Is
Worth Many a Hungry Mile
Now at the Old Libby Homestead

IN WELLFLEET, Cape Cod, Mass.

Telephone—Wellfleet 8-2.—Reservations

Sea Food Specialties, Lobster and Chicken Dinners, Afternoon Tea Served

122 Fulton St., New York City
Tel. John 2943 — Beekman 9956


Martha T. Libby, Proprietor
Tel. Wellfleet 8-2