CHATHAM — After more than a century watching over the east end of downtown Chatham, the landmark Eldredge Garage building has been razed.
On Monday, a small crew using an excavator tore down the large barn piece by piece, pulling aside scrap metal and salvageable timbers for recycling. By the end of the day Monday, about two-thirds of the structure had been demolished, and work was suspended Tuesday because of the weather. Later in the week, the crew was expected to tear down the easternmost side of the building.
In January, town meeting voters resoundingly approved spending $2.5 million to acquire the property at 365 Main St., with the goal of using portions of it for parking, open space, rest rooms or other public purposes. The purchase is being facilitated by a group of local merchants and property owners who have worked with the Eldredge family to carry out environmental testing at the site. The demolition of the building was a condition of the sale; preservationists had determined that saving the building was impractical.
According to historical records, the property was purchased by Mary Eldredge in 1870, and passed to her son, Marcellus, the president of a successful brewery in New Hampshire and the founder of the Eldredge Public Library. The land passed between Marcellus and his brother, Heman, and there is a reference to a stable having been built between 1880 and 1895, though it is not known whether this is the structure that survived until this week. The property was briefly owned by a Medford man before being sold to Joseph C. Eldredge of Chatham, who had begun a livery business nearby.
Eldredge operated his boarding and livery stable at the site until about 1915 when he converted it to a garage for automobiles. It served as a service station, a vehicle storage business, and at times, the quarters for the town's fire engines. The property passed through several members of the Joseph Eldredge family until the present day, and was most recently used for vehicle parking and a taxi service to Lighthouse Beach.
David Oppenheim, who represents the consortium working with the Eldredge family, told selectmen recently that most of the contamination found on the property had been addressed, with the exception of a small area adjacent to the gas station building. That structure, located close to Main Street, will be preserved for an as-yet-undesignated future use.
The ultimate use of the property will be determined by the board of selectmen.