'Chatham Through Time' Traces Town's History Through Photographs

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Local History

Janet M. Daly has just released her second book telling the story of Chatham’s fascinating history through photographs and captions.

“Chatham Through Time” (Fonthill Media, 2017) is a companion to Daly’s 2002 book “Chatham,” published as a part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America Series. While her first book is a collection of historic photographs, sketches and cartoons ranging from the 1860s to 1962, the new book takes more of a “now and then” approach and emphasizes contemporary photographs. Daly is also the author of “Hyannis (Then and Now)” published in 2012.

Daly’s new book revolves around the transformation of Chatham from a fishing village to a seaside resort. In 2007, when Danielle Jeanloz, now executive director of the Chatham Historical Society (CHS), headed up the Chatham Chamber of Commerce, the town was named one of a dozen National Trust for Historical Preservation Distinctive Destinations. It was the only town on the Cape so named. “That became my theme as I prepared this book,” Daly recalled during an email interview last week.

The book is divided into four chapters: A Seafaring Village, A Meandering Main Street, Remembering Our History and The Good Life. The first chapter succinctly tells the story of Chatham’s life as a seaside town: Chatham Light, the Coast Guard and the 1952 Pendleton rescue, drownings at sea, fishing, seals, sharks and boat-builders. Chapter two, on Main Street, highlights past and present uses of buildings. Two photographs show the 1840 building known as the “Calico Cat” in its original white and in its current neon green and yellow. Chapter three pictures historical monuments such as the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center, the Godfrey Windmill, the Atwood House and more. And finally, The Good Life highlights popular activities enjoyed by Chatham’s residents and visitors from First Night Chatham to summer band concerts, Chatham A’s games, the theater and Chatham Airport.

Soon after she retired to Chatham 22 years ago, Daly (who moved to Hyannis in 2008) began reading about Chatham’s history.

Appropriately, Arthur Wilson Tarbell, who once lived near Chatham Light and published “I Retire to Cape Cod” in 1944, was one of the early Chatham authors she read. Later on, when Daly had her dream job as CHS president, her reading intensified, she says.

“If you are able to sit in the president’s office at the Atwood House Museum, you have hundreds of books to read through and skim looking for particular nuggets,” she says. During her tenure as president, she worked closely with the late husband and wife writing team of Joe and Geraldine Nickerson as they finished their 2008 book “Chatham Sea Captains in the Age of Sail.”

“That was an education in itself, working with Joe, who was the town’s historian,” Daly says. She also teamed up with Joan Mahoney of the Women’s Club of Chatham to research the club’s 100th anniversary. In so doing, Daly “learned a great deal about the town.”

Daly’s knowledge of the town’s history broadened further when she worked with “a great group of men” on a CHS exhibit about the Chatham Naval Air Station and after that on an exhibit about wicker featuring Edwardian clothing from the CHS’s costume department. “The society is a treasure not only for the town but the Cape itself,” she says. “The board was able to bring the art and materials storage facility into the 21st century while I was there.”

For this book, Daly again drew on the photographic resources in the CHS archives.

“I must admit I drove the archivists crazy sitting and looking through all the loose-leaf books, boxes and the digital copies of photos,” she says. For her first book “there were so many great ones that I couldn’t use, I always thought I would love to do another book about Chatham.”

Daly retired to Chatham in 1995 after serving as editor and publisher of Floor Covering Weekly. With her husband Alan she ran a desktop publishing company for about five years producing retail newsletters for corporations. The Dalys chose Chatham after Daly’s brother Bill Russell “convinced us that this was the best town on the Cape,” she says. Russell still lives in Riverbay.

Daly compiled the photographs and wrote the captions for her book in about four months, “not counting the background and research I had on hand” from her previous book. While she shot many of the contemporary photographs, she also solicited the work of photographers Alan Pollock, executive editor of The Cape Cod Chronicle, Chris Seufert and David Hill of Chatham as well as “lovers of Chatham” Jonathan Hockman and Geoff Bassett.

Chatham is an easy place to write about because “it is a place everyone wants to visit,” Daly says. She thanks Jeanloz and CHS volunteers Jean Young and Judy Conniff who assisted her in the archives. Half of the book’s royalties will benefit the CHS. Daly is now writing a history of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Hyannis, the church where President John F. Kennedy was a communicant from the age of 10.

“Chatham Through Time” will be officially released on July 10. Daly plans signing events later in the summer.