Iconic Stage Harbor View Preserved, Despite Some Changes

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Development , Historic

The so-called “Three Sisters” off Champlain Road overlooking Chatham's Stage Harbor. While the buildings in the center and on the right will be undergoing some changes, the overall look of the iconic homes from the water won't change much, representatives of the property owners say. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – The view from Stage Harbor of three iconic homes – known as “The Three Sisters” – will not change much under a redevelopment proposal approved by the zoning board recently.

One of the historic homes will be relocated to another site, a second will take its place and a new one will be built that will closely resemble the original, according to plans proposed by property owners John and Tanya Lund.

Two of the three homes that make up the Three Sisters – at 181 and 205 Champlain Rd. – date from the late 1700s. The third house, at 203 Champlain Rd., was built in the 1940s. That house, located in the center of the trio, will be moved to the east and renovated, while the house it replaces at 181 Champlain Rd. will be moved to a lot at the corner of Battlefield and Sears roads, attorney William Riley told the zoning board at a July 14 hearing.

The house at 181 Champlain Rd. was subject to a demolition delay imposed by the historical commission in Aug. 2015. It expires in February.

“The fact that we're going to be able to save that is great,” said commission chairman Frank Messina. “Will the Three Sisters' iconic view be preserved? I don't know. I haven't seen the plan.”

Plans shown to the ZBA by architect Karen Kempton project little change in the view. The newly constructed home will be visually similar to the one it replaces, while that one will be moved next door and remain on the property.

“The main public view from the water had to be respected in both mass and scale,” Kempton said. The new house is slightly larger but will be partially hidden by a large hedge, she said.

“The differences are quite small,” added Riley. “The homes are already in close proximity.”

According to Massachusetts Historical Commission records, all three homes are located on land once owned by the Isaiah Harding family. The family of mariners, who also operated salt works along the Stage Harbor shore, built at least five homes in the area.

The house at 205 Champlain Rd., owned by Margaret and Crossen Seybolt, is a five-bay full Cape built about 1795 and is known as the Tabithy Harding House after Tabithy Harding, who married Isaiah Harding in 1787. The home at 181 Champlain Rd., built about 1762, is similar in style. In 1905 it was purchased by the family of Judge Albert Early, a lawyer from Rockford, Ill., who was a friend of author Joseph Lincoln. Both houses have been expanded and modernized over the years.

The 181 Champlain Rd. house will be moved down the road to the corner of Battlefield and Sears roads, preserving it “more or less in the same location,” said Riley. Moving it will be a challenge; the structure will have to be cut into two pieces, and builder Rick Roy is working with utility companies and the town to arrange to move it along Champlain Road, which is an officially designated scenic road. The move will take place sometime in the fall.

“We really appreciate it when it can happen,” Messina said of the plan to preserve the historic home by relocating it. “We're not always successful, but when it does happen it's a win-win. It's certainly not an easy task.”

A decade ago the Lunds proposed demolishing the home at 203 Champlain Rd. and replacing it with a new structure, Riley said. After concerns were raised by the Seybolts, and others questioned the impact on the view from the water, that plan was dropped. The Lunds rethought the plan and worked with their neighbors to come up with the current proposal.

“It took a little time for the wounds to heal,” Riley said.

Crossen Seybolt said the Lunds accommodated the neighbors' concerns by shifting the new house at 203 Champlain Rd. slightly to the east and moving an air conditioning compressor to the east side of the house. He said while he was sorry to see the antique home at 181 Champlain Rd. removed from the site, he was glad that it will be preserved.

ZBA members had similar reactions to the plan.

“I think they've done a good job in trying to preserve what's there,” said Donald Freeman. “It's a very unique location.”

“It really respects the site,” added David Nixon, who said he can see the Three Sisters from his home across the harbor, “and also gives them something that is 21st century to live in.”

The board unanimously approved two special permits for the project: one to build a new home at 203 Champlain Rd., and a second to move the existing home from that lot to 181 Champlain Rd.