CHATHAM — Including the old service station and the even older livery stable, the Eldredge Garage property is rich with local history. But with more than an acre and a half of land on Main Street with a view of Mill Pond, it's also rich with development potential.
Selectmen Dean Nicastro and Cory Metters toured the site Tuesday, a day before the board was expected to hold another closed-door session to discuss the possible purchase of the property. Earlier this summer, selectmen declined an opportunity to buy the land, but they are reconsidering that decision at the request of the downtown business community. Many business leaders would like to see at least part of the property used for parking. The initial offering price was $2.5 million, but that figure may have since increased.
Sharon Kaplowitz, a member of the Eldredge family, led officials on the short tour. Built around 1904 by Joseph D. Eldredge, the large barn at the rear of the property housed horses and buggies that were used to pick up passengers from the railroad station. When automobiles became prevalent, the business became a service station, an operation that continued until 1974. The family now operates a paid parking lot and a shuttle service to Lighthouse Beach.
At various times, parts of the building were used to house the town's fire engines and a bus, and it was a favorite gathering place for townsfolk for square dances, cribbage games or community dinners. Many boxes of dinner dishes were recently discovered in one of the attics, Kaplowitz said. A local chapter of the social club known as the Red Men held their meetings there as well.
Nicastro thanked the Eldredge family for hosting the visit.
“It really gave me a sense of the historic perspective,” he said. While there is an interest in the town doing something with the property, “we're going to have to do our due diligence,” Nicastro said. Some fear that years of servicing automobiles may have contaminated the ground under the property, and selectmen seem to favor spending funds for a detailed environmental analysis of the land.
Metters said he has reservations about the parking proposal, “but I'm going to try to keep an open mind about it.” He said there are some properties – like the Eldredge trap dock on Stage Harbor – which are so unique that they are worth acquiring even if the town doesn't immediately have a plan for their use. The purchase of the Eldredge Garage is one such property, “if it's financially feasible for the town,” Metters said.
Nicastro agreed, saying it may be worthwhile buying the property “just to keep it away from development.” When it comes to the ultimate use of the land, “we may not know for 10 years,” he said.
Selectmen continue closed-door negotiations on the proposed purchase.