Atwood House Museum Looks At Chatham's Military History

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Local History

World War I artifacts on display as part of the Atwood House Museum's exhibit “Chatham in the Military.” DEBRA LAWLESS PHOTO

CHATHAM – Two new exhibits open at the Chatham Historical Society’s Atwood House and Museum this Friday, May 26: “Chatham in the Military” and “Windows into Time: Clothing and Artifacts.”

Let’s begin with a look at wartime Chatham.

“We’re focusing on three primary wars and how they impacted our small community,” says Danielle Jeanloz, the society's executive director.

Chatham residents Col. Benjamin Godfrey and Sgt. Hiat Young both fought in the Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Godfrey, born in 1742, is familiar to us today because his restored grist mill now stands in Chase Park. Young arrived in Chatham in 1762 and fought in several wars before his death in 1810. He is buried in People’s Cemetery.

Chatham made a cameo appearance in the American Revolution in 1782, when the British tried to seize three ships in Chatham’s harbor. Townspeople thwarted them.

“We were always vulnerable, being exposed to the shoreline,” Jeanloz says.

Several of the museum’s early acquisitions, including a musket, rifle-cleaning brushes and a cannon ball fired in Chatham in 1775, will be on display. As for uniforms, “most people back then didn’t have a uniform and carried provisions on their backs,” Jeanloz notes.

An obelisk in Sears Park, at the base of Seaview Street, memorializes Chatham residents who died in the Civil War (1861-1865). Second Lieut. Franklin D. Hammond, 32, was killed in Petersburg, Va. on June 23, 1864. On display is Hammond’s leather wallet, which traveled back to Chatham after its owner’s death. Also on display are three Civil War bullets and several antique U.S. flags.

April 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I (1914-1918). After the Naval Air Station was built on Nickerson’s Neck, Chatham was a bustling place. On display are a WWI gas mask, a canteen with a bullet hole that saved a soldier’s life, and a motor that was used to inflate blimps at the Naval Air Station. Amy Kraycir created a diorama of the Naval Air Station. Guglielmo Marconi’s Chatham Station in North Chatham became operational during the war, and was crucial for wireless communications.

It comes as no surprise that the clothing we wear has changed through the centuries and offers “Windows into Time,” as the second display is named. In the 17th century, Chatham’s early residents, most descendants of Chatham’s first English settlers William and Anne (Busby) Nickerson, led a simple, tough life. A woman is shown doing her washing on a beach. At her side is a kettle over a small fire to heat water. She washes with a bar of homemade lye soap.

Things perhaps were a little easier between 1700 and 1800, “the Age of Homespun.” Now residents moved from bare survival to creating a homestead. They carved bowls and did needlepoint. “They have more of a lifestyle, it’s not as hard,” Jeanloz says. Still, the woman’s dress displayed has two burn holes at the hem—sparks burned the dress as the woman tended the hearth.

From 1800 to 1850 came the Age of Independence. Here we see a schoolmaster’s uniform and remember that zippers would not be patented until 1917.

Elegance came in during the Victorian Era, 1850-1870. Here are lace shawls and hats as well as ladies undergarments. More refined pieces were created during this period.

The Age of Transportation, 1870-1900, shows a man and a woman in traveling outfits buying tickets at the Chatham Railroad Station, which opened in 1887. “It makes Chatham much more accessible to the rest of the world,” Jeanloz says. And this brings us to 1900 to 1920, the Age of Tourism. Tourism “changes everything in our community,” Jeanloz notes. A woman is shown wearing a “duster”—a floor length coat worn in a car because the roads were dusty.

And finally we come to the roaring ‘20s with its flapper dresses and black boas. As life loosened up, so did the clothing. Here we see long strings of pearls over a black sheath dress. A small table has a cocktail set on it—this was Prohibition, after all, the era of the speakeasy. Also on display is a women’s bathing costume made of wool. Yes, wool.

The clothing exhibit was the vision of CHS volunteer Janet Marjollet, who worked with volunteer Barbara Hogan and CHS Assistant Director Kevin Wright for over 18 months on the displays, Jeanloz says. All of the clothing is from the museum’s collection. Both the military and clothing displays will be enhanced with PowerPoint talks.

All 11 exhibit areas and galleries will be open May 26 through Oct. 28. From May 26 to July 1 the museum is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. From July 5 to Sept. 2 it will be open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The museum gift shop is open during museum hours and for all special events. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for students, and free to members and children under six. For more information call the CHS at 508-945-2493.


“Chatham in the Military” and “Windows into Time: Clothing and Artifacts”

At The Chatham Historical Society's Atwood House Museum

347 Stage Harbor Rd., Chatham

May 26 through Oct. 28

Information: 508-945-2493