South Chatham Neighbors Support National Historic District Nomination

By: Tim Wood

South Chatham is on its way to a nomination as a National Register Historic District. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – With support from neighborhood residents, the town's historical commission plans to move forward with a National Historic Register District nomination for South Chatham.

Neighborhood residents asked “a lot of good questions” at an informational session as part of the South Chatham Village Association's annual meeting Saturday, said commission chairman Frank Messina. Chad Yates, president of the South Chatham Village Association, said those at the meeting were asked if they supported moving forward with the historic district designation, “and everyone said yes.” When asked if anyone was opposed, no hands were raised, he said.

“I feel pretty good about it,” Messina said of the designation, which would provide an extra level of protection from demolition of structures determined to contribute to the district.

The commission must now hire a consultant to put together the nomination, which must then be approved by the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) before being sent to the National Park Service for final approval.

MHC has already issued a letter confirming that the neighborhood his eligible for listing as a National Historic Register District. That determination, made by MHC National Register Director Betsy Friedberg after a July visit to the area, means that the extra level of protection is already in effect, Messina said.

While the local commission can delay demolition of historic structures for up to 18 months, it cannot prevent a building from being razed. However, if a structure proposed for demolition is within a National Register District – Chatham currently has two, the Old Village and Marconi Campus – or an area determined to be eligible for listing, the commission can ask the Cape Cod Commission to stop in; that agency has the authority to stop a demolition.

Those attending Saturday's meeting were more amenable to a National Historic District than property owners at a similar session held last month for a proposed district designation for the Stage Harbor Road area. Friedberg has also determined that the Stage Harbor neighborhood is eligible for National Register listing. There are currently two historic buildings under demolition delay on Stage Harbor Road, and the commission is holding a hearing on a third next Tuesday.

Messina noted that South Chatham residents have been supportive of a National Register listing for many years. Yates pointed out that neighborhood residents supported recent rezoning of Route 28 in South Chatham to eliminate the blanket small business district. National Register listing, recognizing the area's historic value, builds on that, he said.

In her Aug. 31 letter, Friedberg states that the July 19 site visit confirmed that the area meets the criteria for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. “The proposed district retains integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association” as called for in the listing criteria.

Approximately 100 buildings within the district are contributing structures, including examples of Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne and Cape Cod style architecture. Some buildings that are more recent or have been extensively altered are considered noncontributing, including recent commercial structures, she wrote.

The district runs along Main Street (Route 28) from the Bethel Cemetery on the Harwich town line to the intersection with Cockle Cove Road. Sections of several roads south of Route 28 would also be included within the boundary, including Pleasant Street, Forest Beach Road, Beach Plum Road, Deep Water Lane and Cockle Cove Road. The eastern end of the district would be the corner of Cockle Cove Road and Main Street; Friedberg said more research needs to be done into whether the building on the eastern corner of the intersection, which appears to contain a windmill, is historic or not.

MHC staff members will review a nomination once it is submitted before presenting it to the state review board, she wrote. Before the state board acts, a public informational meeting will be scheduled and notification letters will be sent to all property owners within the district. If a majority objects, the nomination does not move forward.

Community preservation funds were appropriated in May to fund the cost of both the Stage Harbor Road and South Chatham National Register District nominations. Messina said the commission will be conducting a straw poll among Stage Harbor Road property to gauge support for a nomination in that neighborhood. Submission of the South Chatham nomination is likely to happen by next spring.

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