Stage Harbor Rd. Owners Polled On Historic District Support

By: Tim Wood

The house at 372 Stage Harbor Rd. was included on a draft map of a historic district for the neighborhood. TOWN OF CHATHAM GRAPHIC

CHATHAM – Letters have gone out to Stage Harbor Road property owners to gauge support for declaring the neighborhood a National Historic Register District.

The straw poll was sent Dec. 4 to 47 property owners within the proposed district, which would run from Cross Street to Bridge Street. The approximately 29-acre area includes 34 structures determined to contribute to a potential National Register District, as determined by historical commission consultant Eric Dray.

It's far from certain whether the property owners will endorse the district designation. Although at one point several years ago a number of them called for a historic district along the scenic street – at a time when the town was proposing sidewalks along the road – during an informal meeting this summer a majority of owners were not in favor. Listing of an area as a federal National Historic Register District requires support from a majority of property owners within the district.

However, an official from the Massachusetts Historical Commission has ruled that the Stage Harbor area and a section of South Chatham are eligible for listing on the National Register. Even if a National Register nomination does not go forward, the eligibility ruling means that the historic commission can, at its discretion, refer projects involving contributing structures to the Cape Cod Commission for review.

While the limit of the historical commission's authority is imposition of a demolition delay of up to 18 months, the Cape Cod Commission can prohibit demolition or alteration of a historically significant structure determined to be eligible for National Register listing.

“Eligibility does not go away,” said Historical Commission Chairman Frank Messina.

As part of the process of updating surveys of all buildings in town older than 75 years of age, the commission looked at potential National Register Districts in South Chatham and North Chatham and on Stage Harbor Road. While there's been general support for a district among South Chatham property owners, Stage Harbor Road owners have been less amenable, with many expressing concern for their ability to renovate or alter their homes if they are included in a National Register District. Two homes in the district are currently under demolition delays and could potentially be referred to the commission.

Chatham currently has two National Register Districts – the Old Village and the Marconi-RCA campus.

The letter sent to property owners briefly states the case for designating the area a National Historic Register District. One of Chatham's oldest roadways, it served primarily as a connector between the town center and the “stage” or dock in Stage Harbor. The earliest extant home on the street may be the 1752 Joseph Atwood House (now the center of the Chatham Historical Society's Atwood House and Museum), but the area developed mostly over the 19th century, and there are a number of homes from that period, ranging in style from Capes to Greek Revival and Victorian. Many of the homes are associated with the development of the town's maritime industry as well as its evolution as a summer resort.

“At this time we are requesting guidance from the affected properties as to whether they feel they would like to move forward with the nomination,” the letter states. “Please understand that although we may not move forward with the nomination, the area will remain eligible for nomination if in the future there is a desire to do so.”

The makeup of homeowners of many historic homes throughout town has changed in recent years, with many seeking to substantially alter or demolish older houses in favor of more modern structures, Messina said.

“The commission is trying to provide a reasonable way to attempt to save historic treasures,” he said.

Property owners were asked to respond to the straw poll by Jan. 12.