ORLEANS — As you buzz by on your way to Nauset Beach, you've probably admired the historic homes, churches and cemetery along leafy, winding Main Street from Route 28 to Beach Road. There's another way to experience the stretch: walks with historian Bonnie Snow of the Orleans Historical Society.
In addition to leading tours of Orleans Cemetery on July 27, Aug. 31, Sept. 28, and Oct. 26, Snow will take walkers from the Meetinghouse Museum to the Barley Neck Inn July 13 and Sept. 14, and from the museum to the United Methodist Church at Route 28 on Aug. 10. All tours are on Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon; tickets are $10 ($8 for OHS members), free for students under 18.
Under a clear blue sky on June 8, Snow stood outside the Meetinghouse Museum with Michael Hicks of the historical commission and talked about its erection as a Universalist church in 1834. “It doesn't go overboard,” Hicks said of the Greek Revival building. “It's not ostentatious. The proportions are gorgeous.”
The Meetinghouse is the centerpiece of an area rich in history. Snow said the first town hall was across Main Street up a road that now leads into Orleans Cemetery, the second in what is now the nearby Academy Playhouse, and the third and current municipal home across School Street in a former school building. The baseball field next to today's town hall was home to a Baptist church.
Built at the same time as the Meetinghouse, 136 Main St. served as the church's parsonage. Current owner Jonathan Nedeau crossed the street to speak with the tour group, expressing interest in progress on designating part of Main Street as an historic district.
The tour wound past the house of Captain David Taylor, who skippered a packet boat from Rock Harbor up the coast to Salem before serving as a postmaster. Nearby is the town's Civil War monument, impressive even though the soldier is missing an important original element. “What happened to the rifle, I don't know,” Snow said. “The historical commission is looking into it,” Hicks added.
The 1818 home at 124 Main was originally a half-Cape that has been connected to a farm building, according to Hicks. “Arey's Mill was up the hill,” Snow said, looking toward the rise adjacent to the hilltop Academy Playhouse.
More stories were shared as the walk continued. Here was a house where the founder of a company that became King Arthur Flour grew up, here a building that incorporated part of the former Baptist church once located next to the present town hall, and here the imposing 1855 Greek Revival of Orville Crosby, a monument maker who slyly named his home “Journey's End.”
“This is attempting to look like the Parthenon in Athens and the Pantheon in Rome,” Hicks said.
For more information about the walks and other Orleans Historical Society events, go to orleanshistory.org