John Whelan: Once, Chatham Had Lots Of Gas
“On the road again
Just can’t wait to get on the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again.”
Willie Nelson wrote and sang “On the Road Again” which won the Grammy for Best Country Song in 1980. The song has become one his most popular recordings. Willie, even at 85, still does lots of touring and spends lots time on the road. Over the years, his tour buses have criss-crossed the USA many times and had to have burned lots and lots of gasoline. And, apparently, so must the residents of Chatham have used lots of gasoline back in 1955, almost 65 years ago. How else could you explain why Chatham had over a dozen gas stations?
The exact number of gas stations is not entirely clear, and I have been trying to jog the memory of a number of long-term Chatham residents. But whether it is 12, 13 or 14 is really not important. What is important is that Chatham in 1955, with under 3,000 full-time residents and many fewer cars, had several times as many gas stations as we have today.
One of my sources was Ross Gould who told me that in 1952, at 16, he worked for Charlie Adams at the station that is now Roundabout Gas. The routine was that every car required checking the oil, washing the windshield, and checking the tire pressure as well as filling up the gas tank. I asked why all this was needed and his answer was that cars at that time needed lots of oil. They burned oil and they leaked oil. It was not unusual to add two quarts of oil and to have to inflate the tires. Cars were nowhere near as well made as today and some of the roads were rough. Ross believed that it was then a Texaco station and it remained a Texaco station under a series of operators.
Across Main Street was Chatham Mobil owned by Jack Schluter. Jack returned from World War II having served in the Navy and founded Chatham Mobil in 1949. Jack always kept his station spotlessly clean and neat. His gas attendants were always prompt and courteous. The station closed in 2009 and, after a short unsuccessful period as Christy’s, it became a Cumberland Farms. The previous Cumberland Farms station was down at the five corners opposite Kinlin Grover Real Estate. That station had a long history. Ben Goodspeed built a Gulf Station there and ran it for many years before retiring.
And the space where Kinlin Grover stands today was an Esso station. Al Long and his sons were there in the '50s and '60s, then Kendrick Eldredge and then Joe Avellar. I believe the Esso station was quite successful under each of the owners.
Present day readers know about the Eldredge Garage on Main Street. It was started as a livery station in the 1890s and remained in the Eldredge family for well over 120 years. Clement Eldredge sold Flying A, then Tydol, and towards the end Getty gasoline. The small remaining building had a large pot-bellied stove and it was, for decades, the gathering place for some of Chatham’s elderly men. Eldredge Taxi and beach shuttle were housed there until the end. The family of Bill Eldredge sold the property to the town of Chatham in 2017.
Probably the most notorious gas station in Chatham history was owned by Slim Hutchings. His station, at 211 Orleans Rd., was a large stone building and was called “Wreck and Ruin…Poverty Flats.” Slim was a Chatham selectman and fiercely independent. Most people believe Slim was also the model for Jesus Christ in Alice Stallnecht’s famous murals. He is also famous for raising a bear cub which he kept on a chain at the station. When the cub grew up he donated it to the Franklin Park Zoo, and, for years his wife visited the bear. You can’t make this stuff up. The station was demolished and the present Savon Gas was formerly owned and managed by Norman and Don St. Pierre as a Citgo station.
The Meservey gas station at the corner of George Ryder Road and Route 28 goes back to 1935. Roy Meservey, Sr. was encouraged by his brother, George, who had a Mobil Station in Harwich Center, to think about acquiring a gas station. On that spot was an old gas station run by Gene Hanson, who later became a landscaper. Roy Meservey, Jr. told me that Gene never liked running the station and turned it over to his father. Meservey’s Mobil Station prospered for years and Dan Meservey and his family continue to run it today. In the interim it was a Hess station and is now a Shell station.
Further west on Route 28, you found Chickie Clark’s Texaco. Chickie had a yard full of old cars and he was very kind to many of us when our run-down jalopies barely ran.
Eight “filling stations” is quite a list, but we are nowhere near done.
Sherm Silva had the Jenney Station which was in the little park east of the Red Nun. The small building that served as the office was moved west and became part of the Monomoy Theatre campus.
The building that housed the Amoco station on Main Street had the same fate. That station, which was where the chapel of St. Christopher’s Church now stands, was also moved and became part of the Monomoy Theatre complex. I believe that station was operated at one time by Magnus Peterson. There was still another station, possibly with Atlantic Richfield gas, located in the driveway leading back to The Bistro. Elise Rodman bought the property to build the El’s Del development. Wayne Gould told me that station was once run by Frank Hudson and that his mother served for a while as the bookkeeper. I clearly remember when Chase Chevrolet on Old Harbor Road had gas pumps out front. I don’t know how much gas they sold.
It’s hard to believe but that is 12 gas stations in the little town of Chatham. All 12 competing for business from 3,000-odd residents plus the summer traffic. I asked Roy Meservey, Jr. how they all made a living. He said he doubted that some did much more than scrape by. The profit was in the service end and there just weren’t enough cars to go around.
And if you want to go back further in time, gas pumps were all over town. Norma Avellar told me that Wilbur Cahoon ran a grocery store in South Chatham adjacent to Baker’s Hardware and had a Texaco pump out front. She also said that Sparrow Emery Young sold gas at his grocery store where the Corner Store now operates. My memory says it was a Sunoco station. My memory is not always to be trusted.
Even further back there was a gas pump in front of the old Atwood Store on Main Street and another in front of Port Fortune on lower Main Street. Wayne Gould has postcards showing each of these gas pumps. There could have been more. Those pumps were long gone by 1955.
My inquiries brought lots of responses and I thank everyone who helped me with this effort. And hard as it is to believe, Chatham really did have 12 or more gas stations. I have always been told that old Chatham was full of fishermen. I would amend that to fishermen and operators of “filling stations.”