Atwood House Opens Season With Three New Exhibits

By: Debra Lawless

This boar skull was among the 4,000 objects unearthed during an archaeological dig at the Atwood House last year. Many are featured in a new exhibit at the museum. DEBRA LAWLESS PHOTO

Step into the Chatham Historical Society's Atwood House and Museum this weekend and you will hear the musical soundtrack that would have been performed live to accompany a black and white silent film at the original Orpheum Theater on Main Street, Chatham.
A padded bench has been set up so you can watch the silent film; old theater posters and a movie projector are displayed nearby.
This is a part of the new “Main Street Cape Cod” exhibit. The 1916 Orpheum and the 1896 Eldredge Public Library are two buildings chosen to represent Chatham in the exhibit.
“Main Street Cape Cod” is one of three exhibits that will be on display through the summer and fall this year. “Chatham Digs” takes a close look at what an archaeological team found when it excavated beneath the c. 1750 Atwood House, and “The Flight of the NC-4” celebrates the 100th anniversary of the first transatlantic flight that stopped in Chatham for repairs.
“Main Street Cape Cod” looks at Main Streets as they were in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This was a period of great change, says Danielle Jeanloz, CHS executive director. Horses and buggies were giving way to automobiles while farming and fishing were giving way to tourism. Many aspects of society were growing and transitioning. It was a fascinating period.
In addition, the exhibit is “one of the first Cape-wide, history-focused collaborative efforts,” Jeanloz says. Assistant Director Kevin Wright asked historical societies across the Cape to tell the stories of one or two iconic Main Street buildings in their towns. Ultimately 22 different organizations contributed to the exhibit. Although the Cape has 15 towns, villages also participated. Some towns sent in not only information and photographs, but antiques.
“Who knew there was a Gnome Bottling Company in Yarmouth?” Jeanloz asks. In fact, the company was in business during the Great Depression of the 1930s. On display are a large green grass bottle and a smaller clear bottle that may have held seltzer. And let’s not forget the gnome. Another unique item is the hands of Wellfleet’s tower clock. One hand is three-feet long, while the other is four. The hands were featured in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” in 1953 as they were a part of the only town clock that struck ship’s time.
If you think the exhibit might be a bit dry, think again. The well-done exhibit ranges from the low- to the high-tech. A cutout of Provincetown’s long-ago town crier is set up for selfies while an interactive touch screen offers additional information on the participating historical societies. Children have not been neglected. The exhibit has a floor puzzle—a map of Cape Cod—and a fun Name My Town game with the answers under doors.
In addition, a 60-page catalog is available for sale for $22. The catalogue is also available through all participating historical societies.
The exhibit embraces history, art and culture. “It all gets wrapped up together,” Jeanloz says. “It’s pretty exciting.”
In November 2017, when the Atwood House was undergoing renovations, the contractor began finding such odd and interesting items underneath the floorboards that an archaeologist was brought in to excavate. Eventually over 4,000 artifacts were found. The most interesting of these—a boar’s skull, shards of pottery, buttons, a thimble, scissors, bottle tops and a prehistoric spearhead—are now on display in “Chatham Digs.” Also displayed are the tools of the archaeologist’s trade. An interactive question and answer wheel for children is on the wall; a display where kids can sift sand and uncover objects is also here.
The third exhibit, “The Flight of the NC-4,” commemorates the historic flight of the seaplane which arrived in Chatham’s World War I-era Naval Air Station in May 1919 for repairs. After it was repaired, the NC-4 took off for Halifax, and eventually made it to Portugal. The NC-4 was the first plane to fly across the Atlantic. The exhibit is made up of both previously-seen and new material.
“What’s really cool is the early footage,” Jeanloz says. A black and white film shows shots taken at the air station in 1919. Also here is a diorama showing the layout of the Naval Air Station, which was in the neighborhood now called Eastward Point, at the end of Fox Hill Road.
And finally, in the Old Atwood House is a new display called “The Unmentionables”—ladies fancy undergarments. Also here is a display of purses, fans and binoculars that illustrates how wealth was coming into the town with the China Trade.
Also on display are the “Double Take” photography exhibit, the “Lifesaving and Pendleton Rescue” exhibit, the Joseph C. Lincoln Room, the Mural Barn and the Old Atwood House. The museum shop is open for business during regular hours.
Admission to the Atwood House and Museum at 347 Stage Harbor Rd. is free for members; $10 for adults, $5 for children, and free for children under seven. The museum opens this weekend, May 24 and 25, from 1 to 5 p.m. Regular hours for May and June are Tuesday through Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m. In July and August the museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit

Atwood House and Museum
347 Stage Harbor Rd., Chatham
Opening weekend
May 24 and 25, 1 to 5 p.m.