South Chatham National Historic District Meeting Slated

By: Tim Wood

This map shows properties included in the proposed South Chatham National Register District.

CHATHAM – The process of nominating South Chatham to the National Register of Historic Places, in the pipeline for the past two years, will move forward next month with an informational meeting for all property owners in the proposed historic district.

The session will be held at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 3, at the annex on George Ryder Road.

Sponsored by the historical commission and the South Chatham Village Association, the meeting will address the nomination process and the impact a National Historic District designation would have on properties. Eric Dray, the commission's preservation consultant, and Sarah Korjeff, a preservation planner with the Cape Cod Commission, have been invited to provide background and respond to questions.

The district includes buildings 75 years or older deemed to be contributing structures. According to Historical Commission Chairman Frank Messina, there are about 130 buildings in the proposed district, about 100 of which are contributing historical structures. The proposed district runs along Main Street (Route 28) from the Harwich town line east to Cockle Cove Road, including properties on both sides of the road. It also includes properties south of Main Street along Pleasant Street to Deep Hole Road and along Forest Beach Road to 102 Forest Beach Rd.

The South Chatham Village Association has twice voted in favor of proceeding with the nomination, most recently at its annual meeting earlier this month, according to President Chad Yates.

A National Historic District designation would recognize the integrity and historical significance of the South Chatham village, as an “iconic and special place in Chatham,” said Messina. The neighborhood is the only one in town, other than downtown and Old Village, that “is characterized by a tightly knit mix of residential, commercial and institutional buildings,” according to a notification about the meeting sent to property owners.

Development of the area dates from the mid-18th century and was initial focused on maritime activities, including fishing and salt making. It was officially designated the village of South Chatham in 1862 when a post office opened, and by the late 19th century it was the town's second largest village.

The area includes traditional Cape Cod cottages, Greek Revival style homes as well as examples of Italianate and Queen Anne architectural styles. According to an August 2017 letter from Betsy Friedberg, National Register Director for the Massachusetts Historical Commission MHC), the proposed district “retains integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association,” meeting the criteria for National Register District listing.

Historic district designation is mostly an “honorarium” recognizing the historical importance of South Chatham, Messina said, and would have little impact on individual homeowners. National Register status “places no constraints on what owners may do with their property when using private funding” above and beyond local or regional regulations already in place, according to an informational sheet from the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

There are local and regional constraints that apply to the district. Changes to more than 25 percent of a contributing structure, if determined by the historical commission to impact historical integrity, could be referred to the Cape Cod Commission. The town's historical commission would also continue to impose delays on historic structures proposed for demolition.

Structures along Route 28 within the proposed South Chatham National Historic District are also under the jurisdiction of the town's historic business district commission, Messina said, which has the authority to approved or deny exterior changes to buildings.

Business and other income-producing properties within the district, including rentals, could obtain federal tax credits for renovations that adhere to the Department of the Interior's historic restoration guidelines, Messina added.

“That's a significant positive, I think,” he said. After the Oct. 3 session, the commission will decide if a formal nomination will be submitted to MHC.

After being submitted to the state historical commission, the nomination will be reviewed and a local informational meeting will be held. Notification letters will be sent to all property owners informing them of their right to object to the nomination. If a majority is in favor of the nomination, it will be presented to the state review board of the Massachusetts Historical Commission for a vote. If favorable, it will be forwarded to the National Park Service, which administers the National Register program.

Chatham has two other National Register Districts: The Old Village and the Marconi-RCA campus.