Compromise Reached To Save Historic Stage Harbor Home

By: Tim Wood

In this undated photo probably from around the turn of the century, the house known as Starboard Light can be see at center, at the bend in Champlain Road. MASSACHUSETTS HISTORICAL COMMISSION PHOTO

CHATHAM – It's not yet set in stone, but it's very likely that a compromise will result in the historic home known as “Starboard Light” remaining on the shores of Stage Harbor, where it's served as a landmark for the past 150 or so years.

Members of the historical commission reached a consensus last Tuesday on a plan proposed by prospective property purchaser Robert Moss to move the antique house, also known as the Captain Fred Eldredge house, to the east side of the property, but keep it close to the roadway as it is now. Moss plans to build a new structure on the west side of the property which would be attached to the existing house as well as several additions in the rear.

Moss said he plans to restore the house and structurally reinforce it from the inside. The current windows and roof are in poor condition and will be replicated in a historically accurate manner, he said.

In July the commission imposed a two-year demolition delay on the house, which came to prominence in the documentary film “Starboard Light,” about the Fitzhugh family's agonizing decision to sell the summer home. Moss would like the commission to lift the delay and will return with a formal request next month; last Tuesday's presentation was meant as a preliminary discussion to gauge the group's support for his latest plan.

While the commission was intent on saving the three-quarter cape at 154 Champlain Rd.—which may have been built on Nantucket as early as 1800 and floated across to its current location around 1860—just as big a concern was retaining the appearance of the curve in Champlain Road, both from the street and the water. A previous plan had the house farther back on the lot and facing a different direction.

“That was my biggest concern, being able to see it” from the water, said commission member Jane Moffett.

While the proposal is a compromise, it succeeds in saving both the house and the views, said chairman Frank Messina.

“The historic house would be predominant when you come up the road,” he said.

Moss said he plans to move the house to a different place on the lot because its current position provides the best view. “The only reason we're interested in the lot is the view,” he said. He plans to renovate Starboard Light into two bedrooms. Originally he wanted to lower the house, but the Cape Cod Commission ruled that it must comply with flood elevations, so the new foundation will be about four inches higher than the present height.

Current owner Robert Mahoney, who owns a house behind Starboard Light, bought the property from the Fitzhugh family to prevent a larger house from being built there and interfering with his view. He spent several years trying to find a buyer who would either adhere to his restrictions or move the old house. Last summer he applied for a demolition permit, which triggered the demolition delay order by the commission. Several people were interested in moving the house, but Moss was the only who was willing to keep it on its original site.

Moss has a purchase and sales agreement with Mahoney that is contingent on obtaining the permits to carry out his plans, he told the commission.

A demolition delay on structures to the rear of the house, which were determined to be not historically significant, expires in January.

Moss' formal application to lift the demolition delay will have more details about the new construction as well as the restoration of Starboard Light. One change he spoke of last week concerned several commissioners. The house has three chimneys, and Moss said trying to move them with the house would be more expensive and likely be unsuccessful. He said he has no interest in restoring the chimneys or fireplaces, since the house will be used seasonally.

“We have no use for fireplaces in the summer,” he said.

If the demolition delay is lifted, work on the project will likely start in March, Moss said.