A Forgotten Bit Of History On The Monomoy Theatre Property

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Local History

The cottage at 70 Depot Rd. began its life as an ice cream parlor on North Beach. It is slated to be removed according to plans for redevelopment of the Monomoy Theatre property. TIM WOOD PHOTO 

CHATHAM – A lot of attention is being focused lately on the preservation of the Monomoy Theatre building and the adjacent Washington Taylor House. There are several other old buildings on the property, though most are not particularly historic. With one exception.

At the rear of the property — actually on a separate lot facing Depot Road — is a tiny, 645-square-foot three-quarter Cape that occupies a very sweet spot in the town's history.

Toward the end of the 19th century, Calvin D. Hammond and Alfred Harding operated an ice cream parlor and chowder kitchen, where they sold their home-made “Cincinnati Ice Cream,” said to be the best in town. Accounts differs as to whether the duo operated their “Atlantic Saloon” near the Chatham Lighthouse first, and later moved it to North Beach, or the outer beach ice cream parlor came first. In any case, sometime between 1881 and 1900 this building, painted red and white, was located on North Beach, where customers rowed across the then-placid waters for a saucer of the sweet treat.

In a 2016 “At the Atwood House” column in The Chronicle, Spencer Grey referred to an 1896 poster advertising the “16th Annual Opening of Harding's Seaside Pavilion,” listing nuts, dates, figs, cigars, tobacco, confectionary and “sum'r drinks” for sale along with ice cream, which was discounted to 10 cents a plate from the usual 15 cents for opening day.

In the early 1900s Hammond moved the ice cream parlor to land on Silverleaf Avenue, where he lived, according to the Chatham Historical Commission's historic inventory form for the building. Hammond continued to sell ice cream and penny candy from the small shop until 1920. After becoming ill, Hammond killed himself; accounts differ on how, but there is agreement that he strategically placed a basin so no blood would spill on the floor out of concern for his wife Hannah, who was a fussy housekeeper.

Hannah did not continue the ice cream business, and when she died in 1936, the building was purchased and moved to Little Beach, where it was one of the earliest of the Horne Cottages. A neighboring property owner who wanted to enlarge her yard sold the cottage to George Robie, according to the inventory form, who moved it to Barcliff Avenue. It's uncertain when, but according to the form, Robie's property was purchased by a summer resident named Mr. McLean, who sold it to his uncle, Miles Foster, who moved it to Depot Road and converted it to a summer cottage for his daughter.

Elizabeth Baker, who owned the Monomoy Theatre, purchased the property in the 1980s. Until the theater closed in 2019, the unheated building was used to house guest artists.

Simple in its construction and design, the well-traveled cottage “illustrates the longevity of the traditional regional dwelling form and its adaptation for other purposes,” the historical inventory form concludes.

Although it is in poor condition, could another move be in the building's future? Preliminary plans posted by new owner Alexandra Properties show a driveway where the cottage is currently to provide access to condominiums proposed for the rear of the Monomoy Theatre property. Because it is in a commercial district and undoubtedly meets the definition of a historically significant building, its fate — along with that of all of the other buildings on the Monomoy Theatre property — will be up to the town's historic business district commission.