Historic Boathouse Saved From Demolition – For Now

By: Tim Wood

The former Stage Harbor Coast Guard boathouse passes underneath the Fore River Bridge on its way from Hull to the Quincy shipyard of Jay Cashman, Inc. DAVID DOHERTY PHOTO

CHATHAM – Last Friday, the historic Stage Harbor Coast Guard boathouse was moved off the shore in Hull, where it was scheduled for demolition, and is now safely ensconced at a Quincy shipyard. At least for the time being.

Even though selectmen last week declined to commit to accepting the boathouse as a gift to the town, resident David Doherty went ahead and, working with contractor Jay Cashman, had the structure moved by barge across Hull Harbor and into the Fore River to Cashman's shipyard. According to Doherty, Cashman, a part-time Chatham resident, has agreed to store the boathouse for up to six months at no cost.

“Obviously I was thrilled,” said Doherty, who has been working with several other residents, collectively known as Stage Harbor Boathouse Preservation, Inc., for months, but especially over the past three weeks, to save the 83-year-old building. “It should have been demolished last Monday.”

Steps will be taken to do secure the boathouse – which once sheltered the famous CG36500 motor lifeboat – and make some minor repairs to the roof to prevent further leaking, Doherty said.

What happens to the boathouse after that remains uncertain. Engineers working on plans for a new building to house the town's shellfish upwelling system at 90 Bridge St. have looked at the building and determined it was structurally sound and could house the upwelling system. But it would have to be transported back to Chatham and renovated, which was estimated to cost about $1 million. Much of that is getting the building from Quincy to Chatham; actually restoring it and outfitting it for an upweller was estimated to cost about $440,000, only $40,000 more than a new building for the upweller.

But selectmen weren't convinced that the upweller was the right use for the boathouse or whether the town should put its resources behind saving the structure. They questioned the costs associated with transporting and restoring the building as well as future maintenance for the old structure.

“I find it hard to accept the donation without knowing those costs,” said Selectman Jeff Dykens.

Doherty and his group are working to help determine the costs as well as find private funding sources. They met this week to discuss submitting an application for community preservation funds and are working with the California-based national nonprofit the Giving Back Fund to set up a way to accept private donations. He said the group continues to work on a strategy for getting the boathouse back to town and finding a site for it, and will be meeting with the board of selectmen again on Jan. 26.

But saving the structure was clearly a win. For the past three weeks, Doherty worked with Chatham Town Manager Jill Goldsmith and Hull Town Manager Philip E. Lemnios to hold off the demolition after a Plymouth Superior Court judge ordered the structure removed by Jan. 1. The court action was the result of zoning and conservation violations the town alleged occurred when Michael McDevitt placed the boathouse on the shore of his Acushnet Marine property about 18 months ago without the proper permits.

Built on the shore of Stage Island in 1937, the boathouse and its 300-foot pier were used to dock, shelter and maintain the Chatham Coast Guard's rescue boats until the 1970s, when it was decommissioned. At the time the town declined to buy the property and structure for $1; town officials also took no action to save the structure in 2009, when a new home was slated for the property. Doherty worked with Cashman to move the building to Quincy, where it sat until 2019 when it was moved to Hull.

Doherty said he arrived in Hull last Friday just before dawn and the boathouse had already been lifted off the shore and onto the crane barge Strong Island. “It was a relief” to see it heading out into the harbor toward Quincy, he said.

“There's much more work to do,” he added, chiefly securing a new location in Chatham and raising the funds to cover transportation costs. While returning the boathouse to the shore of Stage Harbor would be ideal, the group is open to other locations as well. Their main concern is saving the historic structure; several people noted at last week's board of selectmen's meeting that Chatham lost other Coast Guard-related historical artifacts – the Old Harbor Lifesaving Station was moved to Provincetown in the 1970s; and the CG36500, used in the rescue of the crew of the Pendleton in 1952, is owned by the Centers for Culture and History in Orleans and kept in that town.

Richard Ryder, one of the CG36500's coxswains, said returning the boathouse to Chatham raises the possibility of reuniting the structure and the rescue boat it once sheltered. He put the question to members of the board of the Centers for Culture and History in Orleans, on which he serves.

“Wouldn't it be great if these two iconic man-made things could be housed together, as they once were?” Ryder wrote in an email.