Too often in the past, Chatham has passed up opportunities to preserve its past. The most notable instance is the passing up of the offer to acquire the CG36500, the motor lifeboat piloted by Bernie Webber and his crew to rescue 32 men from the sinking tanker Pendleton on Feb. 18, 1952. Fortunately, the Orleans Historical Society (now the Centers for Culture and History in Orleans) stepped in and saved the vessel, now a much-loved historical artifact that's listed on the National Historic Register.
Now Chatham has the chance to save another historical asset, one associated with the CG36500. Twice before town officials rejected acquisition of the former Stage Harbor Coast Guard boathouse, which once sheltered the Gold Medal lifeboat; it could have been purchased for $1 after it was decommissioned in the 1970s, and could have been saved for the cost of relocating it in 2009. Fortunately it was not demolished; it went to Quincy, then to Hull, and last week back to Quincy, where, thanks to the dogged work of resident David Doherty and his Stage Harbor Boathouse Preservation group, it waits for town officials to determine its future.
Recently, select board members expressed misgivings about restoring the boathouse to house a new shellfish upwelling system at 90 Bridge St. Their concerns, however, are outweighed by the cultural and historical benefit of returning the boathouse to Chatham. We believe an upweller is a good fit and would return the structure to the shores of Stage Harbor, but the details of that proposal should not get in the way of preserving the boathouse – somewhere in Chatham. Doherty's group plans to raise private funds as well as seek community preservation funds to cover the cost of returning the structure to town and restoring it. With more than $1 million in community preservation revenue available, it's a no-brainer to tap that source and fits well with the historical preservation aspect of the program.
Other communities have preserved similar former Coast Guard boathouses. Doing show would demonstrate the town's commitment to its historical heritage, which Chatham has been losing one old house at a time. Bringing the boathouse back to town, restoring it and putting it to functional use would preserve and honor the past while maintaining its ties to our maritime heritage. We urge the select board to work with the private group to make that happen.