Interest Builds In Preserving West Harwich Schoolhouse

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Historic preservation

The town is ready to release a request for proposals for the sale of the historic West Harwich Schoolhouse. There is interest among West Harwich residents in preserving the structure, built in 1871. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH — The town hopes to sell the historic West Harwich Schoolhouse at 5 Bells Neck Rd., which has been vacant for approximately 20 years.

In May town meeting voters approved the sale of the building, which could include conditions that require preservation of the 1871 structure.

Town Administrator Joseph Powers told selectmen last week that a request for proposals for the sale of the building is ready to be advertised.

“We are thrilled to see this happening,” said Dr. J. Duncan Berry, chairman of the planning board and one of the prime movers in establishing Captains' Row, a group of residents dedicated to preserving the historic captains’ homes along Route 28 in West Harwich.

“We have a group of people who have pledged a significant amount of money” toward preservation of the building, Berry said. The thought, Berry said, is to create a civic center in the old school to highlight the long history of the village.

Berry said the heart of the village was where Belmont Road and Depot Street intersect Route 28. The schoolhouse, a post office, a religious institution, a gas station and Perkin’s store, where people gathered, were located there.

“We’d like to bring the village back to life,” Berry said. “We want to make sure we don’t lose an integral part of the village.”

The Harwich Historical Society has a lot of historical records relating to West Harwich and the schoolhouse, including documentation of the students who attended the school, he said. The village story is really an American history lesson dating back to the 1630s, he said.

The goal of Captains’ Row is to preserve the historic character of more that 20 homes built by sea captains in the 19th century along Route 28 from the Herring River to the Dennis town line. Last September town meeting approved the West Harwich Special District after the Cape Cod Commission put in place a District of Critical Planning Concern along the corridor, prompted by a plan to tear down the 1878 Captain George Winchell Baker House and develop a retail outlet, potentially a “dollar store” type business. The neighbors came together to defeat the proposal.

Residents of the area established Historic West Harwich Schoolhouse, Inc. a non-profit corporation with Sally Urbano serving as registered agent. The goal of the non-profit is to raise money specifically for the West Harwich Schoolhouse, she said.

“Five Bells Neck Road is part of our history. That building needs some love and care,” Selectman Donald Howell said last week.

Voters in the annual town meeting in May authorized selectmen to convey the property “on such terms and conditions and for such consideration and purposes as the board deems in the best interest of the town, which may include reserving or obtaining a historic preservation restriction on said property.”

The historic structure has suffered weather damage due to a leaky roof in recent years. The town’s maintenance division has done emergency repairs to the roof, and town meeting in May also approved $50,000 for further repairs to preserve the structure should the town receive no responses to the RFP.