This week I had the pleasure of staying with Marissa and her charming family out on Cape Cod. Coming from a place where written history starts largely in the mid-1800s, it’s always a treat to find places that have recorded history more than 200 years earlier. And I always love learning new things about history. So I was delighted when Marissa suggested a visit to the Chatham Historical Society museum.
The Historical Society was originally chartered in 1923 by the Chatham Ladies Reading Club (see, reading + history is a good thing). The ladies of the club were quite concerned that their heritage was going to antique dealers or decay. They soon raised money to purchase the oldest surviving house in Chatham, the former home of a sea captain named Joseph Atwood, which was built in 1752. The house was largely intact (as can be seen above in an earlier photo) and has been lovingly cared for by the Society ever since.
Alas, photographs are not allowed in the house, but I stumbled upon a set online that were taken before the full restoration. Here’s a few things I learned.
This is the kitchen of the house, with stairs leading up to the master bedchamber and sleeping loft for the children. Can you see the little panel in the second riser up? It could slide to the left to reveal a little hole that led down into the space below the house. The family used it to allow the cat to get out and do its duty during cold winter months. Yes, it's an 18th century pet door!
Here is the parlor, where guests would have been received. The door farthest to the left leads to a small entryway. You can just see on the one next to it that the door is divided in half. Behind it lies a closet with a glass front. It seems that once a year the tax collector came to look over your house and estimated what you owed based on what you owned. However, he was not allowed to open any doors. So, the clever family would safely tuck away its most precious belongings behind the closed wooden door, then open the door to display their worldly goods on other occasions.
This rocking bench (picture copyright the Chatham Historical Society) currently graces a wall of the kitchen. You can see the little ladder that would have held a baby in place, while mother worked with her hands and rocked with her feet. When baby was asleep or grown, the ladder could be pulled up to allow more than one adult to sit on the rocker. Ingenious!
So now, armed with more knowledge and appreciation of what once was, I am hard at work on new projects. Come back next week to learn more about one such project, when we launch Frontier Engagement on Nineteenteen.