Simply stepping into the Atwood House transports visitors back 250 years. The gambrel-roof dwelling is a prime example of early Cape Cod architecture. The low, gray-shingled home and its small, quaint rooms look exactly as they would have when occupied. Electricity is the only modern amenity that has been installed since the home first became a museum in 1926.
Originally from Brewster, Joseph Atwood purchased 70 acres of land in Chatham stretching from Mill Pond to Cedar Swamp. After retiring from a life at sea he and his wife, Deborah, raised eight children in the home, which was originally constructed in 1752 on what is now Stage Harbor Road.
The patriarch was a prominent citizen and a shipmaster in foreign commerce. Atwood is known to have sailed as far away as Messina, Italy, where he traded lumber in exchange for oranges and other Mediterranean commodities.
The Atwood House remained with the family for another four generations. Upon Joseph’s death in 1794, the home passed from his son Sears, who raised seven children there. Many of Sears’ offspring remained in Chatham and set up homes of their own on Stage Harbor Road. Sears, a sea captain himself, would boast that he could stand in his door and have all his children hear his voice in their own homes. John, his son, would be the last year-round resident of the Atwood House.
Over the years, museum galleries have been added to the original structure. As a result of a major expansion and renovation in 2005, there are now eight galleries with permanent exhibits, plus a large special exhibit gallery that doubles as a meeting room.
As Chatham continues to change, its historical structures stand as homage to the town’s past identities. Long after this year’s tercentennial celebrations have past, the pride the community takes in its history will be on display for all to see.
Matt Nilsson is a freelance writer for Cape Cod Life Publications.
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