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A House with History

A House with History , Winter 2016 Cape Cod Home |

A silk formal evening gown (c. 1828), silk moire wedding dress (c. 1888), and a cotton tea dress are among the many finds in the upstairs master bedroom—referred to as the “west chamber”—of the Captain Elijah Cobb House.

Cobb first went to sea as a young teen to regain his health after breaking a “vessel in my stomack,” [sic] he writes, and as a way to support himself after his widowed mother, left with six children under the age of 10, could no longer care for him. His chapters include such adventures as getting caught up in the French Revolution when the French confiscated his cargo and his paperwork. He obtained a private audience with Maximilien Robespierre, who offered his help and who would be among the 1,000 people Cobb claimed to have seen beheaded by the guillotine.

During the War of 1812, Cobb was seized at sea and held captive in Canada. Upon his return to his Brewster sanctuary, he writes, “The doors flew open, and the greetings of affection & consanguinity multiplied upon me rapidly. Thus in a moment, I was transported to the greatest earthly bliss a man can have, viz to the enjoyment of the happy family circil.” [sic]

The home Cobb had built remained in his family’s hands for 141 years. In 1941, when his great-granddaughter Caroline Atherton Dugan, known as Caro, died on her 88th birthday, the home passed to Josephine Duveneck, once one of the children Dugan had taken care of when she was a governess in Boston. In her autobiography, Duveneck recounts that her husband, Frank, had “made it possible for her [Caro] to retain the property,” explaining Dugan’s decision to will it to Duveneck. Artist Howard Gibbs owned the home from 1945 to 1986. In the 1990s, it ended up in the possession of Frances Chapin, who began renovating and restoring the neglected house. She added a back porch and French doors and windows to the keeping room. She also removed a dilapidated ell that had been added in the mid-1800s. Much to everyone’s surprise, preserved food found in the cellar beneath the ell was still edible, a museum brochure notes.

In 2013, the Brewster Historical Society, then nearly 50 years old, was tired of setting up in borrowed spaces like the old town hall. When members saw that the Cobb house was for sale, “We knew it would be great,” says Sally Gunning, the society’s vice president and author of several historical novels, three of which take place in Satucket, a town fashioned after Brewster, where Gunning traces her family back three centuries.

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