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A House with History

A House with History , Winter 2016 Cape Cod Home |

Portraits of Brewster shipmasters and their families adorn the walls above the staircase.

The home’s interior reads like a palimpsest, with reminders of the past everywhere. The staircase once used by the servants testifies to centuries of footfall with the smooth bowled dips in the center of each tread. Remnants of stenciling applied during the Victorian era to doors and walls shadow forth. The fact that Captain Cobb and his wife were up on the new technologies of their time is evident in the home’s Rumford fireplaces, with their shallow boxes and angled sides effectively moving the heat outward. The “family parlor” has a Franklin-style fireplace, also designed to be more efficient, and the master bedroom door still shows signs of a faux grain painted to make the wood appear more expensive.

Some aspects of the recent past were erased during renovations, including the French doors and windows Chapin had added to the keeping room in the 1990s. Gunning is quick to note, “We didn’t change anything that hadn’t been changed already.” Today visitors enter through that keeping room, where in addition to the gift shop they can see the original beehive oven. The keeping room’s one original window served as the model for the replicas, made by Boston Sash and Millwork using restoration glass.

The “best parlor,” so called because of its fancy dentil and reed moldings, is now the shipmaster’s room, paying tribute to 19th-century seafaring. Among the items displayed are an exploding whaling harpoon, three sea captains’ portable desks, charting tools, and a ship’s medicine cabinet with such cures as spirits of hartshorn and Turkey rhubarb. Among the oil paintings on the walls are portraits of Captain Cobb’s son Elijah and his wife, Caroline. Gunning shares a story about one of the room’s artifacts: An early museum visitor, on seeing the painted sea chest against the wall, remarked, “I know that chest. It used to be my grandparents’ wood box.”

In the less formal “family parlor” resides the artifact that historical society curator Leslie Aberle says may be her favorite: an 1803 block desk where the paperwork to officially separate Brewster and Harwich was signed. “It is one of our most unique items,” says Aberle, “and it is in excellent condition.”

She is also proud of the textiles in the upstairs master bedroom, where among the items on display is an evening gown from 1828, a late-19th-century wedding dress, and a tea dress. Another bedroom is now home to more recent Brewster artifacts, including a bank of post office boxes and a barber’s shop pole and implements.

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