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Village LIFE: Charming Chatham

Where heritage meets modern living

Lori Whalen

Perhaps no other village ties together modern chic and quintessential classic Cape Cod quite like Chatham. It still maintains its image as a hardworking fishing village while also laying claim to luxurious resorts and high-end shops on its picturesque Main Street. It is miles of pristine beaches and acres of fine golf courses. It is history and it is the future. When one asks where to go to feel all of what Cape Cod was in the “good old days” while also enjoying the luxuries the 21st century provides, there can only be one answer: Chatham.  

The town of Chatham includes smaller villages of North Chatham, South Chatham and West Chatham, bordered on the west and north by the town of Harwich, the south by Nantucket Sound, and the east by the Atlantic Ocean. It is the link to the sea that has defined Chatham and its residents for centuries. Whether it’s the fleet of fishing boats passing by Chatham Lighthouse at sunrise, or the crowds of sunbathers finding their own slice of paradise at popular beaches such as Harding’s Beach, Lighthouse Beach, Ridgevale Beach or Forest Street Beach, Chatham and the ocean are forever connected. 

Chatham’s slow evolution from a fishing village to seaside resort began at the end of the 19th century with the creation of the Cape’s first resort hotel. The concept of a resort hotel was brought to the forefront in 1889 by the Chatham Real Estate Trust, led by the future owner of Jordan Marsh, Eben Dyer Jordan, and Edward Taft, president of the New York & Boston Dispatch Express Company. The 30,000-square-foot appropriately named Hotel Chatham would open in July 1890 to much fanfare. Its first few seasons were booming with amenities like a large horse stable, bowling alley, an ice house, and bath houses, routinely filling the hotel to capacity. However, the Panic of 1893, coupled with the seclusion of the hotel that made it difficult to reach in the days before automobiles, spelled a premature end for Hotel Chatham. It sat in limbo for years before being torn down in 1910. In 1922 the grounds upon which the Cape’s first luxury resort sat would be redeveloped as the Eastward Ho Country Club, which is still in operation today.  

Chatham’s second attempt at a luxury resort would achieve much greater success. In 1914 Chatham Bars Inn would open on the beautiful Shore Road facing the Atlantic Ocean. From its roots as a semi-private hunting lodge for the wealthy elite of Boston, to the $100 million renovation by current owners Capital Properties upon purchasing the hotel in 2006, Chatham Bars Inn has seen as much change in its beloved hometown during its century in existence as it has inside its own walls.

Chatham as a whole has seen its coastline ravaged by erosion in some spots. This includes the barrier beach now known as North Beach Island—it was for decades a community of cottages accessible via oversand travel coming down from the north through Orleans. In January 1987 a Nor’easter tore through the barrier beach directly in front of Chatham Lighthouse, exposing the immediate coast to the ravages of the Atlantic Ocean. Twenty years later, in April 2007, another break occurred, this time south of the lighthouse, transforming North Beach into the island it is today.  Though the state of Chatham’s coastline might be in a constant state of flux, one can count on some things in this village to remain virtually the same.

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