The Living Past
The Osterville Historical Museum’s Cammett House enshrines the life of Cape Cod villagers centuries ago.
At first glance, the house at 155 West Bay Road looks like just another building in Osterville nestled off of the village’s quiet, shaded town center. But beyond its picket fence, behind its crimson front door, and underneath its classic Cape-grey shingles, the Cammett House reveals its true nature as a one-of-a-kind architectural wonder that has survived decades of change and development. Those who take the time to look beyond the house’s modest façade will find themselves taking a step way back in time.
The Cammett House became part of the Osterville Historical Museum’s educational compound 30 years ago when it was saved from demolition. Characterized by unique “one-room-deep” architecture—a narrow foundation, measuring one 16 ½-foot beam from front to back that is native to the Cape, yet rare to find in its original form—the house serves as the perfect emblem of historical Osterville’s humble beginnings. Cathy Wright, the museum’s curator, says, “The things from history that get saved are the things that represent power and wealth because they tend to be more durable and appreciated. It is wonderful to have an example of how most people lived.”
The Cammett House, a petite, unadorned, quaint structure has been traced back to the house’s first known residents, John and Eliza Cammett and their son David, who occupied the home during the early to mid-1800s. The home offered a simple lifestyle for the fisherman’s family. In the poor farmer’s village Osterville once was, the residents were rarely sea captains or wealthy merchants. More often than not, they were ordinary families making a quiet living off of the coastal trade.
The house stayed in the Cammett family for three generations, then was home to a litany of village families for another century or so. During that time plumbing, electricity, fireplace mantles, modern day appliances, and a kitchen ell were all added to the home to make it livable through the 20th century, but the core construction and architectural character of the “one-room-deep” house fortunately remained intact and visible.
As it stands today, Cammett House is a four-room structure sitting atop the museum’s two-acre lot overlooking the golf course greens of the Wianno Fairways, which were once rolling hills of farmland. One step inside and visitors slowly move away from Osterville’s upscale surroundings, and seaside village life from long ago floods back from the past. The main entry way is situated behind a colonial herb garden, where Mrs. Cammett once harvested her lavender, thyme, and rosemary for meals and medicines. Through the doorway is the kitchen ell, an 1840’s addition, complete with a beehive oven and a cool, underground, whitewashed root cellar, where the family would store their herbs, spices, and butters. To the left is the main, original living room with low ceilings, which retained the heat from a central fireplace. In this room, the Cammett family would have spent the entirety of their days cooking, spinning cloth, eating, playing, and washing, and then at night they would retire to the lofted sleeping area up above. Adjacent to the main living area is a former parlor, a sitting area with two adjacent bedrooms, which were added years after the Cammetts lived in the house.
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