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The Cape is more than just a spit of land… it’s also a home

The Governor Thomas Prence House, built in 1646 in Eastham. 
Photo from “The Evolution of the Cape Cod House” by Arthur P. Richmond. Courtesy of Schiffer Publishing, used with permission.

Jeanloz and her board of trustees recently received a Community Preservation Act grant to shore up the foundation of the Atwood House. It appeared to be the first work ever done on the foundation, she says. “The joists were literally sitting in sandy soil. Under the wainscoting was wallpaper that is more than 100 years old.” An exhibit, “Chatham Digs,” which will run from May 24 through Memorial Day Weekend, will show excavated items, including a “flake” (a prehistoric spear) and earthenware. 

Jeanloz and her husband, Bob Zaremba, own Maps of Antiquity in Chatham, which is housed in a 1780 Cape home. Zaremba has meticulously researched the history of the house. The couple have discussed hiring a dendrologist to officially date their house. “It was likely a half Cape,” says Zaremba, who is a volunteer historian at the Atwood House & Museum. One addition turned the house into a full Cape. A second addition in 1840 added more rooms and a back wing. “It was a working farm at one time, and housed businesses, including a tearoom,” he says.    

The 1741 Swift-Daley House in Eastham is currently open to the public in the summer. It features classic characteristics of a Cape house—a steep gabled roof, low first floor height and a center chimney.
Photo from “The Evolution of the Cape Cod House” by Arthur P. Richmond. Courtesy of Schiffer Publishing, used with permission.

“As families grew, got a little more successful, houses grew,” Zaremba adds. “Some families put on additions for selling products or eggs out of their house. They were reshaping their homes to help them make a living.” 

It’s easy to see these historic Cape-style houses that surround us by driving through our area’s historic districts. Richmond’s book points out many of them, and some town governments and libraries offer guides to historic houses. One of the homes of particular interest to Richmond is across from street from the Cotuit Library on Main Street in the village. The home, now painted red, was built originally in Harwich as a half Cape, and was towed across the Cape along the King’s Highway (Route 6A) to what is now Route 149 and then south to its location in Cotuit. Through the years, it was enlarged to a full Cape.

The Atwood House, the oldest house in Chatham. Built c. 1752 and unique for its gambrel roof, it is currently operated as a museum by the Chatham Historical Society. 
Photo from “The Evolution of the Cape Cod House” by Arthur P. Richmond. Courtesy of Schiffer Publishing, used with permission.

For a driving tour, Richmond suggests starting on Route 6A in Sandwich and driving east to Brewster (Exit 12). Many of the houses you’ll see are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Richmond understands that there are more than 2,000 18th-century and earlier Cape-style homes on the Cape.  

“They’re all charming,” Richmond says of the distinctly Cape-styled houses. “They have a flavor, a history. They are quintessential Cape Cod.”

Arthur Richmond will be giving a talk on the Cape house at the Eastham Historical Society’s Schoolhouse Museum, 25 Schoolhouse Road, on Thursday, June 27 at 7 p.m.

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