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The Foundation of Three Centuries

To experience the 300 years that transformed Chatham from farming village to vacation destination, just explore its historic buildings

Photo Courtesy of the Chatham Historical Society

Chatham Railway Museum

After more than 20 years of town meetings, committee findings, and citizen support, the first passenger train pulled into Chatham in November of 1887. Only 50 years later, the last train left the station on July 5, 1937. The rails were lifted within a year and the station fell into disrepair. Just as Chatham was becoming an attractive destination, the railway became an unnecessary commodity.

With the arrival of the rails, early tourists made their way into the town. During its peak year in 1891, the rail carried over 22,000 passengers and many tons of freight and mail. But with the introduction and abundance of automobiles by the 1920s, the popularity of the railway began to decline.

Amidst the downturn, tragedy struck the railway and community in 1921. Robert Hardy, whose father Josiah was the stationmaster at the time, recalls the incident. According to the March 29, 1987, edition of the Cape Cod Times, “I was a real tot when they had an accident between the station and White Pond. The engine went off the tracks and my father went down there. He told me the engineer was pinned in the wreckage. When they pried it apart, he just died right then and there.”

The only reminder of 50 years of railway traffic in Chatham is the station, standing in its original location on Depot Road. After years of neglect, the station’s owners, Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Cox of Cleveland, Ohio, donated the station and the accompanying land to the town in 1959. One year later, the Chatham Railroad Museum was open to the public. Featuring artifacts like the original groundbreaking shovel, original Chatham/Harwich schedules, an antique ticket machines, models, and a caboose once used by the New York Central System, the building is Chatham’s last tie to the golden age of the railroad.

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