The Harwich Exchange -it was a community cornerstone
Later that year, the Exchange’s future came to a vote. Asked to decide between maintaining the historic building or purchasing the 259-acre Bell’s Neck Conservation Lands around the Herring River, Harwich residents opted for the latter.
Work to demolish the building began in November 1964, and the cupola was toppled on November 17. Onlookers came from far and wide to bear witness to the occasion, and to buy lumber and other building materials from the work site. “I got lumber to build my first tree house from it,” Bob Doane recalls. “The workers charged people to take stuff. They felt bad charging kids to take stuff, so they gave it to us.” In her book, Virginia Doane summarizes the effort required to bring down the burly building. “Nearly two months and $16,800 were needed,” she wrote, “to undo $40,000 worth of Victorian artistry.”
Today, more than 50 years since its demolition, some reflect on the Exchange with regret the building was not preserved. “Today, I think people would have made every effort to save it,” says Evelyn Tobey. The loss of the building “was disappointing to me,” adds Meservey. “I go through there today, and I miss it. I had a lot of good memories there.”
Passing through Harwich Center, there is little hint of a vast, four-story community center that once brimmed with commerce and activity, theater and ceremony. Visitors can, however, observe a quiet remembrance of the Exchange in a small park next to Snow’s Home & Garden where the building once stood. There is no label or plaque, but a large stone stands on a pedestal. Sculpted into the ridgeline is a replica of the building, in relief, its edges and angles—even its name—softened by the hands of time.
Lisa Goodrich is a freelance writer, technical editor, and poet who lives in Brewster.
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