Museums in Chatham, Cape Cod
Atwood House & Museum
Owned and operated by the Chatham Historical Society, the Atwood House & Museum is located at 347 Stage Harbor Road. The original part of the museum is a house built in the 1750’s by sea Captain Joseph Atwood when he was a subject of George II of England. Because the old house was occupied by the Atwood family until 1923, then acquired by the Historical Society in 1925, it has remained unchanged since the time it was built. The house therefore provides an excellent view into the way of life during the 18th and 19th centuries in New England.
Over time, several wings were added to the original structure, with the latest expansion constructed between 2003 - 2005 to house more of the Historical Society collections. Today there are eleven spacious galleries featuring art, artifacts and decorative arts portraying life on Cape Cod since the 17th century.
New for 2018 is “Double-Take: Historical & Current Panoramic Photographs of Chatham.” The exhibition features panoramic images of various locations and landscapes taken in the early 1900s and pairs them with photographs of the same places today. Visitors can view vistas like the Iconic Twin Lights of the past next to the lighthouse today; Stage Harbor then and now; Mill Pond and more. The exhibit is curated and sponsored by the Atwood’s Archivist Jean Young and her husband, photographer Andrew Young.
Refreshed exhibits are on display in the Main Hall. “Chatham in the Military,” sponsored by The Kemper Family Foundations, looks at the lives, traditions and artifacts of Cape Codders who fought for freedom since colonial times, through the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and World War I. “Windows Into Time – Clothing & Artifacts” sponsored by the Max & Victoria Dreyfus Foundation offers snapshots of Chatham’s history from the 17th century through the early 20th century.
One highlight of the museum is the mural barn that houses the nationally known portraits of 130 townspeople painted by Alice Stallknecht between 1932 - 1945. Capturing the life and struggles of local residents during that period, a docent relates many fascinating stories about those portrayed. Another gallery is devoted to the history of fishing in the Chatham area and traces the evolution of the fishing industry on Cape Cod through objects, paintings, and photographs. Also on display is a life-sized replica of the cabin of the CG 36500, the Coast Guard lifeboat that rescued 32 crew members of the tanker Pendleton that wrecked off Monomoy during a hurricane, a rescue depicted in the Disney movie The Finest Hours. Of special interest to many are displays on cranberry growing, salt works and other trades. On the grounds is the Nickerson North Beach Camp built in 1947 that was moved, with all of the contents intact, to save it from being washed into the sea as the beach eroded, and the working lighthouse lantern room, of one of Chatham’s last twin lights, with its original Fresnel lens.
Hundreds of interesting antiques are displayed in the 17 display rooms, providing something for all art lovers, history buffs, students and friends of Chatham and Cape Cod, no matter what their age. Although a complete visit requires about two hours, those with less time can enjoy selected sections of the museum. There is also a book and gift shop, stocked with items relating to the museums’ collections.
As stewards of the region’s history and culture, the Chatham Historical Society strives to educate, inform and enlighten the public and bring enthusiasm to the Cape Cod community. The Atwood House & Museum exhibits are open from May to October. The research library and special programs including a monthly lecture series are available year round. For schedules and information, visit the museum website at www.chathamhistoricalsociety.org or call (508) 945-2493.
Caleb Nickerson Homestead
Chatham’s c. 1829 Caleb Nickerson Homestead, on the campus of the Nickerson Family Association, 1107 Orleans Road (Route 28), North Chatham, is open for tours on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June through September. Donations are accepted. Special ticketed gardening events and teas will be scheduled throughout the summer.
Experience Colonial life in the Caleb Nickerson Homestead, an antique full Cape featuring a beehive oven, period woodwork and a Colonial “dooryard” vegetable and herb garden. Stop by and see what is growing and ready to pick in Caleb’s garden.
Caleb Nickerson, a seventh generation descendant of William and Anne (Busby) Nickerson, built this house on Stage Neck Road in about1829 for his wife Priscilla (Eldredge) and their family. The house stood on a bluff overlooking the Oyster River for 174 years until, in 2003, the house journeyed by land and sea to its present location. The pristine house features three working fireplaces and a beehive oven, original iron cranes, period woodwork and random-width pine floors. The Caleb Homestead is open Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and by appointment. Also, this summer during the months of August and September, you can visit the archaeological excavation of William and Anne’s c. 1664 homestead. An archaeologist will be on hand to interpret the site of Chatham’s founders’ home from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays.
For more information visit www.nickersonassoc.com, call 508-945-6086 or email email@example.com.
Chatham's Godfrey Windmill
Chatham's Godfrey Windmill is located near Chase Park, off Shattuck place, just a short walk from the downtown Main Street. Built by Colonel Benjamin Godfrey in 1797, the Mill remains almost exactly as it was when it was grinding corn for early Chatham residents. It is a prime example of a post-Revolutionary War commercial venture that served the community for more than one-hundred years.
The Mill originally located overlooking Mill Pond was donated to the Town of Chatham by Mr. and Mrs. Stuart Crocker and moved to its present location in 1956. The Mill was restored for the 300th anniversary of the Town of Chatham in 2012. Today thousands of visitors visit the Mill during the summer season and walk in the steps of many who used the Mill to supply them with corn meal and local gossip. Learn the variety of common phrases that started at the grist mills. Throughout the season a variety of activities related to the Mill will be available for children and adults. www.chathamwindmill.com
Marconi - RCA Wireless Museum
The Marconi-RCA Wireless Museum is the museum of the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center, this year featuring the Grand Opening of the Wireless Today gallery, a major new exhibit entitled “Chatham Heard Round The World” in its Wireless History gallery, and a refreshed Antenna Field Trail gallery, all located within the Marconi-RCA National Register Historic district at 847 Orleans Road (Route 28) in North Chatham across from Ryder’s Cove.
The Wireless Today gallery offers exhibits such as “Tubes To Transistors” chronicling the technology behind the digital age, evolution of the cell phone from bulky bag phones to today’s smart phones, and a flight simulator for personal drones. Discover the surprising connection between the updated “Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) of WWII” and the “Drones” exhibits! These all join popular exhibits about locating Great White sharks via satellite and live tracking of ships at sea off Cape Cod. Smartphone-based UniGuide audio tours enhance the visitor’s experience.
The Wireless History gallery’s (literally) big new exhibit celebrates the powerful RCA radio transmitting station formerly located in South Chatham on the shores of Nantucket Sound. Today the site is the Forest Beach Conservation Area, but beginning in 1948 it hosted RCA’s most modern transmitting facility. Paired with the receiving station in North Chatham, it made Chatham Radio (call sign WCC) the largest ship-to-shore station in the United States, renowned among mariners of all nations. The exhibit’s centerpiece is one of the station’s seventeen large RCA model SSB T-3 twenty kiloWatt transmitters, refurbished to its original appearance. Visitors experience firsthand how a radio operator touching a Morse code key in Chatham could be heard by his counterparts aboard ships sailing the seven seas, and learn about the talented and skilled people who conceived, built and operated the transmitting station.
Visitors also explore the many other interactive exhibits, highlight videos of Guglielmo Marconi’s life, the role of WCC in world events, the ship-to-shore communication process with the actual shipboard radio from the hospital ship SS Hope, artifacts from important periods in WCC’s history and the opportunity to view the preserved 1914 station campus. In addition to relaying commercial and personal messages to ships, WCC communicated with pioneer aviators including Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and Howard Hughes.
Chatham Radio played a significant role in defeating the Germans during the World War II Battle of the Atlantic by intercepting Enigma-encrypted wireless messages between Germany’s headquarters and its ships at sea. “Station C” (its U.S. Navy designation) passed these intercepts on to Washington, D.C., for decoding. And as the control station for the East Coast direction-finding network, Station C directed the search for telltale radio signals that allowed enemy vessels to be located and tracked. An authentic Enigma cipher machine is displayed, and working electronic simulators allow visitors to try their hand at encryption.
The museum’s third gallery is truly “open space” and open year-round. This is the Antenna Field Trail, a winding path through the flora and fauna of Cape Cod with interpretive signs identifying and describing the station’s antennas. Some of the antennas are working scaled replicas of the originals, now actively used for communication with amateur radio operators around the world.
The museum and Museum Shop are open most weekends during the Spring and Fall, with regular hours for the 2018 Summer season beginning during Chatham History Weekend, June 15-17. A weekly Summer Speaker Series provides interpretation and context for the museum’s exhibits, and the Center offers engaging STEM classes for youth year-round. For days and hours of operation, classes, events and programs, please visit ChathamMarconi.org or call 508-945-8889.
Just east of the Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank building at 540 Main Street is the Mayo House, which is an excellent example of a traditional Cape Cod house built in 1820. This antique home serves as headquarters for the Chatham Conservation Foundation, and is used by the group for its regular meetings. The Mayo House, beautifully preserved and restored, was donated to the foundation by the Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank. It is furnished with period furniture and is open to the publicthree days a week from 1:00pm to 3:00pm during the summer months.
Chatham Railroad Museum
The Chatham Railroad Museum is located in the old Chatham Railroad Company station on Depot Road, and has parking space at the door. The building is now over 100 years old and on the original site. It served the Town for over fifty years from 1887 to 1937. In 1951, Mrs. Jacob Cox of Cleveland, Ohio and Chatham purchased the structure and land as a gift to our town. It was restored as a country depot and a museum in 1960.
The Chatham Railroad Museum opens Tuesday thru Saturday from 10:00am to 4:00pm mid-June through mid September. It is manned by an experienced group of volunteers from all Cape Cod. There have been over 100,000 visitors since the first season. It grows in size each year. The exhibits, starting with a relic of the first commercial railroad in the U.S. in 1826, include hundreds of factors of historical significance in the railroad field, plus models and objects which never fail to interest the visitors.
The 100-year old caboose of olden days, the gift of the New York Central System, has been fully restored and is open for all to enjoy the sounds of the rails. Young and old will enjoy the trip through this Home on Wheels of the railroad train crews. The diorama of the Chatham yards of about 1915 modeled in a scale of 1/8 inch to the foot is a new acquisition - a must see exhibit. Museum can be opened after season closing for groups by special arrangements. Donations are accepted. Handicapped accessible.