Atwood House Museum
At the Atwood House Museum, visitors can learn about eighteenth-century Chatham by exploring the historic home of a local sea captain. The home, which dates back to 1752, features furniture, documents, and other artifacts from eighteenth-century Cape Cod. The museum is a fascinating look at one of Chatham’s most important historical periods.
The Atwood House Museum was once the property of Captain Joseph Atwood, a wealthy sea captain involved in trans-Atlantic maritime trade. Atwood, who began sailing on commercial ships when he was about 10 years old, spent his life working his way up the economic, social, and political ladders of Chatham. The Atwood House, which was for many years the grandest home in Chatham, was a symbol of Atwood’s success.
During the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries, maritime trade, along with fishing and whaling, brought unprecedented wealth to Cape Cod. In the early nineteenth century, the area had more whaling vessels than any other place in the world. In the eighteenth century, Atwood made his fortune transporting pine boards, pine shingles, clapboards, and laths between Chatham and Boston, as well as trading salted cod from Cape Cod for wine and olives in Europe.
Today, the Atwood House Museum is the oldest, if no longer the grandest, building in Chatham.
The house has changed little since Captain Atwood moved into the home with his family in the mid-eighteenth century. The house still features a distinctive gambrel roof, beautiful wood paneling on the walls (a luxury in 1752), and the original eighteenth-century furnishings.
Over the years, the Chatham Historical Society has added several structures to the Atwood House and Museum grounds to house new exhibits. These exhibits are dedicated to topics such as the history of commercial fishing on Cape Cod and the work of author Joseph Crosby Lincoln, who spent his summers in Chatham and often wrote about a fictionalized Cape Cod.
The Atwood House Museum also displays the lightroom from one of the Twin Lights that guided ships through Chatham Harbor from 1808 until 1923. In the lightroom, visitors can view the fourth order Fresnel lens that was installed in 1857. After the town disassembled the Twin Lights in 1923, it moved the Fresnel lens to Chatham Light, where it remained until 1969.
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