Thursday, February 11, 2010

In My Footsteps: Trip 22: Chatham, Mass.

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund
Trip 22: Chatham, Mass.
February 4, 2010

            Chatham packs a large amount of beauty and history into a relatively small area.  Still a very vibrant fishing village, Chatham’s loyalty to its heritage is a big part of its charm.  Its Main Street is filled with quaint family style shops and is the most accessible for pedestrians on the Cape. 
            The first place that should be visited during a trip to Chatham is Chatham Light(left) and North Beach.  North Beach is located near the end of Main Street and is a continuation of Nauset Beach in Orleans.  This beach has its own incredible story as up until 1987 the beach had been known as a ‘barrier beach’ and had continued down toward Monomoy Island.  A huge winter storm caused a break in the beach directly opposite of Chatham Light which eventually widened and caused the loss of seven North Beach cottages.  A second break occurred in 2007 a little further north and the initial break has now widened to nearly two miles.  It is a fascinating scene of the ocean versus the land; the beaches can be observed easily from the elevated parking lot which also has three sets of powerful binoculars to aide in viewing.
            After checking out the sea’s ravaging of North Beach one only has to turn around to view perhaps the most popular spot in Chatham and that is Chatham Light.  A part of the Coast Guard station, Chatham Light was originally built in 1877 but the station itself was established in 1808 under orders from President Thomas Jefferson.  The first Chatham Light station consisted of two lighthouses for 115 years until one of the lights was moved and placed in Eastham where it became Nauset Light.  The original Chatham Light lantern and lens were removed in 1969 and are currently on display at the historic Atwood House a short drive away on Stage Harbor Road.  The lighthouse is not open to the public except for special tours during the warmer months, but the view of this Cape landmark is spectacular from just beyond the fence as well.
            Located down Bridge Street is Stage Harbor, a spot originally visited in 1606 by French explorer Samuel de Champlain.  However, he did not choose to settle there due to conflicts with the local Monomoy Indians.  Stage Harbor Lighthouse(above) sits at the mouth of Chatham Harbor.  Built in 1880 this lighthouse was deactivated in 1933 and does not have a lantern top anymore.  It is viewable across the harbor opening from the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, or via a mile long hike across Hardings Beach.  It is the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge that was the next spot I visited.
            Located a short drive from Chatham Light down Morris Island Road, this 7,600 acre wildlife sanctuary is filled with natural beauty and is perfect for sightseeing and school field trips.  There is a trail which leads along the high cliffs and has a great view of the northern portion of Monomoy Island(right).  There is a weather radar station behind a fence along the trail as well.  There is a set of stairs which leads down to the beach and seemingly the end of the civilized world.  Once you start to walk south there is complete solitude but for the occasional passing of small fishing boats into the harbor.  It is a very relaxing walk as the rushing waves and salty breezes seem to melt away any conscious thoughts.  The walk south along the beach ends with a panoramic view of Monomoy Island which at low tide sits only a few hundred feet offshore.
            Monomoy Island stretches eight miles south from Chatham and was originally owned by the government during World War II.  The Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge was founded in 1944 and took over control of the island.  Long before it was designated for wildlife refuge there actually was a colony on Monomoy complete with a tavern for sailors at present day Hospital Pond.  There are no paved roads and no human inhabitants on Monomoy but ferries will take visitors along its shores in the hopes of spotting seals.  The only proof of a human presence on the island is the historic Monomoy Point Light which was built in 1849.  It is part of the National Register of Historic Places and the keeper’s house still stands and is used as a guest house today. 
            Located west of Chatham Light, down Rt. 28 sits a lesser known but equally fascinating piece of modern history.  Forest Beach in and of itself seems like just another beautiful beach with a great view of Monomoy Island and Stage Harbor Light, but it is what lies behind the beach in the marshy area that is surprising.  There are four cement pillars in a square pattern out in the marsh that represent the remains of Guglielmo Marconi’s Chatham radio tower(left).  The tower once stood 300 feet tall until the land was bought by the town.  The Forest Beach overlook located behind the marsh area has a plaque with a detailed history of this little known Marconi site.
            Chatham mixes all of what makes Cape Cod great into a small area.  You can go from a leisurely stroll on Main Street to the history of Chatham Light and Monomoy Island all within a short drive.  The ‘elbow’ of the Cape has something for everyone and it needs to be circled on any visitor’s itinerary.  Do not rush, take your time to enjoy it, the spectacular Chatham Bars Inn resort can make a great trip into a dream vacation.  Whether it’s a trip or vacation you will love your time in Chatham.  Have fun and happy traveling!    
Directions: Chatham Light/North Beach: Head east on Rt. 28, take 2nd exit at traffic circle to Main Street.  Follow Main Street to parking lot, beach is on left, lighthouse is on right.
Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge: Take Rt. 28 east, take 2nd exit at traffic circle to Main Street.  Bear left on to Morris Island Rd., continue onto Tisquantum Rd.  Wildlife Refuge is the 1st left.
Forest Beach: Take Rt. 28 heading east into Chatham.  Turn left onto Forest Beach Road.
Hardings Beach: Take Rt. 28 east into Chatham, turn right at Barn Hill Rd.  Take a slight right at Hardings Beach Rd., Stage Harbor Light is located east, a mile walk out on the beach.
References: Chatham Bars Inn
            Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge
            Chatham Light
            The Story of Chatham's North Beach            

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