Friday, March 5, 2021

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Charles Hardy and Chatham Bars Inn


    The Chatham Bars Inn is and has been one of Cape Cod's most iconic and beloved resorts on the peninsula for more than a century. It has roots steeped in the fishing industry of Chatham's past while remaining at the cutting edge of the 21st century. Every story has a beginning and every idea has a creator. What about Chatham Bars Inn? The story of its creator is one of a mix between triumph and tragedy. The story of a man who brought the Cape one of its landmarks yet whose life has been lost to time. This is the story of Charles Ashley Hardy.

    The man who would create the Chatham Bars Inn was linked through heritage to Chatham although he did not grow up there. Charles Hardy was born in Auberndale, a village of the city of Newton located ten miles west of Boston, in 1874. He was the son of Edwin Hardy and though he grew up near Boston Hardy's family for three generations before his father had lived in Chatham. As a young man Hardy frequently visited Cape Cod and partook in his favorite pastime of hunting. After attending Harvard and MIT and making money as an investor and mining engineer in the first decade of the 20th century Hardy decided to make Cape Cod a bigger part of his life.

    Hardy began by buying a house on the bluffs overlooking Chatham's Mill Pond in 1911. It sat near the Godfrey Windmill and had been built in 1908 by Nelson Floyd. He then got down to business buying real estate plots in town, specifically along the ocean-paralleling Shore Road. After shelling out good money for some elite-level property Hardy put together an idea for a summer lodging conglomerate including several cottages and a hotel that would also double as a hunting lodge in 1912. Chatham had been an up-and-coming tourist destination, as the entirety of the Cape had been, for a few decades. Only a few years earlier in 1910 Chatham's original luxury resort, Hotel Chatham, had finally been demolished after years of sitting in limbo on Nickerson's Neck. It was only fitting that a new resort rise up to take its place.

Chatham's Godfrey Windmill

    The new hotel was built under the banner of Hardy's new company the Chatham Associates with George Hopkins winning the bid for the actual construction. Seeing the potential as a travel destination Hardy downplayed the hunting lodge part of Chatham Bars Inn opting for a straight up luxury hotel. The anticipation was high for opening night in the weeks leading to it.

    On June 10, 1914 Charles Hardy's Chatham Bars Inn debuted. It was originally 50 rooms, nine guest cottages, a 9-hole golf course, a pool, and a tennis court. A pier connecting the mainland to the barrier North Beach was added later that summer. Hardy's new hotel was an immediate and massive hit for Chatham. He rode the wave of success for the remainder of the decade. However Hardy had another Chatham icon to be a part of.

    Decades earlier Cape Cod's first luxury resort, Hotel Chatham, had been built on a 250-acre peninsula known as Nickerson's Neck. In 1917 Hardy began discussions for a golf course in the area. By 1920 the plans had been created by London architect W. Herbert Fowler who was widely considered as the most gifted golf course architect in the world. There was one man to be trusted to do the work as designated and that was Charles Ashley Hardy who had created a golf course with his Chatham Bars Inn.

    Hardy went with Fowler to England to tour his most famous creation, the Westward Ho! golf course. Construction began in 1921 with Fowler and Hardy shouldering the load. It actually opened for playing in 1922 long before it was considered complete. After two years of work the Eastward Ho! Golf Course opened to members with ownership certificates available for $1,000 ($15,500 in 2021).

The fabulous views at the Eastward Ho! golf course.

    Though a success today Eastward Ho! was initially a financial bust. This came to a head when in January 1927 the property was put up for bid at auction after its mortgages were foreclosed upon. Being a savvy businessman and not wanting to see his hard work fall into a stranger's hands Hardy bought the property outright and ran it under Chatham Associates in 1927 and 1928. He eventually sold it in the fall of 1928 to Roy Tomlinson for $75,000 ($1.1 million in 2021). Tomlinson sold it to the group of original creators, known as the Chatham Country Club, paving the way for the establishment of Eastward Ho Country Club, Inc. and a stable future.

    Charles Hardy had created an iconic resort and helped create and then save a picturesque golf course. He had become a beloved figure in Chatham during his time living there. In addition to Chatham Hardy had real estate ties to his home near Boston as well as endeavors as a New York City stockbroker. For all of his work it seemed Hardy had an endless supply of energy. Sadly it would be his leisure time that spelled his end.

Looking back toward Chatham Bars Inn from its private beach.

    Always making time for hunting Hardy visited Chatham in November 1929 to check on Chatham Bars Inn. On the day of November 30th he decided to take a walk from the home of Roland Snow, with whom he was staying, to look over some property. He brought along his gun in the hopes that he might get off a few shots on his walk. When Hardy failed to return after sunset Snow set out to look for him. He was joined by several others with the search going into the following afternoon.

    One member of the search group, Harold Sawyer, found the lifeless body of Charles Hardy slumped against a tree not far from Godfrey Windmill. He had been walking through the woods and caught his leg trying to step over a barbed-wire fence. Hardy tripped causing his gun to go off accidentally, shooting him in the chest and killing him instantly. One of the most important people in Chatham's 20th century was dead at 55.

    The town was in mourning through his funeral with flags flown at half staff. His death was reported on throughout Cape Cod, Boston, and New York. Hardy's family and his Chatham Associates group maintained control of Chatham Bars inn until January 1953 when it was sold to a Boston-based group headed by E. Robinson McMullen. It has since passed more than a century in existence.

The view from the entrance of Chatham Bars Inn.

    Though it has been nearly a century since his passing, and his name is not spoken of nearly as much as it should when it comes to Cape Cod's vibrant tourism industry, Charles Ashley Hardy left an indelible mark on the region. Anytime anyone, local or visitor, spends a night at Chatham Bars Inn or hits the links at Eastward Ho! they have Hardy to thank in some way, shape, or form for that.


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