Windows into Time

"Windows into Time: Clothing and Artifacts" is an historic journey through several vignettes depicting period clothing and artifacts from Chatham during the 17th century through the early 20th century.Wander through the centuries exploring the development of clothing and other handmade goods in rural Northeast America. When Chatham grew from a sparsely populated farming and fishing community into a more affluent town hosting tourists from around the nation, fashions reflected the impact of increased wealth, education, transportation and cross-cultural influences. Early settlers who struggled to feed themselves and stay warm were  replaced by industrious merchants selling local and imported goods as our community began to thrive over three centuries.

In the Beginning - 1600-1700

In 1656, William Nickerson, a tailor from England, purchased territory here in the Monomoyick land called Monomoit. His large family settled here in 1664. By 1682, he purchased 4,000 acres from the sachem Mattaquason. Monomoitwas given the English name Chatham and was incorporated as a town in 1712. By 1800, 90% of the population was related to William Nickerson. 

The town of Chatham, prior to 1712, was known as the land of Monomoyicks, one of the sixty-seven tribes of the Wampanoag Nation. The Monomoyicks were hunters, fishermen, farmers, and gatherers.



Age of Homespun - 1700-1800

The intended industry of the settlers was farming. Domestic life revolved around the hardships of surviving in the New World. Farmers ploughed the fields and planted flax, while sheep grazed in the pastures. Weaving cloth for their clothing, bed linens and  domestic use required women to spend many hours at the spinning wheel.


Age of Independence - 1800-1850

In 1800, the town was divided into five sections and a school building was erected on each. At first, schools were small because until after the Revolution, only male children went to school. The schools were built by the inhabitants of each district. Chatham Academy, built in 1830, furnished an opportunity for a high school education. An enterprising citizen, Zeba Nickerson, taught the winter term at the school in the Old Harbor district in North Chatham. The report of the School Committee in May 1848 praises him as “a competent teacher and true to his trust.”


Civil War - 1861-1865

The Civil War (1861-65) brought about a change in fashions. With so many deaths due to the fighting, women wore mourning gowns or darker colors and trimmings. Daily life required a variety of different dresses through the course of a day, each specialized for every occasion. Women wore morning dresses, visiting costumes, riding habits, tea dresses and evening gowns. Each outfit was accessorized with a hat, shawl, gloves and shoes. Hoop skirts were underpinned with corsets, petticoats, bustles, undergarments and stockings.

Age of Transportation - 1870-1900

A quiet backwater begins to awaken. New businesses, which included hotels and boarding houses, opened in the Old Village and on Main Street. Until that time, only a trickle of visitors had discovered the town’s natural charm. The Old Colony Railroad, opening the Chatham Railway Station in 1878, connected Chatham with Boston and the rest of Cape Cod. With the invention of Thomas Edison’s light bulb and Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, tourism began in earnest.


Age of Tourism - 1900-1920

Chatham's coming of age. The town’s summer population swelled with the opening of luxurious hotels, local residents’ boarding houses, large estates and the creation of beach and golf clubs.


The Roaring Twenties - 1920-1929

Rum-running, a booming stock market, women’s right to vote, talking movies and jazz music all contributed to the heyday of the Twenties until the stock market crash on October 29, 1929 brought the excesses to a halt.