The Old House
Possibly the only house in Chatham that is preserved in its original form, the Atwood house was built in the 1750’s by Joseph Atwood, a sea captain and “navigator of unfrequented parts.” He moved from Eastham and acquired thirty acres in Chatham, bordering on Stage Harbor and the Mill Pond. According to family records, he built the house in a year when he stayed home from sea. He feared losing his ship while England and France were at war during the reign of George II of England, whose subject he was at the time.
The house is typical of those built on Cape Cod during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; it is unusual in that it has a gambrel roof, a type that was rare on the Cape in those early days. Early Cape houses were an adaptation of the English cottages of Cornwall and Devon, the areas from which the first Cape settlers had come. There are three variations of the typical Cape Cod house: the half house, the three-quarter house, and the full house. The Atwood House is the latter type; its typical first floor consists of a sinkroom, a kitchen or keeping room, a parlor, a sitting room, two bedrooms, and a buttery. The second floor also is typical, having a large open attic and one finished bedroom. The finished bedroom in this house is larger than in many houses of the type and is unique in having a fireplace and the remnants of the original stenciling around the top of the walls.
There are three fireplaces on the first floor: in the parlor, in the sitting room, and in the kitchen, (or keeping room) whose large fireplace is designed for cooking. Next to this large fireplace with its iron crane for holding pots, is the brick oven, sometimes called a beehive oven because of its shape. This shape is clearly displayed in a small closet off the sitting room which backs up to the kitchen fireplace and oven, making an ideal place for drying herbs and storing items such as salt and sugar.
Another unusual feature in The Atwood House is the built-in corner cupboard in the parlor. In 1833 John Atwood, the grandson of the builder of the house, added a wing for his second wife. This room served as a new kitchen complete with cast iron stove, certainly a great improvement over the cooking facilities in the old kitchen.
The sink room is so named because it contains a wooden sink where water was poured out during the process of doing the laundry. The back door opens into this room and was the usual means of entering or leaving the house, hence the sink room also served as a place to leave boots and coats. On washing days, the housewife would bring in buckets of water from the well that was just outside of the back door, heat it over the kitchen fire, and pour it into a barrel along with soap she had made.
The Old Kitchen
The old kitchen was the center of activity for the family. All meals were cooked here over the fire in the large fireplace or baked in the brick oven next to the fireplace. The family gathered here for meals, the children played here, the baby kept warm in the cradle by the fire, and members of the family would bathe in a tub in front of the warm fire that was always there. In the far corner of the picture, there is a glimpse of the borning room, a tiny but very warm bedroom that was the place for giving birth and for the mother and new born child to keep warm and in touch with the rest of the family.
The Sitting Room
The sitting room could also have been used as a bedroom, but it currently is furnished as it might have been in the mid-nineteenth century. One of the two front rooms was usually used as a sitting room or a parlor and one as a bedroom.
The parlor also would likely have been a bedroom at some time in the history of the house, but at some point a formal corner cupboard was added, making it formal enough to be a parlor where important events, such as weddings or funerals, would take place. It also would have been a place to receive distinguished visitors, such as the local clergyman.