Harwich is rich in old homes – some elegant and some humble.  As buildable lots become ever scarcer, too many of these buildings are threatened by the wrecker’s ball.

The Landmarks Officer’s principal responsibility is to support an owner of a home that is at least 100 year old in documenting its history. After a physical inspection, guidelines can be offered that are most likely to provide pertinent sources of information.

A lovely yellow house with a green lawn flowing away from it

The Barnstable County Registry of Deeds provides a way to search ownership from present owner back to its first occupant.  The names of all these owners will constitute a rich data base of who lived, died, celebrated or mourned within this home.  How did they earn their livings, serve their community, even sometimes go to war?

Commonwealth, county and town records, as well as HHS’s documentary and photographic collections all bring life to the search.  Owners who complete their investigations may request validation of their homes’ antiquity, and even a bronze plaque proudly displaying this information to passersby.

Sara Chase with 1862 plaque

Pictures give shape to the Landmarks Officer’s function.  In 2003, a Harwich native purchased this charming old home at 825 Route 28 in South Harwich.  Sara L. Chase is a Broker-Associate for Keller Williams and has certainly seen enough local homes to sense this one was special.  Could “fact”  justify her “feeling”?

Deeds, wills, gravestones – all yielded hints and established that the house was constructed in 1862 by Sea Captain James Munroe Ellis as a home for his new bride, Catherine.  The solid walls would witness the joy of the birth of their son in 1866, and then the untimely death of his father when the boy was only five.  With only a minimal income, Catherine eventually remarried.  In one of these turnabouts of history, after the death of her second husband, Catherine’s son provided for her.

Though the property has long passed out of the Ellis family, its members are reunited in the nearby South Harwich Meeting House Cemetery.  None of this was known until Sara began her enthusiastic restoration of “825”.  For this Landmarks Officer, the recovery of a bit of the town’s history is a real reward.

Joan M. Maloney Ph.D., author of several books on local history