A New Life for our Historic Home
The Josiah Mayo House located at 540 Main Street is an excellent example of life on Main Street in the 1800s. It was built between 1818 and 1820 by Josiah Mayo, a Blacksmith by trade, who was Postmaster in Chatham for 40 years, Treasurer for 27 years and Selectman for two years. The house was occupied by members of the family until 1938. In 1974 it was purchased by Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank, and two years later it became the property of the Chatham Conservation Foundation. The CCF has restored the house. Many local residents and visitors tour the Mayo House each summer.
The Mayo House is open on select Mondays on Main. As visitors can see when passing the property, it has undergone extensive renovations thanks to Community Preservation Act funding and the hard work of dedicated volunteers. As we begin its use as the home and center for CCF activities, we have enhanced the grounds with our new "Meadow on Main."
If you have any suggestions or are interested in becoming a volunteer/docent, please contact the Chatham Conservation Foundation office at 508-945-4084.
Josiah Mayo House
540 Main Street, Chatham, Massachusetts
Visit our info panel out front, for information on the Foundation and the Mayo House.
Photo by Oonie Burley
Mayo House: A Hidden Gem In Downtown Chatham
by Tim Wood, Cape Cod Chronicle
CHATHAM – It is, without a doubt, one of the town’s hidden gems. Yet it is in one of the most visible locations, smack in the middle of the downtown business district.
The Josiah Mayo House, tucked in between the Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank and the Chatham Clothing Bar, sits inconspicuously along Main Street as it has since it was built nearly 200 years ago by a blacksmith who came to town from Brewster. Several generations of Mayo descendants lived in the house until 1938, and in 1974 it was purchased by the bank to expand its parking. Two years later, the bank donated the antique building to the Chatham Conservation Foundation, which restored it, decorated the interior with period furniture and maintains it as a museum.
“To me it’s an excellent example of life in the 1800s on Main Street,” said Edith Tuxbury, a Foundation trustee and coordinator for the Mayo House and its eight active and eight reserve docents.
The house is open to the public two days a week during the summer months, and this summer the number of visitors increased significantly, Tuxbury said.
“I’d say we had a record crowd for the two days we were open,” she said, adding that she’d love to be able to recruit more docents so the house could be open three or more days per week.
Visitors come from many states, and interestingly, many different countries. “Europeans are very interested in our history,” Tuxbury observed.
What makes the three-quarter Cape so charming is its utter lack of pretension as well as its authenticity. Although it’s been moved on the site – it originally stood farther back from the road – and had small ells and additions added and removed over the decades, the core of the house, as it was built by Josiah for his bride, Desire Harding, remains intact. Even much of the hardware on the doors and windows are original, made by Josiah himself.
The house originally sat on four acres of land running from Main Street back to the edge of the current Seaside Links Golf Course; it included the land where the bank sits today as well as all of the Blackberry Lane neighborhood. Josiah was a prominent Chatham citizen, and his house would have been a focal point in the village during his lifetime. He was village postmaster from 1822 to 1862, and distributed the mail first from his kitchen and later from a small ell built onto the eastern side of the house. He was also town clerk and treasurer for 26 years.
He was apparently well respected. His obituary published in the Chatham Monitor on Aug. 23, 1874, called him an “honest, upright man, exact in his dealings, extremely obliging to all and one whose judgment in matters of business was often sought and highly prized.”
Josiah ran a small dry goods store in the ell, and as the mail volume and store sales increased, it was necessary to move both functions to a separate store that he built along Main Street. There was also a shed at the back of the house which was expanded over the years to run the entire length of the building and was used as an indoor outhouse and to store wood. A barn also stood to the rear of the house.
The interior of the house has been altered from its original configuration, as has the second floor, which would have been two bedrooms for the family’s four children (two boys and two girls). The current layout reflects its use as an apartment in the 1950s, used by a couple who operated a restaurant, “Chatham Faire,” on the first floor.
Although the furniture in the house is not original, most of it is from the period and some is on loan from the Chatham Historical Society. The house’s parlor has a display of some of Josiah’s blacksmith tools, the Mayo family Bible, a sampler, ledger and a tintype and portrait of Josiah.
While the Mayo House is in good condition structurally, it is in need of some restoration, including replacing the roof, siding and gutters, Tuxbury said. The Foundation is currently seeking estimates of the cost of the necessary work.
Some information in this story came from the “Mayo House History and Tour Guide” written by Dana MacDonald and last revised in 2009.