March 31 - 1885: Tallest building on Cape Cod dedicated

1926: Calvin Coolidge nixes Cape Cod summer White House idea. 2007: Father Foley Cape Cod abuse case settled for $550,000
In our innocent past, politicians routinely allowed themselves to be photographed in Native American head gear, and here Calvin Coolidge becomes an honorary Sioux chief.

1885: Exchange Building in Harwich Center open

Architectural treasure lost to wrecker's ball in 1964

On this day the Exchange Building was dedicated in Harwich center. The magnificent structure was doomed by misguided progress in 1964. Below is an article in the Boston Herald dated August 23, 1964 by Frank Falacci who founded the long-gone weekly Cape Cod News in the 1960s:

A Building that Speaks of the Past is about to fall

There was all this laughing among the children and everyone was having a swell ol' time watching the Harwich Junior Theatre's version of The Wizard of Oz.

It was being played out in the barn-like second floor of the Exchange Building...  Anyone who has ever been within four miles of Harwich knows a little something about the Exchange Building...  and after the show when the little girl in the jester's costume squeaked out, "We'll be some other place next summer," we suddenly remembered the Ol' Exchange is about ready to die.

No other structure in Cape Cod's memory has there been so much written about a building, its life, its impact on the Town of Harwich, and its demolition. Nowhere in my memory do I recall so much remorse about its demise.

The first Exchange Building (shown on right in an old postcard), according to Virginia Doane, the former Brooks Free Librarian, in her treatise The Birth of a Building, \was built in 1855, but was destroyed by fire in 1876. It was thought to be the finest and best constructed building on the Cape.

Enough interest was generated to replace it. The Harwich Independent on March 25, 1884 stated: Chester is going to build another Exchange." Chester was Chester Snow, a prime mover on the Cape with many business interests. As the replacement building progressed, input from members of the community "covered assurances that everything would be conducted with the highest regard for propriety, culture, and good taste."

In Virginia Doane's booklet, you can find a running account of the construction and the incredible specifications which involved special craftsmen. Among the amenities were "handsome cherry posts, rails, and balustrades, and the strong yellow pine steps and risers.
The heart of the building was the auditorium, and no expense was spared on it. Mr. Snow was determined to have the finest theatre outside the city of Boston and had the equipment and scenery constructed and painted at the Boston Theatre. . . . . a New York firm was called in to achieve spectacularly handsome specimen of the art decoration of the era complete with gold, silver, copper, and bronze painting and frescoes."

The new building was comparable in construction excellence (not living quarters) to a Newport mansion. It was dedicated with great fanfare on a clear, spring-like day on March 31, 1885 with many dignitaries in attendance; the tallest building on Cape Cod.

By Cape Cod and certainly New England standards, the Exchange Building was massive in size. As it stood on the corner of Rtes 39 and 124 in Harwich Center, on right, the footprint was 58 feet (along Main Street, Harwich Center) by 100 feet (along Pleasant Lake Avenue-Rte 124) The finial on the cupola stood 104 feet, from the top to the ground. "For some years and electric light shone from the high tower. Mariners plying the waters of Nantucket Sound, have guided their craft by using this building as a beacon and landmark.

So said Thomas Nickerson in a letter to the Editor of the Cape Cod Standard, Thursday, March 3, 1960 four years prior to the demolition. He speaks, too, about the tragedy of losing this venue for the many theatrical, cultural, recreational, and civic activities that attracted people from everywhere. . . . "When the Exchange does go, half the business center of town goes with it.

Amidst this reverence, however, lies great nostalgia, sadness and bitterness in many quarters. In an article in the Harwich Oracle dated March 24, 2004, Scott Dalton quoted Don Bates when he stated: "It's the Harwich way: They create things that they don't maintain. It's like that Joni Mitchell song says, you don't know what you got until it's gone. I hope I have learned a lesson; you never want to lose that continuity and beauty that was part of the town.

There were some who cried in Harwich the night the vote passed.

Robert Doane (son of Virginia Doane), now a member of the Harwich Cultural Council and Board of Directors of the Harwich Junior Theatre, speaking of his younger days is quoted in the March 24, 2004 article in the Oracle: "Growing up, I climbed through pretty much every nook and cranny of that building.

Ultimately, it was the high maintenance costs that brought "the great lady down". She was as sound a building as ever built.

It is a sad story to be sure, but tears cannot bring back that building or the days that it dominated the Harwich landscape. There are, however, lessons to be learned. Let the Exchange Building stand forever as the litmus test for historic preservation; not the brick and mortar, but the essence, for every historic building or manuscript lost is tantamount to a loss of a limb.

First photo on right: No other structure in Cape Cod's memory has there been so much written about. Second photo on right: Harwich Center poses on a picture postcard that sold in the stores here in the early 1940s. The photographer stood in front of the First Congregational Church looking down Main Street (Route 39) almost due east. The intersection on the left, with the concrete traffic marker, is Pleasant Lake Avenue (Route 124) coming in from Brewster. The large building on the left corner is the old Harwich Exchange building, erected in 1884-85 as the tallest building on Cape Cod, which was demolished in 1964 due to the high cost of maintenance. Across the street (right) is the old A & P grocery store, flanked on the east by a shoe store and a pharmacy. Most of the autos pictured date back to the late 1930s, several newer models identified as 1939 Plymouths.

Submitted by John Prophet.

1926: Calvin Coolidge urged to make Cod Cod US summer capital

A Bucket of Cape Cod Oysters couldn't persuade "Silent Cal"

On this day in 1926, the following Associated Press report appeared in the Lowell Sun under the headline, "Invite President to Cape Cod":

Cape Cod will make a bid for the honor of being the nation's summer capital.

Two natives of 'the cape' clad in so'wester and oil skins and bearing a basket of Cape Cod oysters will journey to Washington to deliver the invitation to the president.

The taciturn Calvin Coolidge, a former Bay State governor, apparently turned down the invitation as he did not buy a property or spend summers on the Cape.

An earlier president had, however - Grover Cleveland at a house he bought in the Gray Gables section of Bourne, where Cleveland and his family vacationed during his second term in office in the 1890s.

Within a year or two of the Cape Codders' visit with Coolidge, a Wall Street financier named Joe Kennedy bought a summer home in Hyannisport - future site of a summer White House, within the larger so-called Kennedy compound, during the JFK administration.

2007: Father Foley Cape Cod abuse case settled For $550,000

Stephen Foley charged Foley sodomized him at age 14

On this day in 2007 the Archdiocese of Hartford agreed this week to pay $550,000 to a man who accused the Rev. Stephen Foley of using his position as Hartford County fire chaplain to sodomize him when he was a 14-year-old parishioner in Windsor Locks. Foley, who has been accused of abuse by at least 11 men since 1993 and was removed from public ministry in 2002, is still affiliated with the county fire organization he belonged to when the alleged assault occurred. He now holds the title of "chaplain emeritus" of the group, according to board members.

Once on a weekend when the boy and his friend accompanied Foley to a home on Cape Cod, which Foley said was owned by his aunt, the brief said. Foley gave the boys alcohol before and during dinner, got them drunk, and then took the boy to bed with him. welcomes thoughtful comments and the varied opinions of our readers. We are in no way obligated to post or allow comments that our moderators deem inappropriate. We reserve the right to delete comments we perceive as profane, vulgar, threatening, offensive, racially-biased, homophobic, slanderous, hateful or just plain rude. Commenters may not attack or insult other commenters, readers or writers. Commenters who persist in posting inappropriate comments will be banned from commenting on