When you cross the threshold of the restored Chatham Railroad Station, now the home of the Chatham Railroad Museum, you cross a timeline back into the days of railroad history. Owned by the town of Chatham, the museum is housed in the original depot, built in 1887.
The building itself (a rare example of Victorian architecture) is one of the few visible remains of the old Chatham Railroad, a branch railroad only 7.03 miles long, that once connected Chatham with the Old Colony Railroad main line in Harwich. The railroad, owned by the Town and private stockholders, was operated, under lease, first by the Old Colony Railroad Company, and later by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.
The Chatham Railroad Company was organized early in 1886 and in August of 1886 the Company was able to muster sufficient public support to carry out a plan of construction and finance. The Old Colony Line was awarded the contract to build the road, and at nine on the morning of May twenty-fourth 1887 the first shovel of sand was turned over in the presence of an enthusiastic crowd of spectators at the eastern end of White Pond by the Honorable Marcellus Eldredge, President of the Company. Others - men, women, and children - then took their turns with the shovel. Following the ceremony, there appeared on the road nearby a line of shovel-wielding workmen with horses drawing tipcarts that started the grading process.
Once the grading was done, oak ties came down from the Maine by boat to Providence and rails by flatcar from Boston to Harwich and to the construction site by work-train. By keeping crews busy night and day, the roadmaster, a man named Drew, laid the seven miles of track in seven days.
The depot construction was begun in June; it and the neighboring engine house (with turntable), car house, work shed, and water tower (with well and windmill) were completed in time for the grand opening, November twenty-second, 1887. The whole town turned out; many people spent the entire day riding the train to and from Harwich.
After decades of neglect, the depot attracted the interest of Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Cox of Cleveland and Chatham and in 1951 Mrs. Cox bought it and gave it to the Town. In 1959, the Chamber of Commerce recommended that the building be restored, and operated as a railroad museum. The Museum opened as such in July of 1960.
Still the property of the Town, the Museum is run by an unpaid director and a group of volunteers. The first director, the late Frank G. Love, had himself been a railroad department head and was an assiduous collector of objects, documents, and publications of interest to enthusiasts. It was he, for example, who in 1963 obtained for the Museum the New York Central caboose which stands on the section of track in front of the building: Built in 1910, the caboose which saw a million miles of service before it was retired and trucked to its present site, has been completely restored. Friends of the Museum have donated or lent scores of additional memorabilia.