House For Sale: Cape Cod, Massaschusetts
7. Would you value candle burn marks on the paneling over your living room fireplace?
8. Would you be reluctant to cover wide floorboards with carpeting?
9. Are you apt to notice and appreciate details such as wrought-iron door hinges, four-paneled walls, hand-planing marks on exposed corner posts, diamond-paned windows, etc.?
10. Would you like feeling that you’re sort of sharing your house with the many generations who have lived there before you?
How did you do? “Yes” for all 10? Our own score turned out to be nine out of the 10, which is still probably OK because we truly do love 18th-century houses. (We wouldn’t need to see the cellar and attic first.)
The “Cape Cod gem” to which we referred on the previous page is on a quiet, secluded seven acres off Route 6A in Brewster, Massachusetts, one of our favorite Cape Cod communities. Besides the 11-room, two-story saltbox, also on the property are a good-size workshop with lots of old tools; an antique barn, which serves as a garage; lovely lawns where sheep and goats once grazed; old trees and stone walls; a rushing brook that’s an active annual herring run; and 700 feet of shore frontage on a pond, plus a sleeping shelter with woodstove and cot within a few feet of the water. Sound OK so far? But there’s more.
Now owned by the town but once part of the property is a 1/3-acre cemetery with a hundred or more old headstones marking various members of the prominent Sears family, who built the house in 1719. They acquired this land in the 1660s from the widow and second wife of none other than Governor William Bradford, one of the founders of the first permanent English settlement in the Northeast (you know, the folks who sailed over here on the Mayflower in 1620 and hopped onto “the rock” in Plymouth). From the house, it’s about a five-minute walk to the cemetery and brook on a wide, grassy, tree-lined path that was once Old County Way, an offshoot of the famous King’s Highway back in Colonial days. Look sharp, as we did, and you’ll spot a large metal ring embedded in one of the stone walls along the way. We wondered how many hundreds of horses had been hitched there over the span of those early years.
To get back to the main house, it has three nice, sunny bedrooms upstairs, plus two bathrooms, while the downstairs features the original parlor plus a large living room created from an 18th-century ell, complete with a huge reproduction Colonial brick fireplace (one of five fireplaces, three working). There’s also a dining room, probably once the so-called “borning room” where Colonial babies came into the world; a fully equipped but rather plain kitchen; and several other rooms added to the original 1719 footprint that today comprises about 1,800 square feet. And all the interesting historical features we mentioned in our 10 questions are very much in evidence throughout these 11 rooms — from the distressed floorboards to the lack of right angles to the candle burn marks over one of the fireplaces.
However, we must emphasize that old and relatively unaltered as it is, this house is livable right now. It’s heated with oil, it has town water, there’s a new septic tank, the appliances in the kitchen and bathrooms are up-to-date, the roof and shingling look to be in fine shape — in short, you could walk in there tomorrow morning and start living.
But it has been unoccupied for a couple of years. The current owner, who lives in Barton, Vermont, has never set foot in the place; he inherited the property from his late wife as part of a complicated series of circumstances. But he has had someone nearby coming in every week to check on things, mow the lawns, do repairs, and so forth.
The price? Knowing about properties on Cape Cod, we expected it to be in the millions. But it’s only $899,000. The catch is that not everyone wants to live in an 18th-century house. And, as with so many historic homes along Cape Cod’s Route 6A, from Sandwich to Orleans, the Old King’s Highway Historical Commission, under the overall jurisdiction of the Compact of Cape Cod Conservation Trusts (508-362-2565; Mark H. Robinson, executive director), imposes certain restrictions on both the property (you can’t subdivide it, for instance) and the outside of the house itself. To some people, that’s a negative. Thus the price is comparatively low.