Can a 19-year-old shack be historically significant? That's a question pitting the National Park Service against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts over the fate of six "cottages" Cape Cod National Seashore officials want to demolish.
The "North Beach Island Cottages" were built in 1992 after the so-called "No Name Storm" a year earlier destroyed six cottages. Now the Atlantic Ocean is poised to demolish the cottages, and seashore officials, rather than watching the debris washed out to sea, want to take them down and remove them.
In early September, officials from the seashore sought concurrence on the plan from the Massachusetts State Historic Preservation Office. Somewhat to their surprise, Massachusetts officials took the position that there was historical substance to the shacks.
"The North Chatham Beach Island Cottages, like the Dune Shacks, are resources moved, raised, repaired with replacement materials, and rebuilt in response to their harsh environment. Like some of the Dune Shacks, the present North Chatham Beach Island Cottages were built less than 50 years ago, rebuilt of consistent materials and scale to their predecessors," Brona Simon, the state's historic preservation officer, told Cape Cod National Seashore Superintendent George Price in a letter sent October 7.
Furthermore, she noted, while the cottages in question might date only to 1992, the historical significance of their presence goes back much farther. The cottages, wrote Ms. Simon, "are resources constructed on the sites of previous similar structures. In the case of the North Chatham cottages, this represents continuity of use in the same location for at least sixty years."
The shacks are somewhat similar to the better known Dune Shacks of the Peaked Hill Bars Historic District near Provincetown. In October 2009, during a public discussion over the fate of those shacks, Superintendent Price noted that, "(T)he dune shack historic district is noted for its storied past, its traditions that continue to this day, and for its inspiring natural landscape."
To settle the matter, Mike Caldwell, the Northeast regional director for the Park Service, has written the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places for a ruling on the significance of the structures. In that letter, Mr. Caldwell took the position that "the North Beach Island structures do not represent a rare property type; there are many rustic camps, both regionally and nationally. The notable local example is the camps on Sandy Neck Beach" in nearby Barnstable, Massachusetts.
He also noted that "there is no evidence that the North Beach Island structures are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; nor are they associated with the lives of persons significant in our past."
No word on how soon the Keeper might render a ruling.