Paine Black House: Asset, not Albatross
- Published: 23 May 2013 23 May 2013
Editorial by Edward F. Maroney, Barnstable Patrriot May 23, 2013
An answer for what to do with the historic, town-owned Paine Black House on Route 149 in West Barnstable may be found at the “bare and bended arm” of Cape Cod.
Way out in Provincetown is Race Point Lighthouse, a tiny complex of buildings huddled on a sand spit: lighthouse, keeper’s house, whistle house, oil house. From here, keepers helped mariners avoid a treacherous fate.
People come from all over the country to stay in the keeper’s house with its old-fashioned kitchen, a porch with rocking chairs, and three rooms for rent upstairs. An actual keeper, in this era from an organization dedicated to the preservation of the place, is present, but not obtrusive. If you want to sleep until noon and go out for a walk in the dunes and come back after sunset, no one will complain.
The keeper’s house didn’t get into the shape it’s in overnight. Many volunteer hours went into restoring the building, and into creating power options for it by installing wind and solar facilities that somehow don’t detract from the antique feel of the place. Jim Walker of Hyannis was among the prime movers of this effort.
With the growing emphasis on eco-tourism, of people coming to the Cape who want to experience more of what it means, and meant, to live and work here, Race Point is a beacon that draws attention. There’s an effect on Provincetown’s downtown as well; people who stay at the lighthouse come back into town afterward for lunch, shopping, and strolling through civilization again.
The future of the Paine Black House could involve following the Race Point model.
The antique house next to Meetinghouse Farm has been called “museum quality” by a town consultant. At this week’s Barnstable Historical Commission meeting, member George Jessop, an architect, related its possible connection to the Underground Railroad. Its chimney is fitted out with horizontal boards that could have sheltered slaves escaping to Canada. There’s a beehive oven, and what Commission chair Jessica Rapp Grassetti called “a beautiful stone foundation.”
The house is right next to Meetinghouse Farm, which volunteer labor has transformed into a showplace of growing things. It’s across the street from a fire station, guaranteeing plenty of attention and assistance for anyone staying at the house. It’s just down the road from the 1717 Meetinghouse and not far from playgrounds and ball fields and Whelden Memorial Library.
Imagine a group called Keepers of the Paine Black House. They would be architects and builders and historians and plain old grunt-work volunteers in love with history and with sharing it. With the town’s support, and with a lease or some other arrangement, they could bring it back to habitable condition and then rent it to eco-tourists interested in history, farming, or just enjoying a place and a village that has remembered, not that time has forgot.
It’s a big project, but one worth talking about. If it can succeed, it could bring new life to other historic and otherwise special properties around town. All it will take is time, effort, and love.