'Invaluable pieces of yesteryear': Historic Bourne tourist information booth could be demolished

BOURNE — Surrounded by strips of red danger tape, a windowless, shed-like structure sits on MacArthur Boulevard waiting for demolition.

While the tiny building stands in the midst of ongoing construction for a new Cumberland Farms gas station, the structure was once a tourist information booth — a thriving destination for thousands of visitors from across the globe, said Jack MacDonald, a lifelong Bourne resident.

"It went into service in 1928," he said. "It was one of two buildings created by Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce as an experiment to promote Cape Cod."

This building, now located on MacArthur Boulevard, is on the site where a Cumberland Farms gas station is proposed to be built.
This building, now located on MacArthur Boulevard, is on the site where a Cumberland Farms gas station is proposed to be built.

In January 2022, MacDonald learned that Cumberland Farms purchased the land where the booth is located. Almost immediately, he initiated discussions with Cumberland Farm's attorney Douglas Troyer about a possible rehabilitation of the one-time information booth.

Troyer, he said, connected him to Dawn Johnson, a Cumberland Farms representative, who agreed to help MacDonald relocate the booth. But in October, Johnson notified MacDonald that the booth would instead, be demolished.

From the archivesWhat could new Bourne and Sagamore bridges look like?

"Dawn said they had talked it over with their lawyers, and they were worried about the presence of asbestos," said MacDonald. "They didn't want to be held liable if anyone ended up sick."

Johnson did not return calls made by the Times for comment.

While the company agreed to test and confirm the presence of asbestos, which required the removal of all of the structure's original windows and several shingles, the company also pulled permits to demolish the building on Nov. 14, according to Ken Murphy, inspector of buildings for the town of Bourne.

Murphy is expecting asbestos testing results Friday. If asbestos is detected, demolition could happen sooner than later, he said.

"Mr. MacDonald would have to buy the building for them not to be liable for the building anymore," Murphy said.

Incensed at the notion of demolishing the historic building, MacDonald said the town should be doing everything in its power to preserve the building.

"It's a historic building and it's entitled to protection," he said.

Can the booth be saved

As MacDonald advocates for the booth's survival, he hopes to secure a demolition delay hearing, which would provide an opportunity for the town of Bourne Historic Commission to vote on whether the booth should be demolished.

The Commission conducts town-wide demolition delay hearings under the Demolition Delay Bylaw of all properties 75 years and older and hearings of applications relating to history under the Community Preservation Act.

Any slated demolition can be put on hold for up to a year if a demolition delay hearing is granted, said MacDonald. That would give him time to fundraise for the structure's relocation and rehabilitation.

"I am not assuming I would prevail at a hearing," MacDonald said. "But, at the very least, the booth is entitled to one."

More:From the archivesBourne seal 'a gross misinterpretation' of Native American culture. Should it be changed?

But Murphy said that because of the size of the structure, the building can be demolished regardless of its age.

Carl Georgeson, chair of the commission, said he's unfamiliar with Murphy's assessment of the demolish delay hearing size requirements.

"That's news to me," he said in an email.

The commission is waiting until the Bourne Planning Board notifies the commission of a formal demolition delay hearing, Georgeson said.

Although MacDonald said that members of the planning board assured him that the booth qualifies for a demolition delay hearing, he admits the board hasn't notified the commission of any formal hearing. He is worried the demolition could occur before a hearing process can be initiated.

Daniel Doucette, planning board chairman, could not be reached for comment.

Sagamore booth was also forgotten

While there was some initial speculation about the actual age of the Bourne booth, said Georgeson, it was eventually confirmed by a 1928 Hyannis Patriot newspaper article that the booth is the twin of the Sagamore Bridge information booth, which was also in operation in 1928.

The Sagamore booth was renovated and relocated in 2005, where it currently serves as the Aptucxet Museum gift shop.

"It too was forgotten and slated for demo to make way for Mitt Romney’s flyover project," said MacDonald, former president of the Bourne Historical Society, and caretakers of the Aptucxet Trading Post.

From the archivesHistoric windmill in Bourne needs $20,000 for repair work

The "flyover project" was a $58 million Massachusetts Highway Department project Romney spearheaded during his first and only term as Massachusetts governor. The project began in 2004 and eliminated the Sagamore Rotary — forcing MacDonald, and others to reclaim the Sagamore tourist information booth.

"I was told stories as I grew up about the tourist antics and how it was a source of Bourne pride to work there," he said.

A family tie to century-old booth

Beyond the Bourne booth's historical significance, said MacDonald, is its connection to his paternal great-grandmother Edna Davis, who was an attendant at the booth during the 1950s.

Edwina Eldredge Beilman, daughter of writer and Bourne historian Geneva Eldredge, also shared insight with MacDonald about the Bourne booth before she died in 2008 at the age of 97. According to Beilman, the information booth was originally a ticket agent and land office owned by the railroad.

"It was located in Buzzards Bay before it was repurposed in Bourne. She showed me a postcard that shows an identical structure," MacDonald said. "It goes to show that there's evidence that it existed before 1928. Like all things history, things have yet to be uncovered."

Others hold a candle for the Bourne booth

MacDonald isn't the only one who hopes to see the Bourne booth live on. In an email, provided to the Times by MacDonald, Bourne resident Edgar Eldredge said he has watched the Bourne booth provide information to countless lovers of old Cape Cod for decades.

"It's quite upsetting to see more of the past not be cherished and respected to make way for millions of dollars of 'new nothing,'" he said.

In the letter, which was written and sent to Marlene McCollem, town of Bourne administrator, Eldredge pleads for the building's preservation.

"I ask you to please intervene with this issue," he said. "My family and I would be proud in aiding on behalf of saving this piece of time. To be honored as we move into the future and lose these invaluable pieces of yesteryear."

Peter Meier, chairman of the Bourne Board of Selectmen, spoke over the phone as an individual, private Bourne resident, and said he understands the sensitivity surrounding the survival of the Bourne booth.

"I wish that Cumberland Farms would restore it and try to find a place for it on its property. And then the Chamber (of Commerce) can go in with staff, with volunteers," he said. "It could be a way to support historical significance in town. It could really be a win-win for everybody."

Contact Rachael Devaney at rdevaney@capecodonline.com.

Stay connected with Cape Cod news, sports, restaurants and breaking news.  Download our free app.

This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Cumberland Farms declines to preserve a 1928 tourist booth in Bourne