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Chatham, Massachusetts is located at the southeast tip of Cape Cod. If the Cape is viewed as a bent arm, Chatham is at the elbow. To the east is the Atlantic Ocean, to the South is Nantucket Sound, to the north is Pleasant Bay. The only adjacent town (located at both the north and west town line boundaries) is Harwich. Major geographical features of the Town are hilly, wooded uplands, extensive barrier beaches and spits, harbors, numerous small estuaries, and salt and freshwater ponds.
Mainland features are the result of glacial action during the last Ice Age and consist of ridges, knobs (hills), outwash plains, and kettles (depressions and ponds). Several ponds formed by melting glacial ice have become salt ponds because of rising sea levels. The Town’s coastal dunes and beaches have been formed through thousands of years of erosion of scarps (cliffs) and movement of the material from the north and west.
Strong Island in Pleasant Bay marks the Town’s northern boundary. Morris and Stage Islands mark the extent of developed area on the south. The Red River is the boundary on the west and the Muddy Creek (or Monomoy River) on the northwest. The highest point (131 feet) in Chatham is “Great Height”, long a landmark for vessels offshore.
Despite precarious beginnings, Chatham has developed over the years into a highly desirable place to live in or visit. Today its small-town qualities are well suited for families and retired residents. A spectacular coastline and out-of-the-way location have kept generations of summer residents coming back each year. With its old Cape Cod quaintness relieved by the vast pristine beaches and surrounding ocean, Chatham has great appeal. Visitors in July and August now number 20-25,000 annually.
The Town’s development as a high quality mecca for retirees, summer residents and tourists depended on two factors which in the early days of European settlement had been liabilities: its isolation and its exposure to the ocean. Today, Chatham prospers because of these factors and struggles to maintain its character in the face of its economic success.