Harwich delegation visits English sister city

city
(11/2/98 Cape Cod Times)

By ROBIN LORD

STAFF WRITER

HARWICH - They were three men on holiday, escaping from their day-to-day lives of directing town government in Harwich. But along the way, Harwich Selectmen Peter Hughes and Peter Luddy, and Town Administrator Wayne Melville found a connection to sister town Harwich, England.

The men, with Cape Cod Chronicle reporter William Galvin, spent two days in "Hare-ich," as the locals say, this month, part of a 10-day excursion to England and France. "They went out of their way to make us happy and comfortable," said Luddy. He said a particularly poignant moment came when town officials raised the flags of both towns during a ceremony at Fort Redoubt, a Harwich fort built in 1808 to defend against Napoleon's army. "I knew I was home," he said.

A British delegation from Harwich visited their American namesake during the town's 300th birthday celebration in 1996, and Luddy said they were delighted to receive an official Harwich flag. The selectmen said Harwich, England, thinks enough of its Cape Cod counterpart to mention it in a sign: "Welcome to Historic Harwich. Sister Town of Harwich, Mass. USA." Much of their time was spent in informal sightseeing, but the men were treated to dinner by Mayor and Mayoress David and Shirley McLeod, and spent time with fire brigade member Len Stevens, who was in Harwich last month on a fund-raising bicycle tour. Stevens and his wife, Ericka, who flew over to meet her husband in Harwich last month, gave the group a tour of the local fire brigade. The English fire department stresses physical fitness, said Hughes, and is prepared and equipped to handle hazardous spills and fires in the harbor.

The men paid a visit to the Harwich Haven Authority, which controls harbor activities, and took a tour of the harbor on a pilot boat. Melville said he was impressed with the size of the shipping operation of one of England's busiest ports. The North Sea harbor sees 22,000 ships of 1,000 feet or more go through it each year. "Their largest ship is over 1,000 feet. Ours is 60 feet." The men managed to slip in some pub-hopping, and found a poster from Harwich's 300th birthday celebration two years ago in one of the town's seedier bars. Melville said the Americans all wore baseball caps into the pub, and patrons immediately were suspicious. "You're not from here," one man said. When they explained who they were, the people warmed up and barmaids scrambled to unclip the menus over the poster.

Historic preservation is important to many Harwich residents, said Hughes. Nearly 10 percent of the 12,000 residents belong to the Harwich Society, a preservation group. Hughes said the group finds value in restoring even the smallest landmark, including seemingly inconsequential fountain.

The Cape politicians were struck by the difference in the political structure in England. The mayor's position is largely ceremonial, and town government is run by a local council. The council meets every six weeks with no participation permitted from audience members.

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