19 Pearl Street

19 Pearl Street, Provincetown (2009), by David W. Dunlap. 
"Heaven's Coast" by Mark Doty. HarperPerennial, a division of HarperCollins Publishers. Cover photograph by Minor White, Copyright © 1982 by the Trustees of Princeton University.Edward Doty arrived in Provincetown in 1620, signed the Compact and then was off with the rest of the Mayflower complement to Plymouth. Three hundred and seventy years later, his descendant, the poet Mark Doty (b 1953), arrived in Provincetown with his partner, Wally Roberts (1951-1994), a year after Roberts had tested positive for H.I.V. They were then living in Vermont, but it did not take them long to decide to move here. “Weary of the deep snow of Vermont, as well as its icy emotional weather, we found ourselves smitten with the coastal clutter of boarded shops and clapboard houses along the curve of the bay,” Doty wrote in Heaven’s Coast (1996). The next year, they bought this house; the first one they saw, though they looked at many others before visiting this on their own — without the real-estate broker — when they discovered a forgotten fireplace, papered over and hidden by a bureau, in an upstairs bedroom. “It was then that we fell in love,” Doty wrote, “and the making of home again began to be a project and a refuge.”

Neighborhood lore had it that the house was built in Truro and floated down the bay to Provincetown. Roberts and Doty devoted themselves to fixing the front yard, planting roses and cutting every picket of a new picket fence. “There were plenty of things in the house that could have used our attention — the kitchen remained a funky zone of 1960s knotty pine, the bathroom a grim extravaganza of blue Formica — but there was something essential about getting that garden right,” Doty wrote.

Mark Doty, by Renate Ponsold. Copyright © 1994 by Provincetown Arts Inc.In an interview for Provincetown Arts, not long after Roberts had died and shortly before Atlantis was published, the poet Michael Klein asked Doty whether Provincetown was like any other place in his life. “One thing that it does,” Doty answered, “is take me back to some of my growing up in southern Arizona, which is a very elemental landscape, like this one, both very austere and very alive simultaneously. I feel at home. In the marsh or in the dunes there is so little, yet so very much that is intensely itself and available. And those huge, wide-open horiontals, the endlessly shifting light. My Vermont experience left me wildly hungry for light and this place offers one centuries of light.”

Doty stayed in Provincetown a dozen years after Roberts died and after telling Klein:

Coming to Provincetown was a way of giving ourselves a gift and I haven’t regretted that decision for a minute. It was exactly the right thing to do. We could set down some burdens and have a world around Wally during the last years of his life that felt safe and welcoming and loving to him. It helped us both a great deal. Of course, we could also put on wigs in Provincetown. I believe you saw me at the Halloween party doing my Stevie Nicks look-alike act?

Historic District SurveyAssessor’s Online Database ¶ Posted 2013-06-03


19 Pearl Street, Provincetown (2011), by David W. Dunlap.


2 thoughts on “19 Pearl Street

  1. This was the home of the Nelson family from 1901 to 1986.

    Martin Nelson was born in Sweden about 1870 and immigrated to the U.S. sometime in the 1880s. In 1901, he purchased this property, shortly after he married Louisa C. Smith of Chatham. They had 10 children together.

    Martin Nelson had a gas-powered boat, built in 1913, which he named the Harry & Thelma (after two of his children). It was engaged in dredging for flounder. He had great success in this until his tragic death aboard his vessel on Jan. 11, 1920. He was “caught in the ropes of his hoisting apparatus” (Barnstable Patriot, Jan. 12, 1920, page 2). This article also said that Captain Nelson was a member of the life-saving crew before he took up flounder fishing.

    Mrs. Nelson — pregnant at the time of her husband’s death — never remarried and continued to live in her home until her death in 1960.

    The Harry & Thelma was destroyed by fire in Provincetown Harbor in July, 1927, when the gasoline line supply ignited (Hyannis Patriot, July 7, 1927, page 8).

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