490 Commercial Street

 
BayShore No. 20 (Iota)

In English, jot is derived from iota — meaning the smallest bit. In Provincetown, Iota is derived from Jot — meaning Jonathan C.”Jot” Small (±1876-1952), boatbuilder extraordinaire, Arctic traveler and, for a time in the 1930s, proprietor of a restaurant called Jot’s Galley here at 490 Commercial. The cottage served a commercial purpose before and after Small’s tenure, as Flora Winslow DeLaurier’s Bob Shoppe, a hair salon, in the 1920s and as Manuel F. Patrick’s Iota Package Store (read: liquor) in the 1940s.

Rear Adm. Donald B. MacMillan, several of whose expeditions Small accompanied, described as a man with a “partially bald head, a wrinkled face, long red whiskers, and a most extraordinary knowledge of the Eskimo language which, when accompanied by a vigorous waving of both arms, brought forth gales of laughter.” Mary Heaton Vorse did the admiral one better. “Little, compact, full of New England tang, Jot Small might well be carved of a knee of fine hardwood such as is used in the construction of vessels,” she wrote in Time and the Town, noting further that “for a long time he kept a fine ship-shape little restaurant a few doors away from here.”

Put someone as colorful as Jot in charge of a restaurant and you’re bound to get stories. Here’s the “clam chowder parable,” as related by Susan Leonard:

Everyone knows that getting sand out of clams is neither an art or a science. Conventional wisdom claims that soaking them for several hours in sea water dosed with corn meal is the way to go. The little bivalves siphon in the cornmeal-laced cocktail and annoyed by its foreign taste and texture they egest it, along with any naturally occurring grit they may be harboring. It is close to impossible to get rid of all the sand.

The Dialog

“Geez Jot, can’t you make clam chowder that doesn’t have sand in it?”

“Well, of course I can!”

“Then why don’t you?”

“Because then it wouldn’t have any clams in it, would it?”

Iota is today managed as a condominium for rent in a group that includes the BayShore, across the street at 493 Commercial; the Chandler House and Gallery at 481 Commercial; and 77 Commercial.


 

 

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