There was never a better-named pier in Provincetown. Indeed, there may never have been a better-named pier anywhere in these United States than Whorf’s Wharf. Originally constructed in 1850 and then expanded, the wharf reached roughly 400 feet into the harbor, almost directly from the spot now occupied by Fanizzi’s restaurant. It also reached into the Provincetown skyline, thanks to a towering windpump on the property, shown in a photograph below.
Thomas Rider Whorf Jr. (1815-1887) was the builder of Whorf’s Wharf, by permission of the legislature and governor under Chapter 2 of the General and Special Statutes of Massachusetts of 1850, which also granted him the “right to lay vessels at the end and sides of said wharf, and to receive wharfage and dockage therefor.” Thanks to the book The Living World, we know that 19-year-old Whorf was a salter aboard the 60-ton schooner Powhattan out of Provincetown, under Capt. Philip Cook, which plied the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. At a time before refrigeration, the task of salting and drying fish was no less critical than catching them, as they did no one any good if they couldn’t reach the markets. Whorf owned 528 Commercial Street nearby.
Thomas Whorf was not himself a direct ancestor of the artists John Whorf, Nancy Whorf and Carol Whorf. But they all shared a common ancestor in a John Whorf who lived in Provincetown from 1760 to 1825. This John Whorf was the great-great-great-great-grandfather of the painter John Whorf and the grandfather of Thomas Whorf, the wharf-builder.
Thomas’s son, Philip A. Whorf (1841-1916) is the family member most strongly connected with the East End wharf. An article in the United States Commercial Recorder in 1890 described Philip Rider as a leading wholesaler of dry and pickled fish who had been in business roughly 15 years. The business employed 130 men and 16 vessels: eight in cod-fishing, six in salt-fishing and two in fresh-fishing. Rider’s fish reached Boston, of course, but also as far as Chicago and Baltimore.