610 Commercial Street

Talk about back yards! This classic Provincetown house — handsome, plain and upright — sits on one of the “great lots” that were deeded to their owners as running from sea to sea; that is, all the way from Provincetown Harbor to the Atlantic Ocean. The lot was truncated by the creation of the Cape Cod National Seashore and it is, of necessity, interrupted by Bradford and Commercial Streets. But the property is otherwise intact and still under the ownership of the Mayo family, from the waterfront all the way to the Old Colony right-of-way; 49 feet wide upland and 59 feet wide at the shore.

At this shore, Capt. Alfred Atkins Mayo (±1871-1958) moored the Iris in the early 20th century. “One of the greatest fresh fishermen who ever sailed from Provincetown is Alfred Mayo,” Mary Heaton Vorse wrote, in Time and the Town, published in 1942. “Alfred Mayo is a tall New Englander who still gives one the feeling of youth. He owned one of the most beautiful vessels in the harbor, a great sloop called the Iris. The exploits of the Iris, the risks she took and the fish she caught, are part of fishermen’s legends in Provincetown. Mayo has a nose for fish that has never been surpassed.” Mayo also skippered the yacht Akpah, which won many races in the 1930s. Pilings that are still visible on the beach mark the spot where Alfred Mayo had a boat house and a storehouse where he kept nets and traps.

Family tradition has it that the house at 610 Commercial Street originally stood in Truro and was floated down to Provincetown. (It is not the only Truro import in town; another is 27 Brewster Street.) Captain Mayo gave this house to his cousin, Herbert F. Mayo (±1908-1966), and Mayo’s wife, Margaret Adelaide (Williams) Mayo (1908-2009), at their wedding.

Herbert’s father, Frank L. Mayo (d 1957) had spent about three decades assisting wrecked ships on the back shore as a member first of the United State Life-Saving Service and then the Coast Guard, into which the Life-Saving Service was merged in 1915. For about five years in the early 1930s, Frank Mayo was in charge of the Peaked Hill Bars Coast Guard Station. In that role, he witnessed the destruction of the last of the old station, which was once home to Eugene O’Neill.

Margaret’s father, John Campbell Williams (±1874-1958), had been Provincetown’s chief of police, an appointment he had accepted in 1924 when he was serving on the Boston Harbor Police. He retired as police chief in 1936 and built the Pilgrim Colony cottages on Beach Point in North Truro.

Herbert and Margaret met as students at Provincetown High School. He worked at the First National Bank of Provincetown from 1927 to 1932, at the Higgins Lumber Company from 1932 to 1939, and at the B. H. Dyer Hardware Company from 1941 to 1958. But the couple’s principal distinction was as the builders, owners and managers of the East Harbour cottage colony on Beach Point in North Truro, designed by Ben Adams Buck of Chatham and begun in 1939.

Margaret Mayo began what she called her “second life” after her husband died. She worked at the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum until 1985, when she was in her late 70s, and traveled — often by herself — to Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. She lived to be 100. “She remained extremely active throughout her life,” her obituary recalled, “swimming daily in Provincetown Harbor from Memorial Day until well after Labor Day, doing t’ai chi and walking into town daily. When a bout of sciatica slowed her down, she started writing for three or four hours every day.” (“Margaret A. Mayo, 100,” The Banner, 5 February 2009.)

In 1987, Margaret and Herbert’s son David Lothrop Mayo (b 1940) built a house on the waterfront lot, where the Iris was once moored.

[Updated 2012-07-07]





4 thoughts on “610 Commercial Street

  1. 610 Commercial Street was most recently occupied by Margaret A. Mayo who passed away February 1, 2009 at age 100. She would have been 101 on April 4, 2009. Margaret came as the bride of Herbert F. Mayo to this house, which was given to them by Herbert’s cousin, Alfred Atkins Mayo.

    Herbert’s father was the keeper of Peaked Hill Bar station on the “back shore” and Margaret’s father, John F. Williams, was Chief of Police of Provincetown.

    610 is one of the “great lots” the deed reads from “sea to sea” – Provincetown harbor to the Atlantic Ocean.

    Alfred Atkins Mayo was a legendary sea captian who is mentioned in Mary Heaton Vorse’s book, Time and the Town. He gave the property to Herbert and Margaret at their wedding. Alfred and his mother lived there after his father was lost at sea. She was a seamstress.

    Alfred moored his boat – the “Iris” off of 610.

    David L. Mayo, son of Herbert and Margaret built a house on the lot across from 610 (1987) and lives there today (617 Commercial). Before the house was built there was a long rectangular “boat house” on the west side opening on Commercial Street and a “store” or wharf where Alfred kept his nets and traps. The pilings from that building remain on the beach.

    Margaret and Herbert said that 610 Commercial was floated over from Truro. The rear section was added in the early 1900’s, I believe. The cottage behind was at one time a garage and workroom for Alfred and Herbert.

    The entire property is still intact with the exception of that taken by the National Park Service.

    • I am from Prince Edward Island, Canada, and have seen photographs of a Margaret Mayo from Cape Cod who was related to the Bears family and came to visit. Could this have been your mother?

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