648 Commercial Street

 
East Twin Cottage

More than simply another in the lovely ensemble of gambrel-roofed cottages built by Horace Albertus Spear Jr. (1864-1934) for his family members, No. 648 is still used and occupied by Spear’s descendants to the third, fourth and fifth generations. For that — as well as The Fraser Budget for Personal or Family Expenses (1917) — we may thank Alice (Spear) Fraser, the second-oldest daughter of Horace and Elizabeth Ann (Evans) Spear (1867-1958).

The Spears are descended from Edmund Freeman (1596–1682), one of the founders of Sandwich, Mass. Though Horace and Elizabeth lived in Walpole, they maintained their ties to Cape Cod by spending many summers in Provincetown. Carol Fraser Plesser (b 1949), the Spears’ great-granddaughter, told me in 2012 that Horace began buying property and constructing family cottages in the far East End during the closing years of the 19th century. Nos. 645 Commercial and 647 Commercial were built for his own account. Across the road, 642 Commercial was probably constructed for his youngest daughter, Adelaide (b 1902); 646 Commercial for his oldest daughter, Ruth (1893-1982); and 648 Commercial — this house — for Alice (b 1894).

Alice married LeRoy B. Fraser and the couple spent many summers at No. 648 with their children — LeRoy Jr. (1917-1980), John, Donald and Anne — until 1946, when LeRoy Sr. died suddenly in Woodbridge, Conn. As Carol Fraser Plesser recounted:

My grandmother was widowed in her 50s and was very sentimental about her cottage here that she had shared with her husband …. She was happy to share the cottage with the family but was very much the matriarch, and did not want any changes or improvements made to the house. Until 1999, it was a classic old cottage: aged wooden walls, only partioned bedrooms upstairs [See 634 Commercial], one bathroom build on a former porch that was leaning badly and shook if you jumped on the floor.

To ensure that the cottage not leave the family’s hands, title was transferred first from Alice Fraser to her son John (known as Jack), then from him to the seven children of the third generation, including Carol and her brother LeRoy III (known as Scott). The family gathered at No. 648 in June 1995. Carol again:

After a great week of sharing memories and getting to know each other’s kids, my cousins decided they would prefer to be bought out of the cottage. Several lived in California and Arizona, and being able to visit the house was impractical. Plus, seven owners from three branches of the family would have been an unwieldy management undertaking.

At that time, Carol Fraser (married to Bernard “Buz” Plesser) and Scott Fraser (married to Svea Gustafson Fraser) and their mother, Harriette Fraser, bought out the interests of the rest of the family. Four years later, in 1999, they undertook a long-overdue renovation.

The town required that the front of this ‘historical house’ remain unchanged and it has. We added a two-story addtion in the back, put in a new bath on the first floor and added a bath on the second, plus built a roof deck and outdoor shower. The house is now winterized and heated and has a full basement. We tried to leave it very much an informal cottage and I think we succeeded in that.

What would inspire a family’s loyalty over such a long span of time? Well, moments after she finished writing to me about her family’s history in Provincetown, Plesser answered the ringing doorbell — “Yes, we have a doorbell!” — at No. 648. “Two cherubs were delivering a handwritten invitation to an ice-cream social across the street to celebrate the Walkers’ 50th summer here,” she told me. “Our block has always been such a friendly place.”

[Updated 2012-08-10]

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