374 Commercial Street

Thomas D. Brown Real Estate Associates | Hilda Neily Gallery

It seems the basement space in which Hilda Neily operates her gallery was once among the more treasured rendezvous of ancient mariners. This was the home of Capt. Eldbridge G. Berry (1837-1918), son of James and Bethsheba (Nickerson) Berry of Crockers Neck — Dennisport, these days — who’d set out to sea at age 9 and continued sailing into his 40s, at which time he became “engaged in the purchase and sale of old junk.” But the real business conducted in his basement office was that of storytelling.

Berry, who came from a family of seafarers, offered refuge daily to a “little bevy of ex-mariners who have long found his little office a snug ‘cabin’ in which to gather and exchange confidences and ‘yarns'” — “doings and voyagings and sea customs of which little is heard in the present, for the recounter and the listener had lived the life of a sailor in the old sailing ship days.” (Agnes Edwards, “Cape Cod — New and Old,” The Advocate, 27 June 1918.)

What we see from Commercial Street is actually the side elevation. The main facade of the house is on the west. When it was built, perhaps in the late 1700s, there was no Commercial Street to which it might have been oriented, nor any neighbors to block it. Based on 1977 interview with William N. Rogers, who then owned the building, Josephine Del Deo noted the following in the Historic District Survey:

It was in use originally as a fisherman’s boarding house. The small rooms under the eaves upstairs attest to this use. … [T]he fishermen came up directly form the beach. Its interior boasts wide floor boards and very wide paneling, some boards being as wide as 30 inches in the upstairs hall. The stairs are traditionally steep and the railing is pine. There were originally five fireplaces in the house, but these are presently boarded. The original doors and all the wainscoting is intact. The sills are low and, of course, crooked. The door frames are crooked and high against the ceiling …. All the wall woodwork is now painted, but the original wood is in place in every room and has not been altered.

Peggy Moore had a store here in the mid-1930s offering “smart frocks” and gifts. A decade later, it was Scotti’s Elba Restaurant, specializing — somewhat — in Italian cuisine: spaghetti, chicken cacciatore, ravioli, steaks and chops.

Thomas D. Brown II (±1927-1998), who lived in Truro, owned and operated a Beach Point cottage colony in the early 1960s when he decided to get into the real estate business for himself. Thomas D. Brown Real Estate Associates dates to 1961. Brown sold the company in 1994 to Nick Brown, whose familial relation to the founder — if any — is not clear. The company bought Swan Real Estate Associates in 2002.

Neily, who arrived in Provincetown in the early ’70s to study with Henry Hensche, opened a gallery in which to show her work in the late 1990s. It is now located in the basement commercial space, formerly occupied by Tumbleweed Designs. And long before that, by Captain Berry and his seafaring circle.


 

 


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