David Conwell Wharf, or Cannery Wharf
Cannery Wharf may not have been Provincetown’s Motif Number 1 — there are too many competitors — but it certainly was one of the more frequently painted wharves and for good reason. Its offset pier sheds, far out in the harbor, one of them crowned by a cupola, made for a compelling composition. In the painting above, by Arthur V. Diehl (1870-1929), Cannery Wharf was rendered like a 17th-century Dutch landscape. Other images follow, from the collection of Helen and Napi Van Dereck: by Harold Walker (b 1890), W. H. W. Bicknell (1860-1947) and Gerrit Beneker (1862-1934).
Of course, the wharf’s distinction was earned long before artists discovered it. David Conwell (1818-1898) went down to the sea and then tried his hand at carpentry before finding himself, at the age of 30, as an outfitter of whaling and fishing vessels, in which he often had a financial interest as well. In August 1880, for instance, he was the agent for two whaling schooners then at sea: the 103-ton Clara L. Sparks and the 70-ton N. J. Knights. “He did not confine himself to merely outfitting vessels, but he conducted a large business with the residents of Provincetown and sections of Cape Cod,” according to his entry in American Biography (Volume 5, 1919). He also represented Provincetown for two years in the State Legislature, as a Republican. He’s buried in Town Cemetery.
With the winding down of Conwell’s business, the wharf was revitalized by the arrival in town of Lehman Pickert (1843-1917), a German immigrant who settled first in Cincinnati before moving to Boston and opening the L. Pickert & Company fish-packing enterprise. Pickert began its Provincetown canning operation in 1882. In time, it acquired both the Conwell and adjoining Small wharves. The Conwell wharf was used principally for canning, the Small wharf for smoking. The local manager was Adam A. Blackwood. Though infrequently seen at the Cape tip, Pickert was an important civic figure in Boston as president of Federated Hebrew Charities and the United Hebrew Benevolent Association. “He had for years seemed ‘one of us,'” The Advocate said in an elegaic death notice, “for a large part of the work of the company of which he was the honored and capable head was performed in this town.” (The Advocate, 15 November 1917.)
Cannery Wharf was sliced in half by the Coast Guard cutter USCG Morrill on 16 November 1926, in an incident described more fully under the entry for Knowles Wharf, which was destroyed. The result, for a time, was the amazing sight of the intact pier sheds propped up incongruously in complete isolation out in the harbor.