On the afternoon of 14 May 2008, I took this picture of a pile of lobster trap buoys in front of 485 Commercial Street. Obviously, they had caught my eye, but they hadn’t excited much more interest than that. I squeezed off only one frame. I had no idea at the time that I was recording history. Five months later, when The Banner published a poignant essay by Dennis Minsky, “Todd Silva Is Leaving Provincetown,” I understood that I had been witnessing the last stand of “one of the last watermen on the waterfront.” Commercial Street had lost a working lobsterman, Todd Silva (b 1960), the skipper of the Pam & Todd.
For 90 years, and across four generations, this house had been in the Silva family, a home to fishermen and their wives and children, beginning with Joaquin (Goulart) Silva (b ±1864), who had come to Provincetown from the island of Pico, via New Bedford, and Emilia Mello Silva (b ±1874), from the island of São Miguel.
They were married in 1899. Silva family lore has it that they purchased 485 Commercial not long after, though Barnstable County records don’t show it in the Silvas’ hands until 1918. They had 14 children, of whom the youngest was Louis “Ding” Silva (b ±1916), He inherited the house in 1946, together with his wife Luene (Ellis) Silva (b ±1920). Todd Michael was the youngest of their eight children, and — at the time of his birth — the only boy. (His older brother Louis Joaquin perished a year earlier, at the age of 9, when he was swept overboard from a dory off the Truro shore, where he and his father were tending lobster traps.)
The house came into Todd’s hands in 1986. He had fished with his father aboard the Magellan II, a 42-foot scalloper that Louis Silva purchased in 1956. After she broke her moorings in a storm and wrecked on the breakwater, Todd Silva started lobstering on the Pam & Todd. He raised three daughters at 485 Commercial. He sold it in 2008, for more than $1 million, to Joyce A. Holupka and Pamela L. Cyr, who rehabilitated and expanded the building soon thereafter. It has never looked nicer. In fact, it seems safe to say that it had never looked nice. It was what it was.
“I am not certain if it matters who lives here,” Minsky said in his 2008 essay, “but who does not live here or cannot live here definitely matters.”
“What people do to live here definitely matters. The fishing community is the best model of a people connecting with a landscape in an organic, holistic, real way. Many of us yearn to emulate this quality, even as it fades away. Do we want a town without fishermen? A town without a high school? Do we want a community of dot-com millionaires? Is that a contradiction in terms? Where will we get our characters? What, in the end, can we do about it?
I don’t know. But Todd Silva is leaving Provincetown.”