68 Commercial Street

The James M. Burke was among the largest and best known boats in the Provincetown fishing fleet in the mid-20th century. And this is where himself — Capt. James M. Burke (±1865-1941) — berthed, when he wasn’t out on his namesake vessel or aboard the Amelia D. or the Cormorant, which he also owned. Burke, a Provincetown native whose parents were born in Ireland, was chiefly known around town as a master politician. From 1915 to 1940, he was the chairman of the Republican Town Committee — when such a thing could even be imagined to exist (“J. M. Burke Dies, Funeral Friday,” The Advocate, 6 November 1941). In 1900, he married Ada Holmes (±1866-1948) of Brooklyn. Mrs. Burke operated 68 Commercial Street both as a kindergarten and as a rooming house.

Early the Burkes’ occupancy, at the turn of the 20th century, the house was denominated 55 Commercial Street.

There is a wonderful story behind the perceptible bend in the sidewalk outside 68 Commercial Street. It was here that one of the town’s great willow trees stood, more than five feet in diameter, with the sidewalk skirting around it. It was the subject of at least one popular post card. Though long gone, it still exerts its presence if you know where to look.

2 thoughts on “68 Commercial Street

  1. Legend has it that the willows that once graced Commercial Street were all grown from cuttings taken from Napoleon’s grave at St. Helena. During his exile, Napoleon is said to have spent many hours beneath the shade of a majestic willow, an emblem of sadness and sorrow. Near the time of Napoleon’s death in 1821, the willow was blown down and cuttings from it were planted around his grave. American whaleships calling at St. Helena, including those from Provincetown, took away cuttings of the tree and planted them back home. The fast-growing willow is a native of western Asia but seems to be adaptable to many climates, even the sandy soil of Provincetown where grand willows, like the one at 68 Commercial Street, once thrived.

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