72 Commercial Street

“Oldest House” (Seth Nickerson House)
We’ll keep the “Oldest House” title in quotation marks because there are other claimants, though 72 Commercial Street is certainly among the very oldest structures still standing in town, having been built around 1746-50, and is well worth attention in any case as a fine example of the full Cape style, with double front windows on either side of a central doorway (which is also why this style is sometimes described as a Double Cape). In contrast to No. 64, note how the windows abut the eaves, which is a sign of its age. Another giveaway is the beehive-shaped brick oven at the rear of the main fireplace, which the Walking Tour guide said would be found only in a house built before 1750.

Seth Nickerson was a ship’s carpenter and his house is said to have been built of materials harvested from shipwrecks. There are eight-by-eight-inch oak beams inside. These, and a 16-ton chimney, have helped anchor the building against many storms. This area was a “Nickerson neighborhood,” peopled by the cousins Seth, Thomas, and Jonathan, and their sons.

The artists Elizabeth (Jenkinson) Waugh and F. Coulton Waugh (1896-1973) owned the Nickerson house in the early 20th century and opened it to the public. On the left as you came in was his Ship Model Shop, offering not only models but hand-colored prints and objects relating to the town’s maritime history. Her shop, on the right, was the Hooked Rug Shop. She and Edith Foley (married to Frank Shays of the Barnstormers Theater) made and sold rugs. In the Waughs’ day there was an entrance arch made of a whale’s jawbone.

John Gregory (1903-1992), a painter, printmaker and photographer, and his wife Adelaide Gregory, a concert pianist, bought the house in 1944. They “not only carefully preserved the house but kept it open to the public, for which they should have received a public service award,” said Clive Driver. For only the third time in the 20th century, the house changed hands again in 1995.

The house was acquired from the Gregory family by John W. “Jack” Croucher and Robert E. McCamant, who already owned 72A Commercial Street and 72B Commercial Street, on the other side of tiny, grass-covered Ericsson Place. They hired the prominent Cambridge restoration architect Robert Neiley (d 2010) to undertake an ambitious restoration that turned into something of an archaeological dig as well. The house is no longer open to the public.






5 thoughts on “72 Commercial Street

  1. I grew up in this house. My parents, John and Adelaide Gregory opened the house every summer to the public starting a couple of years after they purchased it in 1944, giving conducted tours right up until John’s death in 1992. John had a large 78 rpm collection of classical music and ,also during the summer, two evenings a week from the mid 40’s to the early 50’s, held “candlelight concerts” with chairs and cushions spread around the three main rooms of the first floor. A marquee in the front yard listed the program for the evening. He would attend to the record player and announce the particular selection about to be heard, thus becoming a very early DJ, if not the first. It was a popular and romantic place to take a date, since people couldn’t carry their music with them in those days. Students from the nearby Hans Hofmann school were some of the most avid attendees. A hat was passed around during intermission and, one night around 1948 or ’49, they collected over $100.00, which was a very large sum at that time. John also exhibited and sold his photographs and lithographs in the main front room. He was the only tour guide I’d ever heard who could give virtually the same talk for thousands of repetitions and still retain his enthusiasm for the subject.

    • What a wonderful memory! My husband and I have recently purchased 72B Commercial, just up the lane. I’d welcome any information you have on it’s history!


  2. This is one period house in Provincetown that’s been superbly restored. And it (unlike the Martin House) is 18th century.

  3. I’m very happy to read this article. I’d posted a picture of the Oldest House in Key West where I live now. Having been born and raised in New England,
    and having had the opportunity to visit Provincetown beginning in the early 60’s when my family started to travel, I’ve always been interested in history.
    It’s nice to learn who now owns the property and the surrounding properties and recognize some of them to be contributors to this Facebook group.

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