Even if you’ve never set foot on the pier, the oddly-angled, salt-crusted Captain Jack’s Wharf has helped form your picture of Provincetown. Capt. Jackson Williams, born at 70A Commercial in 1861, owned trapboats. He began building his wharf in 1897. The tall, narrow roof in mid-wharf marks the herring smoke house. When weir fishing declined in the 1920s, Williams started renting pier sheds to tourists. The cabin called Ribbons was Mrs. Lucille Bailey’s Tea Room, “where working women could go without being suspect,” said Sandy Harris, who owns the unit with her husband, Joe. Rents at the time of Captain Jack’s death in 1935 were $45 to $75 for the whole season. (Transients are still accommodated but the prices have gone up, to as much as $5,225 a week in the high season.)
In 1936, Dr. Daniel Hiebert began running the wharf as Studios-on-the-Sea. In Ribbons, the performer Sally Nye opened the Circus Club bar. Its three-ring décor featured animal murals, which the Harrises preserved. Dr. Hiebert’s wife, Emily, took over the wharf in 1939 and renamed it Captain Jack’s. Tennessee Williams did not write The Glass Menagerie here, nor seduce Marlon Brando in exchange for the role of Stanley Kowalski. He did, however, have a brief affair with Kip Kiernan, a ballet dancer. The Hieberts’ daughter Ruth ran the wharf and acquired nearby properties like No. 67, which she renamed the Skiff, and No. 71, Dinghy Dock. Her life companion, Maurice Fitzgerald, was a naval captain, state representative, and judge. “Ruth was one part ship’s captain, keeping the wharf running smoothly, and two parts social director,” Ed Fitzgerald recalled. The property is now a condo. The cabins at the end, Spindrift and Hesperus, were bought in 2010 by Mark Moskowitz.
More than 2,000 buildings and vessels are searchable on buildingprovincetown.com. The Building Provincetown book is available for purchase ($20) at Town Hall, Office of the Town Clerk, 260 Commercial Street, Provincetown 02657.