Old Colony Railroad Passenger Depot
For better or worse, Provincetown was firmly joined to the mainland on 23 July 1873, when the Old Colony Railroad inaugurated train service from Boston. The passenger depot stood on Bradford Street but the tracks continued down Standish, across Commercial, and all the way to the end of Railroad Wharf, giving fishermen a relatively fast overland route to Boston. Three short spurs branched from the main line at Conwell Street. One ended at an engine house and turntable near Center Street and Railroad Avenue. Each day, four trains ran — or, at least, crawled — up and down the Cape.
The 120-mile trip took about four-and-a-half hours and could involve up to three dozen stops. “Legend had it that when the train saw a new cranberry shack along the road it halted automatically,” Mary Heaton Vorse wrote. However, it got to town eventually.
And with it came thousands of first-time visitors, including New Yorkers, who could take an overnight boat to Fall River, Mass., followed by a short train trip to Middleborough to pick up the yellow coaches of the Cape train. Provincetown was, for the first time, on the tourist map.
Old Colony was subsumed into the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad in 1893. The depot was improved in 1899 with a covered passage and better heating and lighting. But the railroad’s days were numbered by 1915, when the State Highway (today’s Route 6) was completely paved, opening the Cape end to motorists. The last scheduled passenger train left the Bradford Street depot on 17 July 1938 — 65 years, almost to the day, after service began. The station was mournfully draped in crepe and a dirge was played as the train pulled out.