73A Commercial Street

Captain Jack’s Wharf

No matter whether you’ve ever set foot here, the quirky, odd-angled, salt-crusted, sea-infused Captain Jack’s Wharf has almost undoubtedly helped form your mental picture of Provincetown. Even now, its eccentric and ramshackle charm seems largely intact, though a consultation with its asking rates will quickly dispel any idea that this is still a Bohemian paradise. Captain Jack — Jackson R. Williams — was born in Provincetown in 1861. He was a fisherman through the 1880s. He applied to the commonwealth in 1897 to build a 100-foot wharf from his property at 73½ Commercial Street. He later added 100 more feet. Then he began to cater to the tourist trade. More pictures and history»

† Wharf at 83 Commercial Street

Wharf Players Theater
Theater was taken so very seriously in Provincetown in the early 20th century that schisms arose. Mary Bicknell’s Wharf Theater, founded in 1923, first performed in a movie theater, then moved briefly to Frank Shay’s barn. Both factions — Bicknell’s and Shay’s — sought to dominate at this playhouse. The more conservative Bicknell group tried to get the upper hand by walking off with benches, props and equipment. In 1925, they built their own theater, on what had been known as the Myrick Atwood Wharf. More pictures and history»

† Wharf at 99-101 Commercial Street

Union Wharf
The 1,000-foot-long Union Wharf, constructed in about 1830-31, was one of the largest and most important wharves in town. A marine railway at the end drew vessels up to a building with a large notch in its gabled roof to accommodate bowsprits, so that the hull could be brought that much higher and closer. More pictures and history»

† Wharf at 195-199 Commercial Street

Joseph Atwood Wharf
This wharf, once known as the Market Wharf, was originally associated with the wharfhead building where Café Heaven is a longtime tenant, which was constructed in 1845-46. The overall operation on the pier and in the upland structures was the fitting of vessels and the purchasing of cod and mackerel. More pictures and history»

† 221-223 Commercial Street

Charles Nickerson Wharf

This exceptional photograph was taken some time between 1870 (when King Hiram’s Lodge was built) and 1877 (when the first Town Hall, on the hilltop in the distance) burned down. It shows the flake yard — smack dab in the heart of town — at the head of the Charles Nickerson Wharf; filled with rank after rank of cod-drying racks, known as fish flakes. In his three-part series on the wharves of Provincetown, Irving S. Rogers said that the 400-foot Nickerson wharf was “quite important as an unloading and flaking wharf for the codfishing vessels.” (“Puffs and Pot Shots,” The Advocate, 16 October 1941.) This yard would later be the apron in front of the Cape Cod Garage. It is where the Seamen’s Bank stands now. If King Hiram’s Lodge doesn’t look quite right to you, it may be because it was formerly three stories tall.

† Wharf at 229R Commercial Street

Lancy’s Wharf
Though it is a complete wreck today, Benjamin Lancy’s Wharf, which was built around 1850, is easily recognizable as the major pier it once was. His house, at 230 Commercial Street, is directly in line with the long axis of the pile field. More pictures»

† Wharf at 251-253 Commercial Street

Charley Cook’s Wharf

As early as 1838, Young’s Wharf was shown at the foot of what was once known as Forest Street (now Gosnold). It was Charley Cook’s Wharf under Capt. Charles Cook. By the late 1930s, it was known as the Art Colony Wharf, over which Heinrich Pfeiffer (d 1957) presided. On the wharf stood the Artists Theatre, which Pfeiffer originally intended for movies. In 1939, stage plays were added to the bill. The next year, following the destruction of the Wharf Theatre in the West End, Pfeiffer arranged for a summer season with the New England Repertory Company, so that Provincetown would not be deprived of summer theater. This evolved into the Provincetown Playhouse on the Wharf, discussed at 2 Gosnold Street.

† Wharf at 337-341 Commercial Street

J. D. Hilliard’s Wharf

Hilliard’s Wharf cut a most unusual profile on the waterfront. It didn’t run perpendicular to the shore but was canted discernibly to the southwest. According to Napi Van Dereck, this served to make the wharf more easily approachable by ships heavily laden with lumber, since they could count on prevailing southwesterly winds to ease them into port. Some pilings still remain from this historic structure. Originally 600 feet long, the wharf was unusually wide, and so could accommodate a large number of fish flakes. More pictures and history»

† Wharf at 381-383 Commercial Street

George O. Knowles Wharf

Among the richer wharves historically was that built by Stephen Cook, of 378 Commercial Street, and best known as the George O. Knowles Wharf, after Cook’s nephew. It was home of a renowned fishing fleet, including the Carrie D. Knowles, named for Knowles’s daughter. It served as the first home of the influential Beachcombers association, long since hunkered down at 463 Commercial Street. It briefly harbored the Casino, one of the earliest semi-fancy nightspots in town. And it was destroyed on that long-remembered night in November 1926 when the Coast Guard’s storm-tossed cutter USCG Morrill, on rum-running interdiction duty, caused more havoc in Provincetown in a few hours than bootleggers caused throughout Prohibition. Bull Ring Wharf, No. 381-383, is successor to the Knowles Wharf. More pictures and history»

381-383 Commercial Street

Bull Ring Wharf | Kidstuff

Above the storefront, the wonderfully plain facade of No. 381 attests to its utilitarian origins as a store house at the foot of the George O. Knowles Wharf property. The original wharf, then owned by the Higgins Lumber Company, was destroyed in 1926 when the Coast Guard cutter USCG Morrill drifted amok during a powerful storm. Higgins continued to own the property until 1948, when it was purchased by Thomas A. “Tommy” Francis and his wife, Deola. They ran it as the Bull Ring Apartments, succeeded in 1962 Munroe G. Moore and his wife, Mary. More pictures and history»

† 389R Commercial Street

Provincetown Fisheries plant

Torn from today’s headlines: Environmental disaster! Illegal drainage and discharges into the harbor! Construction work overnight and on weekends! Incessant commercial traffic! Out-of-towners trampling on town residents’ rights! The impending end of the fishing economy! A fight pitting hardscrabble Provincetown against the genteel tourist trade! And to think … it all happened in the late 1940s. More pictures and history»

† Wharf at 389-395 Commercial Street

David Conwell Wharf, or Cannery Wharf

Cannery Wharf may not have been Provincetown’s Motif Number 1 — there are too many competitors — but it certainly was one of the more frequently painted wharves and for good reason. Its offset pier sheds, far out in the harbor, one of them crowned by a cupola, made for a compelling composition. In the painting above, by Arthur V. Diehl (1870-1929), Cannery Wharf was rendered like a 17th-century Dutch landscape. Other images follow, from the collection of Helen and Napi Van Dereck: by Harold Walker (b 1890), W. H. W. Bicknell (1860-1947) and Gerrit Beneker (1862-1934). More pictures and history»

† Wharf at 401½ Commercial Street

Ed Small Wharf

Small’s Wharf was the easternmost of a trio in the near East End. Like the adjacent Conwell’s Wharf, Small’s was pressed into a second useful stint for the L. Pickert & Company fish-packing concern, based in Boston. This wharf was used for filleting and smoking fish, while the canning took place on Conwell’s, also known as Cannery Wharf. The group shot above was taken outside the filleting plant. More pictures and history»

437-439 Commercial Street

Poor Richard’s Landing | William-Scott Gallery | Oils by the Sea Gallery

When Mother Avellar died, just shy of her 90th birthday, she left 10 children, 23 grandchildren, 30 great-grandchildren, 1 great-great-grandhild — and the entire community of Provincetown. Angelina Jacinta (Soares) Avellar (1866-1956) was known as “Mother Avellar” far beyond her own brood at 437 Commercial. That brood, “Clan Avellar,” merited an entire chapter in Mary Heaton Vorse’s Time and the Town. “There was never a home with so much life and so much happiness in it,” Vorse wrote. The family included Father Avellar — Jose or Joseph Maria (1864-1946) — and the children: Antone Jason (1885-1961); Florence May (1888-1974); Katherine (b 1890); Angie (1892-1893); Albert Joseph (1894-1962); the twins, Gerald E. (b 1895) and Arthur E. (b 1895); Justin (1899-1900); Justin Francis (1902-1988); Ruth (1904-1904); Walter E. (1907-1964); Raphael (b 1908); and Izabel M. (1909-2007). More pictures and history»

† Wharf at 467 Commercial Street

E. & E. K. Cook & Company Wharf

Also known as Kibby Cook’s Wharf, this was 900 feet long. “Whalers and bankers fitted out at this pier and came into this site for annual overhauls,” Irving S. Rogers wrote in 1941. Kibby Cook — properly Epaphras Kibby or E. K. Cook (1824-1905) — lived near the foot of this wharf at 466 Commercial Street, later the home of Mary Heaton Vorse. More history»

† Wharf at 481 Commercial Street

H. & S. Cook & Company Wharf

The largest landmark along the Cooks’ row (eight houses and three wharves) was the 1,000-foot-long wharf of H. & S. Cook & Company, which had been founded in the 1840s by Henry, Sylvanus and Jonathan Cook. Five or six vessels could be accommodated at the pier, the United States Commercial Recorder noted in 1890, and as many as 16,000 quintals of codfish were handled there every season — or 800 tons — which would be cured and shipped in turn to Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore. “Besides this, the firm maintains a large store on Commercial Street, containing a complete stock of ship stores and groceries.” It is shown above at No. 33.

† Wharf at 537-539 Commercial Street

Whorf’s Wharf

There was never a better-named pier in Provincetown. Indeed, there may never have been a better-named pier anywhere in these United States than Whorf’s Wharf. Originally constructed in 1850 and then expanded, the wharf reached roughly 400 feet into the harbor, almost directly from the spot now occupied by Fanizzi’s restaurant. It also reached into the Provincetown skyline, thanks to a towering windpump on the property, shown in a photograph below. More pictures and history»

† Wharf at 571 Commercial Street

Lewis Wharf

You can’t see the most culturally important wharf in town. It’s long gone. But the cairn-mounted plaque next to 571 Commercial Street explains why this is still a place of pilgrimage: “In 1915, on a wharf extending from this site, a fish shed owned by Mary Heaton Vorse was converted to a theater by a group later named the Provincetown Players. On July 28, 1916, the Players staged Bound East for Cardiff, the first production of a play by a young and then unknown author, thus launching the career of Eugene O’Neill as a playwright and changing the course of modern drama in America.” More pictures and history»

† 2 Gosnold Street

2 Gosnold Street, Provincetown (ND). Published by Cape Cod Photos. Courtesy of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum (Salvador R. Vasques III Collection, No. PC 3210). 
2 Gosnold Street, Provincetown (1958). Courtesy of the Provincetown History Preservation Project (Municipal Collection).Provincetown Playhouse on the Wharf

In local theatrical history, the Provincetown Playhouse was a landmark second in importance only to Lewis Wharf, 571 Commercial Street, where Eugene O’Neill’s Bound East for Cardiff was first performed in 1916. (How important? Enough to draw the first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, to a performance of Mrs. Warren’s Profession in August 1961.) But in true Provincetown fashion, the structure had more than one use and more than one distinction. As a maritime landmark, it served as the shop in which the surf-cleaving boats of the United States Life Saving Service were perfected, sparing the lives of untold numbers of coast guardsmen, who were as much in peril at a shipwreck as the crew members and passengers they were trying to rescue.

2 Gosnold Street, Provincetown (ND). Published by Cape Cod Photos. Courtesy of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum (Salvador R. Vasques III Collection, No. PC 3216). 

More pictures and history»

† 1 MacMillan Wharf

Railroad Wharf, Provincetown. Scrapbooks of Althea Boxell: Book 5, Page 25. Courtesy of the Provincetown History Preservation Project (Dowd Collection). 
Railroad Wharf, Provincetown.  Courtesy of the Provincetown History Preservation Project (Natalie Patrick/Elsie Long Estate Glass Plates Collection).Railroad Wharf (Town Wharf)

“Does this train stop at Provincetown?” So the apocryphal story began about an exchange between passenger and conductor on the Old Colony Railroad. “Well, lady,” the conductor answered, “if it doesn’t, there’s going to be an awful splash!” That was because the trackage of the Old Colony ended about 1,200 feet into the harbor, on Railroad Wharf. Passengers actually never got that far. (The depot was at 132 Bradford Street.) The terminal spur was intended as a means for fishermen to get their product to market with as little delay and exposure as possible; right from the boat up to the train carriage. The postcard above, clearly a pastiche, gets something fundamentally wrong. One track branched into two as it ran out to the end of the wharf; two tracks did not merge into one.

Railroad Wharf, Provincetown (1890). Scrapbooks of Althea Boxell: Book 9, Page 145. Courtesy of the Provincetown History Preservation Project (Dowd Collection). 

More pictures and history»

1 MacMillan Wharf

1 MacMillan Wharf - 01, Provincetown (2009), by David W. Dunlap. 
1 MacMillan Wharf - 04, Provincetown (2009), by David W. Dunlap.MacMillan Wharf (or Pier)

Stretching 1,450 feet (as long as the Empire State Building is high), MacMillan Wharf is in many ways the real heart of town, and its chief gateway. Like any great civic hub, it embraces a multitude of functions and users; each all but oblivious to the other. First and foremost — though they often complain that they are treated last and least — come the commercial fishermen, whose large draggers and scallopers hug two finger piers on the east side of the wharf. Closer to shore, perpendicular floating docks accommodate smaller commercial vessels, including lobstermen. On the west side is the terminus for two fast-ferry services to Boston, where passengers queue up or disembark by the dozens, sometimes hundreds. Even more crowds are drawn to the gleaming white, dolphin-nosed whale-watching vessels. Sailboats and party boats complete the lively mix.

1 MacMillan Wharf - 02, Provincetown (2012), by David W. Dunlap. 

More pictures and history»

16 MacMillan Wharf

16 MacMillan Wharf, Provincetown (2009), by David W. Dunlap. 
16 MacMillan Wharf, Provincetown (2011), by David W. Dunlap.Whydah Pirate Museum | Expedition Whydah Sea-Lab and Learning Center | Provincetown Harbor Yacht Marina

The oldest building on MacMillan Wharf is not on MacMillan Wharf. Instead, the Whydah Pirate Museum and related enterprises of the underseas explorer Barry L. Clifford (b 1945) occupy what is known as Baxter’s Pier. This is an independent structure on its own pilings that is connected to — but not part of — the main causeway. It even occupies a separate tax lot. The pier was purchased in 1995 by Clifford’s financial partner, Robert T. Lazier, and continues to be privately owned, through the 16 MacMillan Wharf Realty Trust, of which Kenneth Kinkor, the leading Whydah historian, self-described “piratologist” and Clifford’s longtime aide-de-camp, is a trustee. In season, the perimeter of Baxter’s Pier serves as a private marina for yachts up to 140 feet long.

Cannon from the Whydah, 16 MacMillan Wharf, Provincetown (2009), by David W. Dunlap. 

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9 Ryder Street Extension

9 Ryder Street Extension, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap. 
9 Ryder Street Extension, Provincetown (2008), by David W. Dunlap.Fishermen’s Wharf (also, Cabral’s Wharf) | Provincetown Marina | Cape Cod Oil’s Gas Dock | 9 Ryder Seaside Dining

It was at the wharves that women parted from their husbands. It was to the wharves that they returned trembling when a fishing vessel, gone too long, returned with its flag at half mast — if it returned at all. The women of Provincetown, who also faced the sea, were often overlooked when men accounted for the heroism of the fishery. So perhaps some cosmic leveling explains the fact that the women received their waterfront tribute, They Also Faced the Sea, by Norma Holt (d 2013) and Ewa Nogiec, a decade before the unveiling of the Provincetown Fishermen’s Memorial project. The installation certainly catches most visitors’ eyes, as it can be seen prominently on arrival and departure from MacMillan Wharf. But it is not Fishermen’s Wharf only distinction.

9 Ryder Street Extension, Provincetown (ND), by Ross Moffett. Courtesy of the Provincetown History Preservation Project (Moffett Collection).The original pier shed of Sklaroff’s Wharf, forerunner of Fishermen’s Wharf. [Link] 

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19 Ryder Street Extension

19 Ryder Street Extension, Provincetown (2009), by David W. Dunlap.John E. Bennett Memorial Pier

The name of this small pier commemorates Capt. John E. Bennett (1941-2002), the chairman of the town Conservation Commission, owner and skipper of the schooner Hindu and founder of the Great Provincetown Schooner Regatta and Yacht Race. Born in Medford, Bennett was in the first graduating class of the Cape Cod Community College, founded in 1961. Having raced the Hindu in the Gloucester Schooner Festival, Bennett was inspired to organize a like event in Provincetown, where he lived. More history»