Long Point settlement
Model of Long Point settlement at the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum, by David W. Dunlap (2008).
Long Point floater plaque, by Claude and Hank Jensen.
Long Point was not Helltown, though many people today conflate the two. Long Point was a settled hamlet built close to the fishery, where mackerel, shad, and bass were plentiful and could be hauled in with sweep seines. John Atwood put up the first building in 1818, followed by Prince Freeman and Eldridge Smith. There was ample room for salt evaporation works, an industry led by Eldridge Nickerson. In 1822, Long Point recorded its first birth: Prince Freeman (another one). Smith’s son, Ed Walter, was born in 1851. By 1846, there were enough families to warrant a school, which doubled as the church. A post office and bake house were built. John Atwood Jr. had a wharf and a general store. The population reached 200. Universalism attracted its earliest adherents on the Cape tip through the proselytizing of Elizabeth and Sylvia Freeman. The celebrated naturalist Louis Agassiz arrived in 1852 to call on Nathaniel Atwood, a skilled ichthyologist.
Above: Outline of Lobster Plain, by David W. Dunlap (2010). Below: House locations around Lobster Plain, courtesy of the Provincetown History Preservation Project.
More than 50 buildings were scattered around a water body called the Lobster Plain, whose T-shaped outline can still be discerned from the air. But when the fishing grounds were exhausted, the settlement was abandoned rapidly. Buildings were floated across the harbor on scows. Only two homes and the school house remained by the mid-1860s. The last known surviving inhabitant, Capt. Ed Walter Smith, died in 1960. “Floaters,” typically marked with handsome blue-and-white plaques by Claude and Hank Jensen, are concentrated in the West End. It’s my impression that more homes claim a Long Point provenance than could possibly have occupied that narrow spit.
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.