Elevated high above the little village it served, the Town Hall of 1854 was clad in the very architecture of democracy — Greek Revival — though in its nobility, it could just as easily have been mistaken for a house of worship. With a pinnacle that could be seen far out to sea and a tower clock available for the citizenry to consult, Town Hall also served as a utilitarian landmark. What a splendid symbol of municipal government! And what a dumb idea for a public building: constructed of hard pine and situated well out of reach of any fire apparatus. You know what happens next, and on 16 February 1877, it did. Town Hall burned down, taking with it many of the records that would have made historical research so much more fruitful. Having paid $350 for High Pole Hill, the town was not about to walk away from its investment, though it would take another 30 years for the proper replacement to be found. ¶ Posted 2013-01-25
What better way to herald a 20th-century Portuguese fishing village of 18th-century Yankee heritage and a landfall for 17th-century English immigrants (and perhaps 11th-century Norse sailors), than with a tower out of 14th-century Tuscany? The monument, designed by Willard T. Sears and modeled on the Torre di Mangia in Siena, has symbolized Provincetown ever since its dedication on 5 August 1910. It is a 252-foot-7½-inch exclamation point at the cape tip; a granite landmark embellished by corbeled vaults, high arches and bristling crenels — “not a monument, but a flight,” as William Dean Howells said of the Torre di Mangia, which also inspired towers in Boston (Fire Department Headquarters, now the Pine Street Inn), New York (the 71st Regiment Armory), Baltimore (the Bromo Seltzer Tower) and Waterbury, Conn. (Union Station). More pictures and history»
What better way to herald a 20th-century Portuguese fishing village of 18th-century Yankee heritage that was a landfall for 17th-century English immigrants (some of whom had embarked in Holland) and perhaps 11th-century Norse sailors, too, than with a tower straight out of 14th-century Tuscany? The Pilgrim Monument, designed by Willard Sears and modeled on the Torre di Mangia in Siena, has symbolized Provincetown ever since its dedication on 5 August 1910. It occupies the site of the previous town hall, which was built in 1854 and burned down in 1877.
The monument is a 252-foot-7½-inch exclamation point at the Cape tip; a granite landmark embellished by corbeled vaults, high arches, and bristling crenels. The otherwise definitive Pilgrims and Their Monument does not explain why Sears chose the Torre as his model, but notes that “there was no distinctive Pilgrim monumental architecture” upon which to draw.
The tower’s chief purpose was to stake the town’s claim to the honor of having been the Pilgrims’ landing spot. But some nativist sentiment may also have entered in. The monument’s chief sponsor, Capt. J. Henry Sears, said Provincetown was where the “the first white child [Peregrine White] saw the light and breathed New England air.” This kind of thing mattered at the turn of the 20th century, when New England was becoming the second-biggest Portuguese-speaking colony in the world, after Brazil. The Portuguese had supplanted Yankees as masters of the fishery and were on their way to being the political masters at Town Hall. Was the Pilgrim Monument subconsciously intended as a tangible declaration that “we were here first” — “we” being Anglo-Saxons? (Never mind the Wampanoag people.)
President Theodore Roosevelt stressed universality at the cornerstone laying in 1907. “You, sons of the Puritans, and we, who are descended from races whom the Puritans would have deemed alien — we are all Americans together,” he said. The centennial celebration was attended by Deval Patrick, the commonwealth’s first African-American governor, and, representing Plymouth, the Rev. Prof. Peter J. Gomes of Harvard, whose father was from Cape Verde. “I do not have, to my knowledge, one drop of Pilgrim blood in me,” he told the appreciative crowd. “All of us are involved in this Pilgrim business. It is too important, too grand to belong to any one of us. It belongs to us all.”
Of course, the story doesn’t end with “this Pilgrim business,” and the Provincetown Museum — part art gallery, part treasure house, part curio cabinet, and part Grandpa’s attic (if Grandpa spent a lot of time in the Arctic) — guides visitors through the town’s subsequent history. The collection includes fine artwork, a full-scale recreation of a captain’s quarters, the town’s first fire engine, an antique doll house, and models of the Long Point settlement, Lewis’s Wharf, and a fishing weir. “Fleet’s In,” a 2013 show, brought in Alfred Silva Sr.’s exquisite models of the fishing fleet.
The museum is an amalgam of holdings: those of the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association, incorporated in 1892 to build the monument, and the Research Club, a women’s organization founded in 1910 to study and preserve town history. The association’s collection was housed at first in the Lodge. It was designed by Willard Sears, completed in 1910, and intended “for the preservation of pictures, furniture, and antiquities illustrating the life of the people of the age in which the Pilgrims lived, and incidents in their history,” according to The Pilgrims and Their Monument. Sometimes called the first museum on Cape Cod, it is still used for meetings of the association board and now serves as the casual Shallop Cafe.
The Research Club collection was housed until 1961 in the Historical Museum at 230 Commercial. It included some incongruous taxidermy donated by Rear Adm. Donald MacMillan: the head of a walrus from northern Greenland, one-and-a-half polar bears from northern Greenland, and an entire musk ox and white wolf from Ellesmere Island. The two collections were merged in 1962 in a museum building at the base of the monument, designed by George Clements and Richard Gallagher. Four years later, the structure was expanded to incorporate a freestanding storage building, thereby creating a new wing. It might shock antiquarians who still resent Plymouth’s oversized claim to the Pilgrims, but the current executive director of the Pilgrim Monument, John McDonagh, had earlier been executive director of Plimoth Plantation. On the former Weather Bureau Storm Warning Tower, signal flags once notified mariners of small-craft advisories, gales, storm warnings, and hurricanes. Red and white lights played the same role at night.
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.
Part smart art gallery, part historical treasure house, part curio cabinet and part Grandpa’s attic (if Grandpa spent a lot of time in the once-frozen north), the Provincetown Museum is unlike any other. As the front door to the Pilgrim Monument, it is sometimes overlooked by visitors. That’s a pity, because there’s something for everyone here: artwork from the town’s painters, sculptors and artisans; full-scale recreations of a captain’s quarters at sea and on land; a dramatic diorama of the Mayflower; illustrative scale models of Lewis Wharf and of a fishing weir; a charming (but not-quite-to-scale) model of the Long Point settlement; Provincetown’s first fire engine; an antique doll house; and specimens of Arctic wildlife brought to town by Rear Admiral Donald Baxter MacMillan (1874-1970), of 473 Commercial Street. More pictures and history»
Not many buildings look better after a century than they did when constructed. The Lodge does. It’s more picturesque now than when completed in December 1910 to designs by Willard T. Sears, the architect of the monument. It was intended “for the preservation of pictures, furniture and antiquities illustrating the life of the people of the age in which the Pilgrims lived, and incidents in their history,” Edmund J. Carpenter wrote in The Pilgrims and Their Monument (1911). It was also built as a board room for the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association. A new museum was built in 1962. The Lodge hasn’t been open to the public for many years. ¶ Posted 2013-01-30
Storm Warning Tower
This was the Weather Channel in Provincetown for many years. The United States Weather Bureau’s Storm Warning Tower would fly flags notifying mariners of small craft advisories, gales, storm warnings and hurricanes. A system of red and white lights played the same role at night. ¶ Posted 2013-01-31