Railroad Wharf

Railroad Wharf, courtesy of the Provincetown History Preservation Project.

Railroad Wharf, courtesy of the Provincetown History Preservation Project.

“Does this train stop at Provincetown?” asked the passenger 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 tracks ended about 1,200 feet into the harbor, on Railroad Wharf, built in 1873. (Passengers were never really in danger; this was a freight spur for the fishing fleet.) Railroad Wharf was taken over by the town in 1928 and called Town Wharf. Because MacMillan is also called Town Wharf by old-timers, some accounts describe it as if it were a rebuilt Railroad Wharf. But make no mistake: Railroad Wharf was razed in 1956, as MacMillan was being constructed alongside it.


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.

† 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). 

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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. 

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MacMillan Wharf

Bishop George Coleman of Fall River blessing F/V Donna Marie from the deck of Provincetown II, by David W. Dunlap (2011).

Bishop George Coleman of Fall River blessing F/V Donna Marie from the deck of Provincetown II, by David W. Dunlap (2011).

Stretching 1,450 feet, longer than 1 World Trade Center is tall, MacMillan Wharf is in many ways the heart of town, and its chief gateway. It embraces many users. First are the commercial fishermen, whose draggers and scallopers hug the east side of the wharf. Closer to shore, floating docks accommodate smaller commercial vessels, including lobstermen. On the west side is the terminus for two ferry services to Boston, where passengers queue up or disembark. Other crowds are drawn to the dolphin-nosed whale-watching vessels. Sailboats and charter boats complete the lively mix. And every June, the wharf is the setting for the Blessing of the Fleet by the Roman Catholic bishop of Fall River (the Most Rev. George Coleman in the picture above).

Harbormaster Rex McKinsey, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

Harbormaster Rex McKinsey, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

The beautiful dedicatory plaque by William Boogar calls this “MacMillan Wharf,” in honor of Rear Adm. Donald Baxter MacMillan, and “wharf” does come closer to describing this structure than “pier.” It was built by the Westcott Construction Company from 1955 to 1957 on pilings paralleling the older Town Wharf. After years of neglect under direct municipal supervision, MacMillan was rebuilt in 2002-2003 and placed under the aegis of the Provincetown Public Pier Corporation. Rex McKinsey was named manager in 2003. Two years later, he also became harbormaster. In 2005, the corporation initiated several projects: an octagonal open-air shelter at the end of the wharf, canopied waiting shelters along the west side, new restrooms, and an incident command post atop the harbormaster’s office.

MacMillan Wharf, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

MacMillan Wharf, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

Those shacks along the causeway are ticket offices for charter and recreational boating businesses. Near the foot of the wharf are four 10-by-20-foot sheds (two more are planned), designed by John Dowd, that are used by emerging artists and artisans. Other features include the sculpture Homage to the Fishermen (1991), by Richard Pepitone, donated by Berta Walker; and Bubbles the Humpback, a concrete creature salvaged and restored in 2008 by Julian Popko and family. Monies are being raised to erect a 10-foot-high, 14-foot-long bronze Provincetown Fishermen’s Memorial, created by Romolo Del Deo, “so that all entering and leaving the pier will be able to reflect upon the fishermen,” in the words of the Fishermen’s Memorial Committee.

Romolo Del Deo’s “Provincetown Fishermen’s Memorial,” final model of 2013, courtesy of Berta Walker Gallery.

Alongside the wharf is the “Portygee railway,” a cradle against which fishing vessels are propped for inspection and repair — rather than being taken to a marine railway. A boat will be tied fast at high tide. At low tide, still held upright, its hull will be almost fully exposed.

These days, the fleet is trying to cope with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s sector management program. Permits are too measly to reward a single owner, the fishermen say, which encourages their sale to large combines. By this process, individual vessels are slowly stripped of economic utility. They may look picturesque bobbing at the wharf, but they should be out on the water working. Yet it always seems premature to declare the death of the fishing industry. One keen observer noted mournfully: “The sea’s bottom is being plowed up and the ocean’s fertility gutted.” It was Mary Heaton Vorse. She was writing in 1942.

MacMillan Wharf, by David W. Dunlap (2008).

MacMillan Wharf, by David W. Dunlap (2008).

A few of the vessels currently or formerly moored here have included:

F/V Alison Marie
F/V All In
F/V Ancora Praia
F/V Antonio Jorge
Bay Lady II
F/V Blue Ocean
F/V Blue Skies
Dolphin VII, VIII, IX, X
F/V Donna Marie
F/V Glutton
F/V Helltown
Hindu
F/V Jersey Princess I
My Yot
F/V Odysea
F/V Pam & Todd
F/V Pamet
F/V Probable Cause
Provincetown I, II, III, IV
F/V Richard & Arnold
Salacia
F/V Sea Hunter
F/V Sentinel
F/V Teri M.
F/V Terra Nova
F/V Torsk
F/V Twin Lights


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.

Baxter’s Pier

Baxter's Pier, Whydah Pirate Museum, by David W. Dunlap (2009).

Baxter’s Pier, Whydah Pirate Museum, by David W. Dunlap (2009).

Barry Clifford, by Margot Clifford, courtesy of the Rev. Jim Cunningham.

Barry Clifford, by Margot Clifford, courtesy of the Rev. Jim Cunningham.

The oldest building at MacMillan Wharf is not on MacMillan Wharf. Instead, the Whydah Pirate Museum and related enterprises of the underseas explorer Barry Clifford occupy Baxter’s Pier, a structure on its own pilings, connected to — but not part of — the main causeway. It was built in 1946 by the fish dealer Benjamin Baxter. The gambrel roof of the original shed is still recognizable. After its fish-handling days ended, the shed housed the Billy Bones Raw Bar. It was purchased in 1995 by Clifford and his financial partner, Robert Lazier; in part to house artifacts salvaged from the Whydah (named for the African kingdom of Ouidah), a three-masted galley built in 1715 for the slave trade, commandeered in 1717 by the pirate “Black Sam” Bellamy, and sunk that year off Eastham. In season, the pier perimeter serves as a private marina.


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.

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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F/V Alison Marie

F/V Alison Marie on the rails at Taves Boatyard, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

F/V Alison Marie on the rails at Taves Boatyard, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

An inspiration to the artist Arthur Cohen and one of the oldest fishing vessels in the fleet to make it into the 21st century, the 39-foot Alison Marie was constructed in 1928, according to BoatInfoWorld. She is pictured here in 2010 up on the marine railway at Taves Boatyard, 129R Commercial. Capt. Tobin Storer, who also owns Probable Cause and who bought Ancora Praia, moved Alison Marie to Wellfleet in recent years.


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.