Be Adventurous and Explore Provincetown at the Tip of Cape Cod Just Like the Pilgrims Did in 1620 ... Just Don't Take a Slow, Leaky Boat to Get There!

If you're a North Shore traveler and think it's just a little too far to go spend the day in Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod - think again! Located approximately 2-1/2 hours away from Salem via car, driving to Provincetown might be a little too far of a drive for some but the historic town located at the tip of Cape Cod is quite easily accessible to guests of the Hawthorne Hotel by ferry from Boston. Boston Harbor Cruises offers fast & luxurious 90-minute service between Long Wharf in Boston and MacMillian Wharf in Provincetown on seasonal schedules from mid-May to October making it easy to get there from here. Schedules and fares can be found on their website where travelers can also order tickets online.

No matter how you get there though, a trip to Provincetown is well worth taking especially if you're interested in history - particularly the history of our country - as seemingly unbeknownst to most people (or at least the dozen or so I asked for the purpose of being able to write that in this post!), before they ever set foot on Plymouth Rock, survived their first winter, and indulged in that big feast that we now like to call 'Thanksgiving', the Pilgrims of the Mayflower made their very first landing in the New World in what is now known as Provincetown Harbor where they stayed for five weeks as they drafted and signed the Mayflower Compact, the very first governing document of the New World which determined authority within the settlement.

Once the Pilgrims dropped anchor, they thought it would be a good idea to have some sort of document in place so that they would all be united once they picked a spot to settle down in - especially since they skipped that whole going to Northern Virginia and joining another colony like they were supposed to do thing. In their defense, I guess I should point out that they weren't just being mavericks and deliberately branching out on their own, though!  Once they spotted the coast of Cape Cod near what is now Chatham on the southeastern tip of the Cape, the ship did attempt to turn south and make its way to the Hudson River but the crew ran into some trouble at the rather treacherous Pollack Shoals and rather than shipwreck themselves, they were forced to turn around and look for safe harbor further North.

Bas Relief of the Pilgrims signing the Mayflower Compact on November 11, 1620.

Having made a bit of detour and now finding themselves settling a colony of their own, before a single man set foot off of the Mayflower to see what the new territory looked like, the Compact was signed by all 41 of the ship’s male adult passengers on November 11th, 1620 while the ship was anchored within the hook of the northern tip of Cape Cod. Over the next month and a half, several expeditions were undertaken to explore the land around what would eventually become Provincetown in search of a suitable place to build their homes before the travelers finally sailed the Mayflower over to Plymouth Harbor, stepped out onto a now very famous rock as they deboarded the ship, and founded Plimouth Plantation on December 20th, 1620.

Following the signing of the Mayflower Compact on November 11th, the first expedition off of the ship was undertaken later that same day once the tide was right. Sixteen well-armed men loaded into the ship's longboat and rowed to shore to check out the lay of the land as well as search for firewood - preferably Juniper if possible - as they had used up what wood they had during their 66-day journey across the Atlantic and they needed more for their cooking and heating fires.

According to Mourt's Relation, a book that was written primarily by Edward Winslow between November 1620 and November 1621 that describes in detail what happened from the landing of the Pilgrims inside the fishhook tip of Cape Cod through their exploring and eventual settling of Plymouth Colony that was first published in London in 1622 presumably by George Morton aka George Mourt, the first place the Pilgrims first set foot on soil was at a spot now known as Pilgrims' First Landing Park at the northernmost end of Commercial Street across from the breakwater that leads to Wood End Light in an area that if you're touring Provincetown on foot, plan on it taking you just about 20-30 minutes to reach.

Speaking of Wood End Light, if you're really feeling energetic - especially if you walked to the park to begin with - and want to take a hike out to the grounds where the 1872 lighthouse sits at the southernmost extremity of the curving spit of land that protects the harbor, you can do so by walking out on the breakwater that was built in 1911. Breaking waves can sometimes make the going a little tricky at high tide but no doubt the fairly strenuous walk of 30-45 minutes each way to the lighthouse and the surviving 1896 brick oil house used for the storage of kerosene is well worth it. With its tower maintained by the Cape Cod Chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation, Wood End Light is still an active aid to navigation having been automated by the Coast Guard in 1961 and is an integral part of Provincetown's history.

Image Credit for this photo and the one above:  Frank D. Ellsworth
In addition to Wood End Light, Nathaniel and I decided to head a little further out of Provincetown proper in search of Race Point Beach and the lighthouse built in 1876 that replaced the original light that helped guide ships around the dangerous sand bars of the point since November 5th, 1816. Of course, first we had to check out the National Seashore itself before making our way around to Herring Cove Beach where I was able to get some pictures of Race Point Light using a pretty powerful zoom lens.

If you're a lighthouse lover and the very energetic type, you can reach the grounds and the lighthouse by hiking about 45 minutes out to the point for a closer look or if you're visiting Provincetown on a Sunday, you can book a Race Point Lighthouse Tour through Art's Dune Tours and save yourself the two-mile hike!  If you're not there on a Sunday but would like to take a tour through the protected lands of the National Seashore, Art's offers dune tours that depart daily at 10 AM, 11 AM, 1 PM, 2:30 PM and 4 PM. All tours leave from the center of Provincetown near MacMillan Wharf so if you came in via ferry, it's an easy walk to Standish Street and the dune tours office.

Should you be the more "let's stick around town and see what's here" kind of adventurer, then Provincetown is definitely the place for you - especially if you love art.  Way back in the day - 1898 to be exact - following the decimation of Provincetown's fishing industry in the wake of the Portland Gale, a great hurricane that struck on November 26th and swept away half of the town's wharves, the citizens turned to tourism as a way to revive the economy.  Leading the way were artists and bohemians who came to the furthest end of the Cape to take advantage of its natural lighting and beauty as well as its eclectic population and sense of acceptance to a different way of life. One of those many artists to come to Provincetown was Charles Webster Hawthorne (if he's a relation of Nathaniel's, I was unable to locate that) who founded the Cape Cod School of Art in 1899 where he taught painting for the next thirty summers.

Known as "a painter's painter", in addition to establishing his school that spawned even more art schools throughout the town, Hawthorne was also a founding member of the Provincetown Art Association that was established in 1914 to collect, exhibit, and honor the work of Provincetown’s growing arts colony. PAAM houses one of the most important 20th-century American art collections, including Hawthorne’s “His First Voyage,” and is one of the country’s first green art museums. To find information about visiting the Provincetown Art Association and Museum located at 40 Commercial Street, check out the Visitor Information Page on their website.

By 1916 the historic fishing village of Provincetown had become the largest art colony in the world and today, Provincetown remains a haven for artists in every medium – painting, sculpting, theater, writing, and music. Visitors to Provincetown can take advantage of the plethora of talent by visiting numerous galleries, museums, artisan's shops, and antique stores many of which can be found in the virtual Provincetown Gallery Guide or you can simply "walk the line" and see where it takes you!

Inside the Sarah Jessica Fine Arts GalleryGlass sculptures at the Sarah Jessica Fine Arts Gallery

If "the play's the thing" and Performing Arts are more your cup of tea, you're in luck as Provincetown is widely recognized by many as the birthplace of American theater. Eugene O’Neill, America's first major playwright and considered by many to be the father of modern American theater, mounted his first play, Bound East for Cardiff, on an East End Provincetown wharf in 1915 and since then writers like Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and Norman Mailer have all found their muses in P'Town.  Just as important as the writers were the performers as many actors and musicians including such names as Billie Holiday, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Richard Gere, and Barbara Streisand, spent the early years of their careers perfecting their craft performing on Provincetown stages.

Image Credit: Frank D. Ellsworth
Carrying on the tradition of performing arts in Provincetown and formed by a merger of two theater companies in 2005, the Provincetown Theater continues to build on the legacy of the original Provincetown Players of 1916 by offering both professional and non-professional productions and providing educational and training opportunities to young and old alike.  In addition to the offerings at the theater there are plenty of other performing arts opportunities to go around in Provincetown including the International Film Festival in June, the Jazz Festival in August, and the Tennessee Williams Theater Festival in September just to name a few.

Before I cover a few more places in Provicentown a little more in-depth in separate postings, it should also be recognized that since the 1920s and 1930s, this small town on the tip of Cape Cod has become one of the most judgement-free environments in the country allowing freedom of expression not just in various forms of the arts but in human relationships as well. This can be credited to those people who moved to Provincetown and called it their own bringing with them tolerance, understanding, and acceptance.

After Provincetown became "the" place for gay men and women to spend their summer vacations as they embraced the freedoms that the burgeoning avant-garde arts community not only allowed but celebrated, it soon became "the" place for those very same summer visitors to buy property and open businesses as they became permanent residents of a community that grew as a gay and lesbian mecca and destination in the 1970s and beyond.

Provincetown is a place where couples can walk hand-in-hand along the shore or through town regardless of what their sexual orientation may be without fear of judgement or recrimination or reprisal.  Since gay marriages were legalized in Massachusetts in 2004, more than 1,400 same-sex couples have gone to Provincetown to say "I do".  They go not just for the freedom and diversification that the town allows but also to celebrate their love in a place where new beginnings have been going on since 1620.

Image Credit: National Park Service
There's more to come on Provincetown as there's a lot more to it than can be written in one post so come back soon as Nathaniel and I share some more of Provincetown's interesting history and things to see and do there.  We'd also like to take the time to thank our friend and fellow photographer, Frank Ellsworth, for the use of some of the great photos that he took on his own trip to Provincetown recently - it is greatly appreciated!

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  1. Love the shot of Nathaniel in front of the dunes. I actually spent a fair amount of time down the Cape as a teenager. My parents rented the same cottage in Sandwich twice a year for many years. About a year and a half ago my sister Lynda rented a cottage for a week. There was SO much erosion around the dunes. Some of the photos she took were very sad.

    Love Frank's photo of the broken theater concrete. Very textural! Is that a word? Well, it is now! Ha!

  2. One of these days MM and I will visit P-town. He has a cousin who lives there. Great photos and history! Thanks for posting...

  3. I could move right in! The coast is so beautiful. And the history ain't half bad either ;)
    1620 was a big year in central Europe! I remember learning about White Mountain battle which put everybody in 100 years of "darkness" (art wise and literature wise - a lot of artists had to exile).

  4. Gorgeous! I often wish my family had been New Englander's! I think I would have thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of the sea and harbor towns. You did a magnificent job of capturing its beauty in your photographs and words! Thank you.


Thank you for your feedback; it is greatly appreciated!
~ Nathaniel and Linda