Friday

You've Heard of a Ship in a Bottle - How About a Ship in a Library?

If the Pilgrim Monument is the tallest object on Provincetown’s skyline, one of the most stunning buildings on the skyline belongs to the Provincetown Public Library housed in the former Center Methodist Episcopal Church.

Image Credit:  Frank D. Ellsworth

Sepia'd version of the Provincetown Public LibraryBuilt in 1860 and reputed to be the largest church of Methodist denomination anywhere in the United States, the towering Italianate-style structure was even more impressive then than it is today as its steeple soared 162 feet into the sky. Following damage that occurred during the 1898 Portland Gale, 62 feet of the spire was removed but the belfry which houses a huge bronze bell cast in the 1830s by George Holbrook in Medway Massachusetts, is definitely one of the first landmarks that visitors to Provincetown see when arriving in town – especially if arriving by boat into the harbor.

The Methodist congregation sold the building to Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., son of the founder of the Chrysler Corporation, for conversion to an art museum in 1958. The former church became the Chrysler Art Museum which exhibited Chrysler’s vast holdings until 1970 when he packed up his expansive collection of paintings, sculptures, artifacts, and Tiffany glass that had outgrown its limited quarters in the 19th-century church, and moved them to a modern facility which is still operating in Norfolk, Virginia.

The Provincetown Public LibraryFollowing a short stint as a “Center for the Arts” in 1974, the building was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places by the Provincetown Historical Association and the Historic District Study Committee. In October of 1975 it received certification and on July 4th, 1976 the building officially opened as The Provincetown Heritage Museum with exhibits on various aspects of Provincetown’s heritage.

 As part of the Heritage Museum, in 1977 construction began on a half-scale model of the Provincetown fishing schooner Rose Dorothea who brought home the Lipton Cup and $650 cash prize when it won a Fishermen’s Race in Massachusetts Bay in 1907. On June 25th, 1988, the finished model was dedicated as a tribute to the fishermen of Provincetown and New England’s ship-building tradition. The ship model, which spans 66’6” in length with a 12’6” beam, was installed on the second floor of the building and is still a very cool part of the Public Library today especially considering the ship is located in the Gerald and Henry Fowler-Bombardier Children’s Library and the bookshelves around it have been built to resemble waves.

The Rose Dorothea half-scale model inside the Provincetown Public Library
The Rose Dorothea half-scale model inside the Provincetown Public LibraryThe Rose Dorothea half-scale model inside the Provincetown Public Library

So when did the former Methodist Church become the town’s library? While the number of visitors to the Heritage Museum steadily declined over the years, the number of visitors to the Public Library steadily increased. Then located in a small Second-Empire style structure located on the corners of Commercial Street and Freeman Street which now houses the Provincetown Tourism Office, it was decided that the library needed a bigger building to accommodate its increased usage. After much discussion and study, on April 2nd, 2001 the Heritage Museum property was officially conveyed to the Board of Library Trustees who were charged with the reconstruction and renovation of the building while complying with the Massachusetts Historical Requirements for the National Historic Landmark property.

Four years later in April of 2005, the new Provincetown Public Library opened, reconstructed and restored to its original design insomuch as it was possible to do. Walking into the library through the Commercial Street doors, visitors first notice the 1907 Lipton Cup won by the Rose Dorothea in its showcase along with other display cases for artifacts from the former Heritage Museum. Provincetown Library’s collection of over 30,000 books, periodicals and audiovisual materials begins on this floor where incorporated into the design of the bookshelves are end panels made of the arm rests from the church pews that once seated the Methodist congregation. The pews were found in the basement during the restoration of the building and many bear placards inscribed with the names of donors.

The Lipton Cup on display in the Provincetown Public Library
Artifacts from the former Provincetown Heritage Museum

Heading to the second floor and the Children’s Library visitors find themselves looking at the very large model of the Rose Dorothea which can be best viewed by continuing up to the third floor Mezzanine where one can also find wonderful views from the 15-foot tall windows of the Wesley Russell de Oliviera Arts & Literature Room. It’s been said that on a clear day, one can see for 15.5 miles and if the timing is just right, that includes whales in Provincetown Harbor.

The Arts & Literature Room on the mezzanine level of the Provincetown Public Library
A view of MacMillan Wharf from the mezzanine level of the Provincetown Library
The Rose Dorothea half-scale model inside the Provincetown Public LibraryThe Rose Dorothea half-scale model inside the Provincetown Public Library

A definite must-see for any visitor to Provincetown, the Public Library - which is as unique as the town itself - is open seven days a week. If you’re in town, you’ll know when the library has opened for the day by sound of the ringing of the Holbrook Bell in the belfry but just in case you aren't there that early, their hours are 10:00 a.m. Monday through Friday; 1:00 p.m. Saturday & Sunday, closing at 5:00 p.m. except for Tuesdays through Thursdays when they are open until 8:00 p.m.

If you're interested in reading more about the race of the Rose Dorothea and how it brought the one and only Lipton Cup back to Provincetown, please take the time to read this great article from the July 26th, 2007 edition of the Provincetown Banner Online.

Sculpture

Oh - and on your way in or out of the Provincetown Public Library - don't forget to say "hi" to The Tourists, a bronze sculpture donated in 1976 by noted Austrian-born American artist/sculptor Chaim Gross (March 17, 1904 - May 5, 1991) whose works can be seen in major museums and private collections throughout the United States.


Copyright © - Travels With Nathaniel/Linda Orlomoski/Hawthorne Hotel. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Travels With Nathaniel/Linda Orlomoski/Hawthorne Hotel is strictly prohibited.

2 comments:

  1. My Dad would LOVE to see that ship! I rather like that sculpture.. Who do they remind me of?

    O can not wait to meet you, Nathaniel!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh, Nathaniel... I so envy you and your travels!!!
    Thank you for sharing it all with us :D

    ReplyDelete

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