More Places to Explore As You Discover Historic Provincetown

You've climbed the Pilgrim Monument, visited the town library and the Rose Dorothea, checked out some of the many galleries, and maybe even taken a walk out to Wood End Light - so what do you do with the rest of your time in Provincetown?  Lots!

History doesn't just reside in the museums and the library but all over Provincetown as visitors can find just by taking a walk down Commerical Street and around the downtown area.  There you'll see beautiful old architecture in the form of the 1886 Town Hall, any number of private residences dating back at least a century or two, and the 1847 Unitarian Universalist Meeting House.

Thought by some to possess the most beautiful steeple on the skyline in Provincetown, the current Unitarian Universalist Meeting House was built by off-duty seamen and fishermen in 1847 who received a dollar a day in wages - pretty good money at the time! The new meeting house, designed with the clean and elegant lines of the popular Greek Revival style of architecture, was built after the congregation had outgrown its original 1829 church but the Christopher Wren (one of Britain's most distinguished architects) steeple wasn't added until ten years after the new meeting house was dedicated. If you have the opportunity, stop in for a chance to view the second floor Sanctuary which was painted in the trompe l'oeil fashion to "fool the eye" and a ceiling that was painted as a copy of the dome of the temple of Jupiter in Athens, Greece.

Having recently undergone a $6-million dollar renovation that was completed in November of 2010, Provincetown's Town Hall on Commercial Street replaced the original town hall that was built in 1854 on High Pole Hill and destroyed by fire on February 16th, 1877. The building that contained both the town hall and high school possessed a high tower that could be seen halfway to Boston Light along with a marble tablet over the entrance which read:
"In Commemoration of the Arrival of the Mayflower in Cape Cod Harbor and of the First Landing of the Pilgrims in America at This Place, Nov. 11, 1620 O.S. This Tablet is Presented by the Cape Cod Association, Nov. 8, 1853"
Both the tower and tablet were lost when the building burned to the ground from a fire of unknown origin at 8:25 p.m. on a cold winter's night.

Following the fire, high school classes were held in the vestry of the Congregational Church until the current grammar/high school was built in 1880 while town meetings were held in the Masonic Hall until 1886 when the new Town Hall opened. Built on land that was donated to the town by the Reverend William Henry Ryder, the new building, which cost $50,400, was commenced on September 10, 1875 and dedicated on August 25, 1886. As was the practice in the mid-1800s of towns building large auditoriums in their municipal buildings as a way to end the practice of holding town meetings in churches so as to separate church and state, Provincetown's new Town Hall possessed a 600-seat auditorium that, in addition to being used for town meetings, was also used as a roller skating rink, a basketball court and a dance and wedding hall. During the recent renovations, it was decided to retain the auditorium rather than eliminate it to create more office space - a very uncommon practice in cities and towns these days but one that certainly helps to retain the charm of the building.

Around the grounds of Town Hall, visitors can find plaques and statues including Veterans' Memorials for all who answered the call from Provincetown in the wars fought after World War I, the Doughboy Statue dedicated to those Provincetown men who saw action in World War I, and the Rose Dorothea plaque commemorating the schooner's victory at Old Home Week in Boston in 1907.

Across the street from Town Hall in a small park sitting at the base of High Pole Hill with the Pilgrim Monument towering above is a large Bas Relief depicting the signing of the Mayflower Compact in 1620 as well as several other plaques to mark Provincetown as the first landing place of the Pilgrims.

The Bas Relief depicting the signing of the Mayflower Compact

A short walk down Commercial Street from Town Hall will take you to the site of the worst fire in the history of Cape Cod which is now the new Whalers Wharf pedestrian mall. The fire started on February 10th, 1998, a windy yet unseasonably warm night, in the old 1919 Provincetown Theater building which had been renovated into a movie theater and maze of shops known as Whalers Wharf when a night watchman accidentally knocked over a portable heater starting a 5-alarm fire that threatened to burn down a good part of Provincetown. In addition to Whalers Wharf, the landmark Crown & Anchor Motor Inn and Marine Specialties, a well-known military surplus store, were also lost as 450 firefighters along with 39 pieces of firefighting apparatus from nine Cape towns as well as Plymouth County fought the inferno. Tragically, the night watchman who accidentally started the fire was overcome with grief and took his own life a few days later.

         Image Credit: Britt Crosby/
Before long the the Crown & Anchor and Marine Specialties were rebuilt along with Whalers Wharf but even though the plans were faithful to the concept of the original structure, the unique sprawling maze of shops that formerly filled the space and which was said by one tenant to be "a flea market with a roof", was simply impossible to recreate. From Cape Cod's worst fire to-date, Whalers Wharf rose from the ashes as a quasi-open air marketplace as well as the location of Whaler's Wharf Cinema, the year-round home of the Provincetown Film Society and Provincetown International Film Festival.

If you visit Whalers Wharf, be sure to take a walk through the mall all the way to the waterfront end where you can walk out onto the beach and take in a view of a faraway lighthouse as well as take photos of the old pilings as well as the very cool old Provincetown Theater signage that has taken up permanent residence in the sand since the fateful fire.

At this point you're probably getting pretty hungry from all of your wandering around Provincetown so before heading back to Salem be sure to stop by Cabot's Candy, a third-generation family owned and operated candy store that has specialized in salt water taffy since 1927.

Directly across the street is The Penney Patch which also sells salt water taffy but, according to the locals, is THE place to buy fudge. A word of warning though, don't let that big penny hanging over the door fool you as you aren't going to get anything for a penny inside the store being that fudge is selling for close to $12.00 a pound these days - if not more.  That said however, you definitely get what you pay for and at The Penney Patch what you get is delicious homemade fudge!

If salt water taffy and fudge isn't going to appease your appetite and you're wondering where to go for "real" food, be sure to make a stop at The Lobster Pot on the waterfront overlooking historic Provincetown harbor. Yes, it's where you'll find lines of tourist just waiting to get in the door during high season and yes, it looks like an awfully small building but it's definitely worth the wait and don't let the look of the building deceive you as though it's narrow, the restaurant is long and has two dining rooms - one located both upstairs and down.

Depending on what time of year you're in Provincetown and what time of day you decide to stop in for lunch or dinner at The Lobster Pot, you're either going to be able to get a table overlooking MacMillan Wharf with lots of open seats around you as you peruse the menu or you're going to be happy to be sitting at the first available table no matter what the view may be and you'll have walked through a room full of crowded tables to get there!

Either way, you're going to have a hard time choosing from the extensive menu which runs the gamut from a Cold Appetizer of House-Made Salmon Gravlax (Fresh Salmon cured in seasalt, sugar, tarragon & lemon, served with crème fraiche & croutons) to The Lobster Pot's award-winning Tim's Clam Chowder blended in a traditional New England recipe to a Pan-Roasted 1-1/4 pound Whole Lobster flambéed with brandy, then roasted in the oven and served with a fine herb butter sauce and red potatoes to all sorts of deliciousness in between! No matter what choice you finally make though, it's going to be good!

Fried native clams served with french fries 
Fried seafood platter - baby shrimp, scallops, fish, and calamari
Fried baby shrimp with onion rings 
Serving up fresh seafood for over 75 years and open from April to early December, The Lobster Pot may in fact be a major tourist spot but considering you're in Provincetown as a tourist, what better place to go and enjoy not only the seafood but also the delicious pumpkin bread that you'll find in your bread basket and maybe an adult beverage or two!

Finally, if you've got the time, one last thing that you might wish to do while you're in Provincetown is take a whale watching cruise with Dolphin Fleet Whale Watching, New England's first whale watch that began in 1975 with the hope of bringing an understanding and awareness to the public about whales and their environment.

Image Credit: Frank D. Ellsworth
Historically speaking, whales have been an important part of Provincetown since the late 1700s as, long before tourism, whaling was the principal business of the town making it the third greatest whaling port of the country behind New Bedford and Nantucket. By 1870, the industry had made Provincetown the wealthiest town in Massachusetts, a fact attested to by the many great late-19th century buildings that dot the landscape which belonged to the captains of ships who made their riches hunting and killing the enormous mammals that were highly prized for the products that they could provide.

Today it seems only right that whaling in Provincetown is of a totally different nature - not attracting people to the town in order to make money from the sale of their blubber and meat but to be within just feet of the large, gentle creatures as they watch them come to the surface to feed on plankton and krill before diving back beneath the waves and surfacing again and again.

If the suggestions of places to go and things to do featured in these posts have left you wanting more while you're day-tripping in Provincetown, for further information be sure to check out the Helpful Links section of this blog before you travel so that you'll be able to plan out your own historic expeditions in Provincetown just like the Pilgrims of the Mayflower did long, long ago - though the native inhabitants you encounter will be sure to give you a warm welcome upon your arrival! 

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.

1 comment:

  1. wow, Linda and Nat, you guys really make me want to make a return trip to the Bay State.

    I love the Cape, clam chowder, seafood dinners, and even history! I don't remember hearing about that huge blaze. That's a dramatic photo.

    The last time I was in Provincetown was in the '60s!

    Thanks for a fun post.


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~ Nathaniel and Linda