The natural harbour formed by the hook at the end of Cape Cod has long been a stopping point for ships. It was here in 1602 that British explorer Bartholomew Gosnold gave Cape Cod its name. In 1620 the Pilgrim Fathers made their first landfall here before they moved on to set up their Plymouth Colony. After the Pilgrim Fathers, European fishermen and traders moved in to use the sheltered harbour. The town of Provincetown that they founded was best known for drinking, gambling and smuggling. From the late 18th century the town boomed as a major whaling centre. By the end of the 19th century the whaling and fishing industries were in decline and in 1898 many of the town’s wharves destroyed by a storm. The industry never recovered, instead Provincetown rebuilt itself as a tourist destination and since the 1970s has specialised in gay tourism..
The current Town Hall was erected to replace a municipal building lost to fire, on land donated by the Rev. W.H. Ryder. It was dedicated at a lavish ceremony on August 25, 1886. It as well as being the Town Hall, it also serves as a concert hall, art exhibition hall, voting place and home for feisty town meetings. At the time of writing the building had been evacuated to undergo major structure renovations. This picture was taken in 2007 before the renovations began. As the Town Hall is surrounded by trees, it is difficult to get a good photograph of the entire building.
Commercial Street at Ryder Street
Provincetown is a small town with a permanent population of less than 4,000. The town occupies a fairly narrow strip of land that runs along the curve of the harbour. Commercial Street follows the shoreline and along the street historic buildings rub shoulders with modern developments. One thing becomes clear if you walk along it - Provincetown is geared up primarily for tourism.
The most distinctive building in Provincetown is a 77 metre (252 foot) high slender square tower called the Pilgrim Monument. Although the history books often overlook the fact that the Pilgrim Fathers landed initially in Cape Cod, the people of Provincetown are very aware of this part of their heritage. The tower was built between 1907 and 1910 by the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association. It has a museum at its base with exhibits that explain the role of Provincetown in the history of the Pilgrim Fathers and in American history in general.
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Although the Portland Gale hit Provincetown way back in 1898, when we first visited the town in 1985 it looked as though it had just passed through. The town was a little run down and some of the wharves looked ready to collapse any minute. When we visited again in 2004 and 2007 we were pleased to find the town looking a lot smarter.
Typical Provincetown House, Commercial Street
Provincetown has plenty of historic buildings, and in 1989 its Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Some of the buildings along Commercial Street reflect the roots of the town in seafaring. This house has a classic enclosed Captains Walk (or Widows Walk) on the roof which was used for spotting incoming ships.
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