Provincetown History

Provincetown is without a doubt the most eclectic of all Cape Cod towns.

How did it get this way? Is it because the Pilgrims who landed first in Provincetown decided the place wasn't for them so they sailed across the bay to found Plimouth?

Possibly, because as soon it was abandoned by the sober colonists it apparently became a port of call for the less upstanding of those who plied the oceans during the 1600s. According to Donald Wood's "Cape Cod - A Guide," the sand dunes of what was then called Cape Cod (what we now call Provincetown) sheltered "a wild, undisciplined and unprincipled crew of traders and fishermen from nearly all parts of Europe. Drinking, gambling and bacchanalian carousals, were continued sometimes for weeks with unrestrained license." As settlers moved down the Cape from Sandwich and Barnstable and Yarmouth towards the tip, the town of Truro was incorporated in 1709 and the sandy hook known as Cape Cod and its big harbor was included. But this didn't stop the activities of the smugglers and the privateers who frequented the wild area. Finally, more English settlers arrived, the wild were somewhat tamed, and Provincetown was incorporated in 1727. As a town, it then declined until the end of the French and Indian Wars when deepwater whaling became an industry. Provincetown's great harbor came alive. By the War of 1812 Provincetown had a thousand residents. During the war these residents remained neutral and after the war, as whaling activities grew, whaling captains, replenishing their crews in the Cape Verdes and Azores brought Portugese to Provincetown. As the whaling phased out, Provincetown became a center for the Portugese fishermen whose descendents are part of the backbone of Provincetown's economy today.

While fishing continues to represent a major part of life in Provincetown, today there is another side to Provincetown, which began at the turn of the 20th century when Charles Hawthorne established an art school. As an art colony Provincetown flourished and in 1915 when the Provincetown Players was established, it became a mecca for theater. Eugene O'Neill joined the players in 1916. Art, theater and fishing still exist side by side in Provincetown. As do alternative lifestyles.

As a place to visit Provincetown is popular for many reasons. Want to go whale watching? The MacMillan Wharf is the place to start. Want to people watch? The human parade up and down bustling Commercial Street is an endless opportunity to satisfy the urge. Want to climb higher than anywhere else on Cape Cod and then indulge in some history? Climb the Pilgrim Monument, rising 252 feet above the 100 foot hill it sits on. Its cornerstone was laid in 1907 as President Teddy Roosevelt looked on and President Taft attended its dedication in 1910. For all the details and more of Provincetown's history, the excellent Provincetown Museum is at the base of the monument. Exhibits range from memorabila of Adm. Donald MacMillan's Arctic expeditions to the history of Provincetown-Boston Airlines, the first commuter airline in the country, founded in 1949 by John C. VanArsdale.

A large part of Provincetown lies in the National Seashore where there is a visitors' center and miles of scenic bike trails.

Provincetown Cape Cod Contact Information

279 Orleans Road
North Chatham, MA 02650

Phone: (508) 945-6443
Fax: (508) 945-7837

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