Provincetown Massachusetts, 1890

Provincetown is one of the most unique towns of the Commonwealth. It occupies the extreme northern point of Barnstable County and Cape Cod; and is, with exception of a narrow neck connecting it with Truro at the east, entirely enclosed by water. From midway of the western end a still narrower peninsula (or island, for the sea has made a breach through it near its beginning) runs along by and far past the mainland towards the southeast, then turning to the northeast, forms an elbow, terminating at Long Point, which is marked by a lighthouse; thus forming Provincetown harbor. It is nearly land-locked and secure, and sufficiently capacious and deep to furnish anchorage for about 2,500 vessels. It is of great importance to navigation, whether coasting or foreign, affording a convenient haven in thick and stormy weather, or in distress in consequence. An official record of the keeper of the outer light at Wood End during 1876-8 shows that in those three years 23,000 vessels passed in out of this harbor.

Provincetown in 1890

The township itself consists of loose white sand, which has at many points been driven into fantastic knolls that are subject to frequent changes, wherever it has not been protected by the planting of beach grass. Here and there is a tract naturally covered with shrubs or tufts of coarse grass, together with a little sedge, and the productions of the ponds and marshes. As the result of much labor and care there were also, in 1885, about 18 acres of woodland, containing elm, maple, beech, willow and silver oak; and the extent is annually increasing. 

The buildings are nearly all on an avenue some two miles in length, and following the curve of the harbor. The dwelling-houses and public buildings present a neat and pleasant appearance, having in many instances lawns and gardens, with shrubbery and shade trees. The soil for these, however, has been brought from distant places. Highpole Hill (earlier Tower Hill) rises picturesquely in the rear of the village. The old town-house, a substantial edifice surrounded by an iron railing, which formerly stood upon this eminence, was burned several years ago; and a fine new building in the village now serves the town uses. Race Point Light, at the western and extreme point of the cape, is three miles from the village. The four principal bodies of fresh water are Great Pond and Grass Pond, near the territorial centre, and Shank-painter's Clapp's and Webber's, northwest of the village. Though environed by the sea, there are wells and springs yielding water that is clear and pure. The entire assessed area of the town is 1,024 acres. The place is 50 miles from Boston by the course of steamers, and 116 by railroad. The Old Colony Railroad opened its line to this place on July 22, 1873.

The State census of 1885 reports 7 farms in the town, with an aggregate product valued at $19,560; of which the cranberry bogs (which occupy 138½ acres) yielded $8,834. The largest manufacturing establishments are the Puritan Shirt Factory, Pickerts and Swift's fish-canning factories, and Nickerson's Oil and Guano Factory, employing in the aggregate some 210 persons. There were 17 ship and boat building establishments, a cordage factory, a carriage factory, 5 places making machinery and metallic articles, 5 making clothing, 8 building, and 30 establishments for various food preparations, including salt and various fish products. Other manufactures were sails, boots and shoes, lumber and wrought stone. Sixty of the inhabitants were master mariners on sailing vessels; 86, mariners; 742, fishermen; 36, whalemen; 21, railroad employees; and 19 were connected with the two U.S. life-saving stations on the outer shore. The value of the aggregate manufactures was $411,963. The product of the fisheries was $628,454; of which the catch of cod brought $353,845; of mackerel, $110, 770; of haddock, $48,000; while halibut, bluefish, herring, pollock, hake and flounders made up most of the balance. The cod liver oil extracted was valued at $17,295. The business engaged 114 schooners, 9 sloops, 7 sail-boats, 962 dories, 21 seine-boats and three whale-boats. The commercial marine consisted of 8 schooners, aggregating 956 tons burthen. The national bank has a capital stock of $200,000; and the Seamen's Savings Bank, at the close of last year, carried deposits to the amount of $290,453. The population was 4,480, including 928 legal voters. The valuation in 1888 was $2,059,187, with a tax-rate of $17.10 on $1,000 There were 923 taxed dwelling-houses.

The schools consist of primary, grammar and high, and occupy seven buildings, valued at $26,000. The public library has about 3,500 volumes. The "Advocate," the weekly newspaper published here, has a very good circulation. The Methodists have two churches here, and the Congregationalists, Universalists and Roman Catholics, one each.

The Indian name of Provincetown was Chequocket, or Coatuit. The Pilgrims of the Mayflower landed here November 11, 1620; and here occurred the birth of Peregrine White, the first English child born in New England. The town was incorporated September 3, 1639 *; and the first church was organized in January, 1714. Three hundred and fifty men went from Provincetown into the naval and military service of the Union during the late war; and to the memory of the 12 who lost their lives the town has erected a handsome monument.

pp. 551-554 in Nason and Varney's Massachusetts Gazetteer, 1890

*[This is just wrong. Provincetown was organized as a precinct of Truro in 1714, and incorporated as a town in 1727. Fishermen had used its harbor and shores seasonally for centuries, but permanent settlement was not early, and it may have even been abandoned at periods in the 18th century. Yarmouth, Sandwich and Barnstable were organized in 1639.]

Barnstable county 1890, Gazetteer 1890