Old images of Provincetown are fascinating as much of it’s landscape and landmarks remain intact today but their context was often far different and gives us windows into the daily lives of our ancestors. In many of them the old Town House dominates the town from Pilgrim Heights where the monument now stands. The Town House was the Provincetown town hall until it burnt down in 1877. The railroad wharf was where MacMillan wharf now stands and was constructed in 1873. On a personal note I love that people are fishing in bowler hats!
A hundred and fifty years ago it was much more difficult to get to Outer Cape Cod. During the 1800s, Cape Cod played host to a large number of religious revivalist meetings in the summer. In many ways this was the start of Cape Cod’s tourist economy. Originally they congregated in large outdoor tent camps. This is how some roads like Campground Rd in Eastham got named. With the camp meetings occurring year after year, summer cottages were slowly built to accommodate the congregations. The railroad ended in Sandwich until 1854 when it was extended to Hyannis. It took until 1865 for it to reach Orleans, and 1870 for it to reach Eastham and Wellfleet, and 1873 to Truro and Provincetown. This left two methods of transportation available to visitors ,they could either take stagecoaches in uncomfortable trips that could take days, or they could take packet boats from Boston and New York City. In towns without a harbor large enough to accommodate the packet boats, such as Eastham or Brewster, stagecoaches were driven out onto the sand flats at mid tide to meet small craft ferrying passengers from the larger packet. The passengers were then transferred directly from the boat to the stagecoach which took them to their summer camps. One can only imagine the luggage mishaps that must have occurred!
This is the Wellfleet Rail Road Station as it appeared at the turn of the century (circa 1900). In 1870 the Old Colony Railroad reached Wellfleet. There were two railroad stations in town. The South Wellfleet Station was located where the South Wellfleet General Store and the South Wellfleet Post Office is now. The Wellfleet Railroad Station was located where Mac’s Shack and the Harmon Gallery are now at the intersection of Commercial Street and Railroad Ave. The remains of the railroad trestle and causeway where it crossed the Duck Creek portion of Wellfleet Harbor can be seen immediately behind the Harmon Gallery.
Wellfleet Harbor certainly looked different back in the day. Like the rest of the Cape Cod, Wellfleet had been completely denuded of trees soon after it was settled by the Europeans. The windmills and derricks were for salt works that supplied Wellfleet’s fishing fleet with the salt they needed to preserve the catch. The island in the center of this sketch is Cannon Hill which is where Uncle Tim’s Foot Bridge is now. Wellfleet Harbor’s anchorage extended much further than it does today, running along Commercial Street and Main Street stretching past the present day location of Rt 6. When the railroad came to Wellfleet they built a causeway & trestle the remains of which are easily seen South of Cannon Hill. This reduced the flow to the inner harbor causing it to silt in.