Wednesday, February 10, 2010

In My Footsteps: Trip 21: Provincetown, Mass.

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund
Trip 21: Provincetown, Mass.
February 9, 2010

            It’s the end of the line as far as Cape Cod goes.  The farthest north you can go before reaching the ocean; Provincetown may be the last stop on Route 6 but it should be one of the first on your visit to the Cape.  It is a small town filled with culture, art, and a lot of fishing history. 
MacMillan Wharf from the Pilgrim Monument
            The view from Route 6 heading from Truro into Provincetown is perhaps the best scenery along the entire Mid-Cape highway.  With huge sloping sand dunes on the right across Pilgrim Lake and rows of summer cottages on the left it can be hard to concentrate on the road ahead of you.  There is a turn off along the way that brings you to Rt. 6A; that route carries you along the water to Provincetown Harbor.  The harbor itself is at the southern point of the Provincetown historic district which is part of the National Register of Historic Places.  The main piers of the harbor are MacMillan Wharf and Cabral Pier also known as ‘Fisherman’s Wharf.’  The waters are very calm thanks to the West End Breakwater.  Located directly behind the wharf is the very popular Lobster Pot restaurant that is frequented by tourists   and locals alike.
Wood End Light
            There are two lighthouses located across from the harbor on the sandy Long Point.  Wood End Light is located at the southwest point of Long Point.  Built in 1873 and standing forty-five feet tall, Wood End light is square and made of brick.  The lighthouse is not open to the public but can be reached if you are willing to walk a nearly mile long breakwater.  The walk is not as hard as it may seem from the beginning and the views of the Pilgrim Monument from the other side of the breakwater is amazing.
            Located at the tip of Long Point is the Long Point Light Station.  Built in 1875 this light is similar in appearance to Wood End Light.  A settlement was begun on that location in 1818, reaching its peak at about 200 people.  The light station was established shortly thereafter.  Some of the houses which once sat on Long Point were floated across the harbor to Provincetown’s West End and are marked by plaques.  The light is also accessible via the breakwater you use to reach Wood End Light but it is wise to go at low tide to visit either or both of these lighthouses.
Race Point Light
            A little further north up the coast sits another historic lighthouse which is just difficult to reach.  Located in between Race Point Beach and Herring Cove Beach sits the Race Point Lighthouse.  Originally built in 1876 the lighthouse is nearly a mile and a half walk either along the beach or via the bike trail that starts at the end of the Herring Cove parking lot.  I did both and recommend the bike trail walk.  Or if you have a permit and a suitable vehicle the light can be accessed by driving off road.
The light itself is worth the trip with a spectacular view of Race Point where the waves crash on shore seemingly from all directions as it is where the Cape’s land bends.  From May through October the lighthouse keeper’s house as well as the beautifully renovated brick Whistle House are available for rent by day or week.  It is a peek into how life must have been for the light keepers back at the turn of the 20th Century.
Race Point Beach has its own share of history as it houses the Old Harbor Life Saving Station.  Built in 1897 it was originally located at the Chatham Harbor entrance to Nauset Beach but was moved in 1977 due to the constant threat of beach erosion.  It sits in a small dune valley just off of the parking lot.  A Coast Guard station sits at the far end of the parking lot and there is an intermittent buzz from planes at the nearby Provincetown Airport as they land and take off.  Race Point is actually one of the few spots on the Cape that is actually benefiting from coastal erosion as the sand from the south is being deposited in this area making for a very large sandy beach.
Old Harbor Life Saving Station
If beaches and lighthouses are not your thing there is another major piece of American history that is seen from all over Provincetown and that is the Pilgrim Monument.  Standing majestically at a whopping 252-feet tall it is that largest granite structure in the country.  Perched upon High Pole Hill the monument is set to commemorate its 100th anniversary on August 5, 2010.  The monument is in recognition of the Pilgrims first landing spot in 1620 as well as the signing of the Mayflower Compact which was the first instance of a democratic society in the New World.  The walk up to the observation area is filled with history as etched in many of the granite blocks are the names of Massachusetts towns and the years in which they were incorporated as towns.  The Provincetown Museum sits on the grounds with the harbor below.   One can see all the way down the National Seashore and across the bay toward Boston and the South Shore.
Pilgrim Monument
No trip to Provincetown would be complete, or even possible, without driving along the historic Commercial Street.  This incredibly narrow road is filled with art museums as well as more modern and expensive condos and houses facing the harbor.  Even in the dead of winter this road is difficult to navigate and should be taken slowly.  This gives any visitor ample time to enjoy all of the historic sites, there are eight buildings in Provincetown on the National Register of Historic Places.  In summer this area is choked with people who come to enjoy the festive carnival-like atmosphere.  Any person of any age can find something to like about Provincetown in the summer.
It was the first landing spot of the Pilgrims.  Provincetown holds major significance in the history of not only the fishing industry.  It also was where some major artists came to garner inspiration.  People like painter Jackson Pollock, writer Norman Mailer, and composer Cole Porter, at one point plied their crafts in Provincetown.  Perhaps you will find your own inspiration among the beauty and history of this area.  Even if you don’t, a trip up along the ‘arm’ of Cape Cod to Provincetown will be a trip talked about for a long time.  Have fun and happy traveling!
Directions: Provincetown Harbor: From Rt. 6 east, turn right onto Conwell St.  Bear left onto Cemetery Rd.  Turn left at Standish Street and continue onto Lopes Square.  From here Wood End and Long Point Light are accessible at low tide.
Pilgrim Monument & Provincetown Museum: From Rt. 6 east turn left at Shank Painter Rd. and take a sharp left at Jerome Smith Rd.  Take the 3rd right onto Winslow St. and the 3rd left onto High Pole Rd. which is where the monument and museum are.
Race Point Light: Herring Cove Beach: Take Rt. 6 east and turn right onto Province Lands Rd.  The light is visible from the parking lot.  Race Point Beach: From Rt. 6 east turn right onto Race Point Rd. and follow it to the parking lot.  The lighthouse is west from the lot and is not immediately visible.
References: Race Point Light
            Provincetown Historical Timeline
            The Lobster Pot Restaurant
            Wood End Lighthouse

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