Provincetown Harbor

Provincetown Harbor is a large natural harbor located off of the town of Provincetown, Massachusetts. The harbor is mostly 30 to convert|90|ft|m|0 deep and stretches roughly one mile from north to south and two miles (3 km) from east to west, i.e., one large, deep bowl with no dredged channel necessary for boats to enter and exit.

A tall green buoy east of Long Point (i.e., the tip of Cape Cod) marks the entrance to Provincetown Harbor from Cape Cod Bay. Several of the landmarks described in this article are identified on the aerial view shown at [| WikiMapia] .


Viking Princess Harbor Cruises [ [ Viking Princess Harbor Cruises] ] offers among their tour options [ [ Viking Princess Harbor Cruises tour options] ] a historical sightseeing tour [ [ Viking Princess Harbor Cruises historical sightseeing tour] ] and a Critter Cruise [ [ Viking Princess Harbor Cruises Critter Cruise] ] to explore harbor marine life.

Commercial use

Roughly a dozen fishing trawlers (locally known as "draggers"), ferries to Boston and Plymouth, Massachusetts, several different sportfishing boats, boat rentals, and other commercial boats also use the harbor today. East Coast whalewatching on Stellwagen Bank originated as a joint effort of the Dolphin Fleet and the Center for Coastal Studies leaving from MacMillan Pier in 1975.


Most of Cape Cod was created by the Laurentide Glacier between 18,000 and 15,000 years ago. However, the Provincetown Spit, i.e., the land surrounding Provincetown Harbor from High Head in North Truro through all of Provincetown, consists largely of marine deposits transported from farther up the shore during the last 6,000 years.Cite web|url=|title=NPS: Nature & Science>Geology Resources Division|accessdate=2007-02-13]

A stone wallCite web|url=|title=The Norse Wall House on Wikimapia|accessdate=2007-02-13] discovered in Provincetown in 1805 is thought to have been built by Viking Thorwald Ericson about 1007 AD,Cite web|url=|title=The Norse Wall|accessdate=2007-02-13|] when according to translations of Norse sagas, the keel of Ericson's ship was repaired in the harbor.Cite web|url=|title=The Visiting Vikings|accessdate=2007-02-13]

Bartholomew Gosnold explored the harbor in 1602, and his mate Gabriel Archer wrote:

"The fifteenth day of May we had again sight of the land, which made ahead, being as we thought an island, by reason of a large sound that appeared westward between it and the main, for coming to the west end thereof, we did perceive a large opening, we called it Shoal Hope. Near this cape we came to anchor in fifteen fathoms, where we took great store of codfish, for which we altered the name, and called it Cape Cod. Here we saw sculls of herring, mackerel, and other small fish, in great abundance. This is a low sandy shoal, but without danger..."cite book | title=GREAT EPOCHS IN AMERICAN HISTORY: The Relation of Captain Gosnold's Voyage| url=| last=Archer| first=Gabriel| date=1912| pages=38| editor=Ed. Frances Healey| publisher=Funk & Wagnalls Co.]

John Smith explored the harbor in 1614 and wrote:

"Cape Cod... is only a headland of high hills of sand, overgrown with shrubby pines, hurts, and such trash, but an excellent harbor for all weathers. This Cape is made by the main sea on the one side, and a great bay on the other, in form of a sickle..."cite book | title=A Description of New England: An Online Electronic Text Edition| url=| last=Smith| first=John| coauthors=Paul Royster| date=2006| pages=23| publisher=Digital Commons| location=University of Nebraska - Lincoln]
Provincetown Harbor was the initial anchoring place of the Pilgrims traveling on the Mayflower in 1620, before they proceeded to Plymouth, Massachusetts. Thoreau later observedcite book | title=Cape Cod| url=| last=Thoreau| first=Henry David| date=1865| publisher=Thoreau Society] that Smith's description of the harbor may have been less colored by the hardships of transoceanic troubles than the Pilgrims'. Mourt's Relation describes the harbor as,
"a good harbor and pleasant bay, circled round, except in the entrance, which is about four miles (6 km) over from land to land, compassed about to the very sea with oaks, pines, juniper, sassafras, and other sweet wood; it is a harbor wherein 1000 sail of ships may safely ride, there we relieved ourselves with wood and water, and refreshed our people, while our shallop was fitted to coast the bay, to search for an habitation: there was the greatest store of fowl we ever saw."cite book | title=A Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceeding of the English Plantation Settled at Plymouth| url=| last=Winslow| first=Edward| coauthors=William Bradford| date=1622| page 6| publisher=John Bellamie| location=London, England]
The Mayflower held several different passengers in addition to the Pilgrims on its first transoceanic voyage. Before coming ashore at the extreme northwest corner of the harbor, the Pilgrims and other settlers signed the Mayflower Compact in the harbor on November 21, 1620.cite book | title=Truro-Cape Cod or Land Marks and Sea Marks| url=| last=Rich| first=Shebnah| date=1883| pages=53| publisher=D. Lothrop & Co.| location=Boston] Dorothy Bradford, the first wife of William Bradford, was one of the first adult Pilgrims to die in the New World. According to the only known written description of her deathcite book | title=Magnalia Christi Americana| url=| last=Mather| first=Cotton| date=1853| page=111| publisher=Silus Andrus & Son| location=1853] from close to when it actually occurred, she fell overboard from the Mayflower in Provincetown Harbor on December 7, 1620 and drowned.However, for the Nickerson family's oral history version of her death, see cite book | title=Early Encounters: Native Americans and Europeans in New England. From the Papers of Warren Sears Nickerson| url=| last=Carpenter| first=Dolores Bird| date=1994| publisher=Michigan State University Press| location=Lansing] Peregrine White, the first child born to the Pilgrims in New England, was born while they were in Provincetown Harbor.

Nothing obvious remains of an old fishing village at Long Point during the 19th century.cite journal | author=Provincetown Historical Association| title=Walking Tour#1, The Center of Provincetown| journal=Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum| url=]

The Portland gale of 1898 destroyed several wharves and fishing boats within the harbor.

The harbor is the southern boundary of the Provincetown historic district, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.


Two main parallel wharves dominated the center of the harbor in the late 1800s: Railroad Wharf and Steamboat Wharf. President Grant visited Provincetown for the opening of the railroad in 1874.cite book | title=History of Barnstable County| url=| last=Deyo| first=Simeon L.| date=1890| pages=971| publisher=H. W. Blake & Co.| location=New York] Today, the wharves have been replaced by piers. Although rail and steamboat service to Provincetown both ended long ago, ferry service continues.

MacMillan Pier, the town pier of Provincetown, was significantly renovated and expanded during 2003-2005 with the help of a $1.95 million low interest loan from the Rural Development program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.cite journal | author=Gaul, Gilbert M. and Cohen, Sarah| title=Rural Aid Goes to Urban Areas: USDA Development Program Helps Suburbs, Resort Cities| journal=Washington Post| year=2007| url= | doi=10.1162/wash.2007.30.3.37 | volume=30 | pages=37] The pier primarily serves tourists and high-speed ferries to Boston and Plymouth that charge their passengers up to $44 per one-way trip. [ [ Boston-Provincetown ferry] Retrieved on April 5, 2007] [ [ Plymouth-Provincetown ferry] Retrieved on April 5, 2007] The Provincetown Public Pier Corporation [ [ Provincetown Public Pier Corporation] ] (PPPC) entered into a 20-year lease agreement for MacMillan Pier operations in 2005.Cite web|url=|title=MacMillan Pier Lease Agreement|accessdate=2007-02-13|publisher=Town of Provincetown|year=2005] The pier is named after arctic explorer Donald B. MacMillan, a Provincetown native who retired to Provincetown and died there in 1970.

Immediately parallel to MacMillan Pier is Cabral Pier, also known as "Fisherman's Wharf."cite journal | author=Sowers, Pru| title=Town backs Cabral Pier parking & mooring | journal=Provincetown Banner| year=2005| volume=Aug. 25| url=] "They Also Faced the Sea" is an outdoor art installation of five large portraits of local Portuguese-American women photographed by Norma Holt hanging since 2003 on one side and one end of the old fish-packing plant on Cabral Pier.Cite web|url=|title="They Also Faced the Sea" - Art Installation|accessdate=2007-03-02|publisher=Ewa Nogiec,] Along the other side of Cabral Pier sits the Provincia, an enormous former Navy barracks barge from World War II purchased by Robert Cabral.cite journal | author=Sowers, Pru| title=Town bids $3.3M for wharf| journal=Provincetown Banner| year=2005| volume=Oct. 20| url=]

In both 1907 and 1910, when the Pilgrim Monument began construction and when it was dedicated, the entire Atlantic fleet of the U.S. Navy was inside the harbor for large ceremonies led by Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, respectively.

The harbor affords views of three working lighthouses: Long Point, Wood End [ [ Wood End] ] , and Highland (or Cape Cod) Light, and most of the buildings of the town. All three are on land within the Cape Cod National Seashore. The harbor serves as the southern boundary of the nationally registered Provincetown historic district, which consists of some 3000 acres (12 km²), 1127 buildings, three structures, and five objects.

On the East End of Provincetown, Lewis Wharf was purchased by Mary Heaton Vorse, and its old fish shack converted into a theater which became the home of the Provincetown Players. Eugene O'Neill debuted his first play, Bound East for Cardiff, there in 1916. [ [ Bound East for Cardiff] , there in 1916]

Captain Jack's Wharf is on the West End of Provincetown. At another theater on that wharf, Tennessee Williams debuted A Streetcar Named Desire with Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski before the play appeared on Broadway.

U.S. Coast Guard has administrative buildings and barracks at the base of a concrete pier on the harbor. [ [ Station Provincetown] ] The current station opened in 1979 and is responsible for safety and law enforcement in over convert|1200|sqmi|km2|-2 of Cape Cod Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Noteworthy past disasters within this station's area include the wreck of the submarine S-4 in 1927. This station includes the first federal building to receive solar power. A frequent sight in the harbor is the station's convert|47|ft|m|0|sing=on, self-righting motor life boat.Cite web|url=|title=USCG Sta Provincetown History page|accessdate=2007-02-26|publisher=USCG]

The West End Breakwater, built in 1911 by the US Army Corps of Engineers, is open to the public for walking and exploring. [ [ West End Breakwater] ] Technically speaking, it is more of a dike than a breakwater. The harbor also has a "true" breakwater built between 1970 and 1972 and located convert|835|ft|m|0 from the end of MacMillan Pier.Cite web|url=|title=History Highlights: Dikes and Breakwaters|accessdate=2007-02-12|publisher=Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum|year=2006|author=Laurel Guadazno]

Marine Life

Provincetown Harbor supports a wide variety of marine life from algae, seagrasses and plankton through bryozoa, hydroids, echinoderms, crustaceans, mollusks, fish, birds, marine mammals, and other animals.

The harbor is an amazingly diverse and productive habitat. The following tables list in no particular order 94 examples of marine life that are regularly observed within the harbor. A few landbirds are included that are common around MacMillan Pier, on the beaches, and on the breakwater.

In 2002, Provincetown Harbor Beach was selected by the US Environmental Protection Agency as one of three [ Flagship beaches] for the state of Massachusetts that serve as models for beach managers in water quality monitoring and pollution assessments and because of its health.

The eastern section of the harbor is connected through a culvert to Pilgrim Lake, historically known as East Harbor. In the 17th and 18th centuries, East Harbor was the most protected mooring place in Provincetown for boats using Cape Cod Bay and the Gulf of Maine. East Harbor had a wide inlet into Provincetown Harbor during that period. Later, this was diked to allow traffic to be redirected from the east side of the lake and a railroad to be built.cite journal | author=Adam Gamble| title=When Provincetown almost became an island| journal=Barnstable Patriot: Summerscape| year=1998| url=| format=dead link|date=June 2008 – [ Scholar search] ] During the 19th century, the dike became clogged with vegetation, beginning the demise of native wildlife populations in East Harbor. Tidal flow was successfully restored by the National Park Service working together with other local, state, and federal agencies.cite journal | author=Peter Schworm| title=In Truro, a dying lake now overflows with life| journal=Boston Globe| year=2004|url= | doi=10.1038/nbt0504-633 | volume=22 | pages=633] In 2005, for the first time since Abraham Lincoln was president, legal-size clams were found in East Harbor.Cite web|url=|title=East Harbor 2006 Annual Report|accessdate=2007-02-12|publisher=Cape Cod National Seashore|year=2006|author=John Portnoy, et al.]

Historic Annual Events

The [ Great Provincetown Schooner Regatta] each September preserves the harbor's history as a great sailing port.

A [ Blessing of the Fleet] ceremony is held at the end of MacMillan Pier in late June, when all the boats operating in the harbor are blessed by a visiting bishop as part of the [ Provincetown Portuguese Festival] .

The [ "Swim for Life"] every September swims across the harbor to raise money for a range of charitable causes.

Further Reading and other info

Wikipedia List of Nationally Registered Historic Places in Provincetown

Oldale, R. N., 1992, "Cape Cod and the Islands, the geologic story": Parnassus Imprints, East Orleans, Massachusetts, 208 p. see [ Geologic History of Cape Cod, Massachusetts]

Carl Christian Rafn, 1837. "Antiquitates Americanæ". referred to by [ The Norse Wall House]

Strahler, A. N., 1966, "A Geologist's View of Cape Cod": Doubleday. Reprinted Parnassus Imprints (1988), Orleans, Massachusetts, 115 p.

Vorse, M.H. [,+time+and+the+town,+provincetown&sig=AUevQ020YiBf2eTZYcQi32BMNgs#PPP1,M1| "Time and the Town: A Provincetown Chronicle"] . 1942. Dial Press, New York, 372 p.

[ a Norma Holt exhibit in "Faces & Places"]

[ "Shutterbug" 1999 interview with Norma Holt]

[ Things to Do compiled by Provincetown Public Pier Corporation]

[ old postcard of Captain Jack's wharf in West End]


External links

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