About the Provincetown Public Library
The Provincetown Public Library is located in the building that was once the Center Methodist Episcopal Church. This structure, like many in Provincetown, has had a long and varied history of use. When it was built in 1860 as the Center Methodist Episcopal Church it was reputed to be the largest church of Methodist denomination anywhere in the United States. It cost $22,000 to complete and could seat 900 people in its 128 pews.
The original steeple, weakened during the Portland Gale, was 162 feet tall and contained a huge bronze bell cast by George Holbrook in Medway, Massachusetts. The present spire rises 100 feet from the ground. Looking from the end of MacMillan Wharf towards town, the building is one of the most prominent on the skyline.
In 1958 the Methodist congregation sold this building at 356 Commercial Street to Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., son of the founder of the Chrysler Corporation, for conversion to an art museum. Walter Chrysler ran the Chrysler Art Museum with limited success until 1970. Discouraged when the Town of Provincetown would not help him find parking for visitors to the museum, Chrysler packed up his collection and moved to Virginia where he opened a modern facility still operating today.
For a number of years the building stood abandoned until 1974, when two local men, Jules Brenner and Frederic Jungmann, bought the building from Chrysler for $90,000 with the idea of starting a “Center for the Arts.” Unfortunately the idea was a cultural success but a financial failure, and the building was bought back by the bank after only one year of operation.
Through the efforts of the Provincetown Historical Association and the Historic District Study Committee, the building was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. It received certification in October 1975. Subsequently in 1976, at a special town meeting, a group of citizens secured a vote to acquire the building for $135,000 and turn it into a local historical museum. The Provincetown Heritage Museum officially opened to the public on July 4, 1976. A dedicated group of volunteers set up exhibits on various aspects of the town’s heritage. It was at this time that the half scale model of the schooner Rose Dorothea was built and installed in the building. The Heritage Museum operated on a seasonal basis with a minimal staff and a dedicated group of volunteers through the summer of 2000.
Through the years the number of people visiting the Heritage Museum had gradually begun to decline. At the same time use of Provincetown’s public library, located in a small building on the corner of Freeman and Commercial Street, was steadily growing. A new library building was needed to accommodate this increased use. After much study and discussion with citizens of the town, the Trustees of the Library concluded that the building housing the Heritage Museum at 356 Commercial Street could be successfully renovated and transformed into a new library for the Town.
At Town Meeting on April 2, 2001 the Provincetown Heritage Museum property was officially conveyed to the Board of Library Trustees for rehabilitation of the property as the Provincetown Public Library. In 2002 renovations began when the firm of Perry Dean Rogers was engaged to design the new library. The Provincetown Public Library website set forth the plans, “The interior of the building will be completely gutted, reconstructed and restored to its original design insomuch as is possible. . . . Finally complying with the Massachusetts Historical Commission requirements to maintain the grand staircases and restore the vaulted ceiling in this National Historic Landmark property, the stairs will be re-railed in order to open them for use by the public, and the vaulted ceiling will be enhanced with a secondary vault to embrace and accommodate the masts of the Rose.”
In April 2005, the new Provincetown Public Library opened in the former Heritage Museum building bringing new life to this magnificent 1860 wooden structure. Inside, the Library is bright, spacious and designed to retain the feeling of the grand open spaces of the former church. On the first floor, much of the collection is contained in custom-built cases that were constructed by Provincetown master carpenter Bill Ingraham as a gift to the Town. The unique feature of these cases is that they re-use the mahogany arm rests from the church pews found in the basement before renovation.
The library incorporates much of the Heritage Museum’s collection into building. Today, the half-scale model of the Rose Dorothea sits in the center of the Library’s Childrens Area and a small, climate-controlled room to house the Josephine C. Del Deo Heritage Archives (the documents and photographs from the Heritage Collection) is located in the lower level.
The Rose Dorothea Schooner Model
One of the famed “Indian Head” schooners, the original Rose Dorothea was designed by Thomas McManus and built at the Tarr & James Shipyard in Essex, MA in 1905. She was 108.7 feet long, weighed 108 tons and had a crew of 26 men. Her rounded bow enabled her to sail closer into the wind, which made her faster than other schooners of the era.
During Boston’s Old Home Week Celebration in August 1907, a cup was offered by Sir Thomas Lipton for a Fishermen’s Race in Massachusetts Bay. Two of the competing schooners were from Provincetown: the Rose Dorothea and the Jessie Costa. The race was a 42-mile course, laid from Thieves Ledge off Boston Light, to Davis Ledge off Minot’s Light, to Eastern Point, Gloucester and back to Boston.
Despite losing her fore-topmast in the final leg of the race, the Rose Dorothea, captained by Marion Perry and skippered for the race by John Watson, won the Lipton Cup and a $650 cash prize.
The Rose Dorothea brought the Lipton Cup back to Provincetown on August 1, 1907 to great fanfare; a broom symbolically tied to her mast indicated a “clean sweep.” No other race was ever sailed to place the Lipton Cup in contention.
The men known to be crew members at the time of the race were: Antone Amaral, Isadore Jesse Fratus, Joseph R. Holmes, Willie Jason, Joseph Leal, Manuel Marshall, Thomas O’Donnell, Manuel Perry, Antone Prada, Eduardo Salvador, John Pavon Santos, William Silva, Manuel Souza, Joseph “Iron Horse” Viera, and John Wilson. The other crew members are not known.
In 1977, as a tribute to the great fishing schooner, construction began in the Heritage Museum, now the Provincetown Public Library. A half-scale replica of the Rose Dorothea was dedicated on June 25, 1988. The completed model spans a 66’6″ length and a 12’6″ beam.
Provincetown gratefully acknowledges Francis A. “Flyer” Santos and the team of volunteers who created this grand tribute to the fishermen of Provincetown and to New England’s shipbuilding tradition.
Board of Library Trustees
Stephen Desroches (Chair) – Term ends May 2020
Stephen Borkowski – Term ends May 2021
Joan Prugh – Term ends May 2020
Barbara Klipper – Term ends May 2021
Paul Richardson – Term ends May 2019