There was a day — and not too long ago — when there would have been few things as common in town as a Portuguese family living at the west end of Commercial Street. Now, there are few things as unusual. But some longtime families remain; a quiet, enduring and modest presence in the midst of growing ostentation. Roxanne “Jill” Pires, pictured, exemplifies that tradition, living in a home just beyond the Turn that has been in her family’s hands for more than 70 years.
Her grandfather, Manuel Lourenço Pires (1876-1958), a fisherman, was born in Olhão and came to the United States as a 15-year-old. He moved to Provincetown in 1901. His daughter, Maria Anne (Pires) Langley (1914-2013), lived at 169 Bradford Street, a house also known as 10 Dyer Street. The Pireses’ son — Jill’s father — was Capt. Manuel Lawrence Pires Jr. (1910-1995). He was a crewman in the 1930s aboard the dragger Stella, with his cousins Ferdinand R. “Fred” Salvador and Louis Salvador. In 1937, he married Winnifred Fredina “Winny” O’Donnell (1914-1970), of 6 Atwood Avenue. The young couple first made their home at 171 Commercial Street. They also lived at 1 West Vine Street before buying this house in 1946 for $5,000. Their five children were Nancy (Pires) Hager, Penny (Pires) Armitage, Michael Pires, Thomas Pires, and Jill, who was the baby of the family.
The comfortable ways of Old Provincetown, in the home of Jill Pires, pictured in 2010. Her family has owned 100 Commercial since 1946. Photos by David W. Dunlap.
By the 1940s, Manuel Jr. was skipper of his own vessel, a 48-foot scalloper named Alberta II. In April 1949, having arrived in the early morning hours loaded with 100 bushels of sea scallops, Alberta II was caught in a freak storm, with southeast winds lashing her at 50 miles an hour. She broke free from the Cape Cod Cold Storage wharf — within sight of the captain’s house — and was pummeled ashore, with a hole stove near the starboard bow.¹ A complete loss, she remained in place until 1951, with the mast still showing above the water. In the 1950s, Pires sailed with Ferdinand Salvador on C. R. & M. (later named Nancy & Debbie) and on Michael Ann (later Chico-Jess). Jill Pires lived in New York and Europe before returning to Provincetown in the early 1980s to care for her father, who died in this house. She was a waitress and bartender, and worked in customer service before she retired.
This was the home of Jeremiah Quinn, a tailor, in 1886, at which time it was denominated 93 Commercial Street. In the course of a renovation, Pires uncovered — and kept exposed — some of the very old, wood-pegged timber framing of the original structure. The walls of her comfortable house are filled with scenes of Provincetown. Old Provincetown.
¶ Last updated on 5 September 2018.
One of the few Portuguese households on far western Commercial Street still sported the galo de Barcelos emblem outside in 2018. Handhewn construction was revealed inside and Pires decided to keep it exposed (2010). Photos by David W. Dunlap.
Roxanne “Jill” Pires wrote on 23 July 2011: Thank you. I am pleased with all you have written. I find this to be a true text of a real native and her roots.
Cheryl Armitage wrote on 6 August 2011: I have spent all but three summers of my life on Cape Cod. It is home for me! I love my aunt’s home. It holds many fond memories for me. My grampy used to come home with burlap bags filled with lobsters and let them loose on the kitchen floor to scare me and my little sister, Tracy. I remember my grammy always taking us across the street to the “Cold Storage beach” to swim. She collected shells with us that we later painted and sold in front of the mailbox on the street corner.
My dream as a young girl was to turn the home into a restaurant. I thought it should be Portuguese food only. (Family heritage, I guess.) Grammy made the best kale soup. So did Mom. And flippers on Sunday mornings. I have raised both of my kids on these simple family recipes, adapting them to be as heart healthy as possible. My daughter is now doing the same with my grandson.
Aunti Jill has always been my favorite of all of my relatives. She always purchased special gifts for us while she was traveling. I still have dolls she bought in England (at Harrod’s, I think). I would give anything and everything I have to keep this home in my family. I wish I was a rich kid who could run it as a B&B and support my aunti for the rest of her life! My daughter Emily has made the comment: “Mom, the second ‘B’ is for breakfast. Who is going to cook it?” I told her she could. Thank you for a wonderful write up! I love it and Emily will, too, as she is tracing our family tree for my grandson, Cooper.
Sylvia Tarvers Sammons wrote on 6 August 2011: I grew up at 178 Bradford Street and I really appreciate the Pires family and its extended family for loving their home as they do. Unfortunately, our family home got out of the family. I’m sure those of us who are left wish that it still belonged to the Tarvers family. At least I do! That home is now known as Snug Cottage.
Denise Avallon wrote on 30 September 2012: In the 1886 directory, Thomas W. Dyer’s store was listed at 97 Commercial Street, N. C. Brooks at No. 95, Jeremiah Quinn at No. 93, and Addison Nickerson at No. 91. The 1888 Sanborn map shows the house at the bend, No. 97, as a grocery. The 1912 and 1919 Sanborn maps show it is still there, renumbered as No. 104. So is Brooks’s old house, renumbered as No. 102 and moved forward. Then comes Quinn’s old house, renumbered as No. 100, situated as it is now. The 1929 map shows that the bend in the road has been widened and the house at No. 104 (originally No. 97) is gone.
Grave sites in Provincetown
Langley, Maria (Pires). Find a Grave Memorial 114939037.
Pires, Manuel. Find a Grave Memorial 129160243.
Pires, Manuel Jr. Find a Grave Memorial 137909989.
Pires, Winnifred (O’Donnell). Find a Grave Memorial 137909900.
¹ “Scalloper Goes Ashore, Damaged in Freak Gale,” The Advocate, 21 April 1949.