Former Universalist parsonage.
The First Universalist Parish of Provincetown ended an evening service in May 1931 with something enormous in the collection plate. This house.
The property was a gift to the church from Sara A. Hamlin (1849-1934), who had grown up in this house, and her brother-in-law Edwin N. Paine (1853-1935). He lived across the street, at what is now 129 Commercial Street. Their purpose was to create a parsonage for the Universalist congregation, 236 Commercial Street, which was then known as the Church of the Redeemer and is today called the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House.
The house makes a terrific impression with its lightning-splitter roof. The two-story gable end is a bold triangle framing six windows. There are few enough lightning splitters in town, fewer yet with a complete cornice at the base, forming a classical pediment.
The Hamlins had lived here since the 1880s, if not earlier, when it was denominated 123 Commercial Street, under the old numbering system. Sara’s father, Alexander Hamlin (1815-1892), was a small-m mason and a co-owner of House Point Island in Provincetown Harbor, which no longer exists. In 1841, Hamlin married Sarah A. Freeman (1816-1851), a daughter of Nathan Freeman and Abigail Nickerson Freeman. Their children included Sara (without an “h”) and Abigail, who married Edwin Paine. Sara never wed.
Left: The Rev. Ulysses Sumner Milburn spent several seasons at 128 Commercial Street in the mid-1940s as the summer minister. The image comes from Mike Roberts and is on the Heritage Universalist Unitarian Church website. Center: The Rev. Elmer Danforth Colcord was the pastor in the early 1940s, and — at one point — the oldest living Tufts alumnus. The image, from Skip Colcord, is on Find a Grave. Right: Two different pastors who lived at No. 128 were involved in the adoption by Christian Universalism of the off-center cross, shown here in a drawing posted on Wikimedia Commons.
And why should she have? At a time when few women attended college — and many colleges barred their doors to women — Hamlin forged a career as an educator. She was graduated from Provincetown High School and then from Dean Academy (now Dean College) in Franklin, about 20 miles north of Providence. The founder of that academy, Dr. Oliver Dean, had also been instrumental in establishing the First Universalist Society in Franklin. Dean Academy was intended at first as a preparatory school for Tufts College (now Tufts University), a nonsectarian Universalist institution. For about 40 years, Hamlin was both a teacher and preceptor at Dean, after which she retired to Provincetown, where she lived with Paine, who was by then widowed.
“That beautiful word, a lady, with its rectitude, generosity, and formal manners, describes her,” The Advocate wrote in its obituary.¹ Perhaps because of that stature — and because she was related to the Paines — Hamlin could count on the steam whistle of the nearby Cape Cod Cold Storage Company freezer being silenced when she was ill.
Left and center: Robert Paster, who has owned 128 Commercial since 1997, is the author of Digital Mind Math and New Physics and the Mind. The images come from Paster’s author page on Amazon. Right: Raymond Peloquin, Paster’s partner for 26 years, died in 2009. The picture was posted by Dana Garrow on Find a Grave.
The transfer of 128 Commercial Street, including the empty lot immediately west of the house, took effect in September 1931.² It was something of a fixer-upper, and needed renovations and repair before it could be used as a parsonage, after which it “hosted numerous socials and groups, including the Mission Society, the Get-Together Club, and Ladies Auxillary,” said the Rev. Alison Hyder.
The Rev. Robert Newton Ward (1885-1937) was apparently the first pastor to live here. He and his wife, Charlotte, had only 15 months to enjoy it before he died at 52 of a cerebral embolism at the parsonage. In a lovely reaffirmation of the circle of life, however, a seven-pound baby, Peter Roy Fisher, was born in the parsonage just seven months later to Katherine (Degenaar) Fisher and her husband, the Rev. Carleton M. Fisher, who had succeeded Ward in the pastorate. Fisher would go on from the Provincetown post to bigger stages. He was sent to Japan in 1950 to assess the precarious state of Universalism there after World War II. Three years later, during the McCarthy era, Fisher was among the signers of an open letter defending the use of the Fifth Amendment by witnesses at congressional hearings into Communism. That stance provoked a bitter denunciation from The Boston Post, owned by the Groziers of 160 Commercial Street.
The Rev. Elmer Danforth Colcord (1895-1994) and his wife, Evelyn (Huntsinger) Colcord, were the next residents of the parsonage. Up until his death, Colcord had been the oldest living alumnus of Tufts University, from which he had earned a theology degree. In the 1940s, the Rev. Ulysses Sumner Milburn became the summer minister of the Universalist church. In that role, and at the parsonage, he performed the marriage of the writer and photographer John D. Bell to Grace Pfeiffer in August 1945. The Rev. Albert Frederick Ziegler made his home here in the early 1950s, followed by the Rev. Richard W. Knost. Both men had been involved in 1946 with the adoption of the off-center cross as a symbol of Christian Universalism, meant to suggest that Universalism does not believe Christianity’s interpretation of the infinite is the only possible interpretation.
Left: In 2005, Robert Paster and Raymond Peloquin built a two-story garage and residence on the lot west of 128 Commercial. The image comes from the Town of Provincetown Property Summary Report. Right: The rear of the main gable, in a photo taken by David W. Dunlap in 2012.
The parsonage was given up in 1959. Richard Lischer, the operator of Poor Richard’s Landing at 437-439 Commercial Street, applied in 1967 to convert 128 Commercial Street into a lodging house. I do not know what became of that plan. Lischer sold the property in 1969 to Wilbur M. Cook (1922-1992), the proprietor of the legendary Cookie’s Tap at 133 Commercial; his wife, Ruth Margaret (Wilson) Cook (1924-1995); Joseph F. Cook; and his wife, Josephine G. Cook. The Cooks sold in turn to a company called Mom’s Inc., which was formed to own and operate a guest house and/or an apartment house.⁷ I’m still trying to figure out whether there was actually a guest house or accommodation known to the public as “Mom’s” at this address. Its partners were Marc E. Carrier, Alan Brunner, and Thomas James, all of New York City.
Mom’s was dissolved in 1983, but Carrier owned the property until 1997, when he sold it for $520,000 to Robert Paster and Raymond Peloquin (1938-2009).⁶ Paster is an author whose work is concerned with the mathematical modeling of cognition itself. His framework is a theory called topological geometrodynamics, developed by the physicist Matti Pitkänen. It employs what are known as 𝑝-adic numbers, which “do not quantify count or measure size in the usual sense, but instead label paths of a hierarchy tree.”³ Paster’s New Physics and the Mind proposes that Pitkänen’s theory is “the most complete and convincing unified model of general relativity, quantum physics, and the mind.”⁴ Digital Mind Math, published in 2016, further explores the model of the mind — “how we think, conceptualize, plan, decide, emote, interact, live, love” — as it can be described by topological geometrodynamics.⁵ He continues to own No. 128 and the abutting property along Briggs Lane, 128A Commercial Street.
Peloquin, who was Paster’s partner for 26 years, was an Air Force veteran. He operated the Mazel Tov Restaurant at 199 Commercial Street, and worked at the Provincetown Inn, 1 Commercial Street; Gifford House, 9-11 Carver Street; and Archie’s Drugstore, 222-224 Commercial Street, on the ground floor of King Hiram’s Lodge. Together with Neal Kimball, of Neal Kimball Residential Designs, Peloquin presented a plan in 2004 to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a two-story, one-car garage, with living space behind and upstairs. It was constructed in 2005 on the lot immediately west of the house.
Photo by David W. Dunlap (2010).
¶ Last updated on 21 December 2018.
128 Commercial Street on the Town Map.
The Rev. Alison Hyder wrote on 2 December 2009: For a number of years – from perhaps the 1930s to 1959 – this was the parsonage of the Universalist Meeting House at 236 Commercial Street and as such hosted numerous socials and groups, including the Mission Society, the Get-Together Club, and Ladies Auxillary.
Denise Avallon wrote on 31 October 2012: In The Advocate archives, May 21, 1931: “The Universalist Parish meeting after the evening service received a communication from Miss Sara A. Hamlin, presenting to the parish, for the Hamlin family, a gift of the Hamlin homestead at 128 Commercial Street, to be used as a parsonage.” And Oct. 29, 1931, Universalist Church Notes: “The event of the day was the transfer of the deed of the new parsonage to the parish, by the donors, Miss Sara A. Hamlin and Mr. Edwin N. Paine. The repairs proved to be extensive, for the house is an old one built by Mr. Nathan Freeman, grandfather of Abbie and Sara Hamlin. It must be nearly one hundred years old.”
David Jarrett wrote on 18 December 2013: Before Bob Paster and his companion, the late Ray Peloquin, bought this house a number of years ago, a lot of hippies lived here.
Denise Avallon wrote on 21 December 2018: I remember seeing the inside of this house in 2007 when it was part of the Pilgrim Monument’s house tour. Absolutely beautiful.
For further reading online
• Alexander Hamlin
Find a Grave Memorial No. 120713265.
• Sarah A. (Freeman) Hamlin [Sara’s mother]
Find a Grave Memorial No. 120756877.
• Robert Paster
Author page, Amazon.
Digital Mind Math website.
• Raymond Peloquin
“Raymond Peloquin, Veteran, Worked in Restaurant Business,” The Provincetown Banner/Wicked Local, 28 April 2009.
Find a Grave Memorial No. 119489523.
¹ “Obituaries; Sara A. Hamlin,” The Provincetown Advocate, 31 May 1934.
² Sara A. Hamlin et ano to First Universalist Parish of Provincetown, 1 September 1931, Barnstable County Registry of Deeds, Book 484, Page 126.
³ “Letters to the Editor,” from Robert Paster, The New York Times, 19 May 2017.
⁴ “Robert Paster,” Amazon, author’s page.
⁶ Alan L. Carrier to Robert S. Paster et ano, 5 December 1977, Barnstable County Registry of Deeds, Land Court Certificate No. 146763.
⁷ Wilbur M. Cook et alia to Mom’s Inc., 24 June 1974, Barnstable County Registry of Deeds, Land Court Certificate No. 62094.