Kathryn Rafter and Francey Beall may be best known around town for their staunch support of the Provincetown Swim for Life & Paddler Flotilla over the years — including they year they were married, 2006, when they raised $13,035 in pledges and donned wetsuits just after they were wed to swim the 1.4-mile course across Provincetown Harbor.¹ But they have another distinction. They are stewards of a fine old three-quarter Cape that the Provincetown Historic Survey dates to 1778. They’re stewards, rather than simply owners, because Rafter and Beall have preserved much of the architectural soul of the house: the little rooms, low ceilings, skewed angles, and odd nooks and crannies. It’s tempting to say that if Capt. John S. Smith (1832-1912) were to return, he’d feel quite at home. (After he adjusted to learning that Rafter and Beall are legally married.)
It is with Captain Smith that we pick up the story of 138 Commercial — formerly denominated 133 Commercial — about a century after it was constructed. Smith, a Provincetown native, gave his occupation as whaling in the 1870 census, but subsequently listed himself as a sailor or seaman. In 1871, he transferred the ownership of this house to his half-brother, Joseph Hudson Smith Jr. (1822-1906). I’m not sure of his occupation, though the 1886 directory lists one Joseph H. Smith of Webster Place as sexton in the Methodist Episcopal church. (It doesn’t say which one of the two Methodist churches, Center or Centenary.) That same directory shows the resident of this house to have been Tamzain Smith Kenney (1827-1891), one of John Smith’s sisters. In 1911, five years after Joseph’s death, Captain Smith and other family members sold the house for $1 to another sibling, Lurana A. (Smith) Emery (1842-1923).
After Lurana’s death, the family sold the house to Frank A. Crawley (1893-1971) and Lucy B. Crawley (1889-1978). They were to hold it for the next half century. Lovers of town history should avoid any confusion here. Frank A. Crawley is not Frank V. Crawley, the colorful, itinerant fishmonger better known as “Scarry Jack.”
On the 1944 U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey chart of Provincetown Harbor, I’ve overlaid the rough location of the ice house used by the Crawley Ice Company. The lobe of Shank Painter Pond on which it was located was known as Crawley’s Pond.
Our Frank Crawley served in the Coast Guard as a surfman during World War I. Then he opened the Crawley Ice Company. Its headquarters were here at No. 138, but the heart of the operation was at Crawley’s Pond, a large lobe in the chain of ever-shifting water bodies, bogs, and marshes composing the much larger Shank Painter Pond system.
It seems incredible now, but the ice industry — absolutely indispensable in a town whose livelihood and existence depended on selling fresh fish — was more akin to farming than to manufacturing. In the depth of winter, crews would descend on the solidly frozen ponds around town and arduously carve large blocks of ice. These were stored in ice houses, embedded in salt hay, whose insulating properties helped keep the blocks frozen through the summer. Ice was provided in enormous quantities to the fishing fleet, but there were also retail customers who needed smaller blocks to replenish their ice boxes, in which cold air circulated around the ice to preserve the perishable foods within.
After several unusually warm winters in the late 1930s, it was news that harvesters would return to Crawley’s Pond in January 1940. Welcome news. “There was considerable excitement around town as word spread that ice would be cut at Crawley Pond,” The Advocate reported. “It is expected that 70 or more men will be employed with the harvesting of the ice, which is between seven and eight inches thick.”² By this time, of course, artificial ice could be made mechanically. The town was no longer dependent on a good winter ice harvest. But having nature provide it for free still wasn’t a bad deal. Crawley was still in business in 1950, but had retired by 1962. Lucy Crawley, then a widow, transferred the house in 1974 to Deolinda Phillips, reserving a life estate for herself in the property. She died four years later.
Photos taken in 2009 and 2016 by David W. Dunlap.
Doreen C. Devlin, a registered nurse and licensed mental health counselor, owned 138 Commercial Street for 14 years, from 1982 to 1996. She purchased it with Carol Ciulla, but assumed sole ownership in 1993. As the AIDS epidemic continued into the 1990s, a cohort of long-term survivors began to grow. Devlin was the first facilitator for a weekly gathering of such survivors, Pasquale Natale recalled.³ When Devlin and Dianne Thomas entered into a formal domestic partnership, they pointedly invited President Bill Clinton, who had signed the Defense of Marriage Act in September 1996, restricting the definition of marriage to prohibit federal recognition of same-sex unions, and allowing states to do the same.⁴ (There’s no record of Clinton attending their ceremony.)
Devlin sold the house in 1998 to Rafter, a Niagara University graduate and Dallas resident who founded and manages Atlantic Consulting Partners, specializing in companies “confronted with the need to forge a new path,” as her LinkedIn profile noted. In 2006, she married Beall, a Texas A&M University graduate and trained stuntwoman who founded and manages the Fantastic Moves moving company of Dallas.
The photos below, taken in 2016, should give some idea as to the care and imagination Rafter and Beall have put into their very special home.
Photos taken in 2016 by David W. Dunlap.
¶ Last updated on 11 February 2019.
138 Commercial Street on the Town Map.
Thumbnail image: Photo, 2016, by David W. Dunlap.
For further reading online
• Francey Beall
Fantastic Moves website.
• Frank A. Crawley (1893-1971)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 36641548. Truro.
• Lucy B. Crawley (1889-1978)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 36641443. Truro.
• Lurana A. (Smith) Emery (1842-1923)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 83823547.
• Tamzain (Smith) Kenney (1827-1891)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 119735088.
• Kathryn Rafter
Atlantic Consulting Partners website.
• Capt. John S. Smith (1832-1912)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 119736274.
• Joseph Hudson Smith (1822-1906)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 154834460.
• Crawley Ice Company
“The Ice Business in Provincetown,” Provincetown Portuguese Festival 2010 booklet.
¹ “Diving Into Marriage and the Swim for Life,” by K. C. Myers, The Cape Cod Times, 10 September 2006.
² “They’re Cutting Ice at Crawley’s; It’s Seven to Eight Inches Thick, With Cold Holding,” The Provincetown Advocate, 4 January 1940.
³ “Pasquale Natale: Safe Harbor Documentary Transcript,” in the Safe Harbor/AIDS Archive on the Provincetown History Preservation Project website, Page 4955.
⁴ The Courage to Connect: Sexuality, Citizenship, and Community in Provincetown, by Sandra L. Faiman-Silva, 2004, Page 154.