179 Commercial Street.

Humankind had already managed to fly across the Atlantic Ocean by 2 May 1925, when the two-masted John R. Manta departed New Bedford to hunt for whales in the Hatteras grounds off the Carolinas. It was not a successful venture. The schooner returned to port on 20 August 1925 with only 300 barrels of oil; half of its storage capacity. Yet the voyage was much celebrated because it was believed to have been the last commercial whaling trip under sail from an American port. And the schooner owed its existence to Capt. Joseph Manta (1846-1928), whose base of operation was here, at Manta’s Wharf.

Born in Portugal, Manta shipped from Lisbon as a cabin boy at the age of 10, according to the Yarmouth Register. He arrived in Boston in 1867, and nearly perished that year when the vessel on which he was serving, Velma, wrecked off Plymouth during a blizzard. He was rescued by members of the United States Life-Saving Service — forerunner of the Coast Guard — stationed at Manomet Beach.

Captain Manta settled in Provincetown in 1869, the Register said. (The Advocate said 1864.) He opened a grocery store in this neighborhood in 1876, according the History of Barnstable County. And he was also active in founding and leading the St. Peter’s Aid Society in the mid-1870s.

A photograph taken around 1899 from Joseph Manta’s Wharf, the deck of which fills the foreground, also shows the Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church and the B. H. Dyer hardware and paint store directly in front of the church. Posted by Salvador R. Vasques III on his Facebook page, My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection, 25 September 2017.

Left: The red arrow points to Joseph Manta’s Wharf as it was depicted in Bird’s Eye View of the Town of Provincetown, Barnstable County, Mass., 1882, by A. F. Poole. Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library, Call No. G3764.P78A3 1882.P6. Right: The wharf was pretty much unchanged nearly three decades later. But it would not survive the 1910s. The long wharf in the foreground was known as Steamboat, Bowley’s, and Matheson’s. Walker’s Bird’s-Eye View of Provincetown, c1910, by George H. Walker. Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library, Call No. G3764.P78A3 1910. W3.

The captain purchased this 600-foot-long wharf in 1882 and went into the wholesale fish business. He was an agent or part-owner of several large schooners, some of which bore the names of family members — like that of his sons, Joseph Augustus Manta (1873-1954); John Rogers Manta (1876-1958); and Philip P. Manta (1879-1949); and his wife, Philomena (Amaral) Manta (1857-1936). Just think for a minute of Charles Webster Hawthorne’s masterpiece in Town Hall, The Crew of the Philomena Manta.

The wharf was standing by 1858, when it was referred to on a Provincetown map as Cay Wharf (perhaps a misspelling of Quay). Judging from an 1880 atlas, it had been taken by a bank in a foreclosure. Under Captain Manta, however, it sprang to life, even in winter, as this account from the Yarmouth Register of 10 December 1892 attests:

“Manta’s wharf was the scene of great activity Monday. Three vessels were receiving paint at the hands of three different gangs of workmen. Charles A. Young’s gang were applying a glossy black and yellow stripe to the yachtlike Rosie Cabral, Joseph W. Cook’s men were slicking the smooth sides of the redoubtable Governor Russell, and B. H. Dyer’s workmen sailed away at the woodwork of the Susan B. Stone. The Cabral on her last trip from Boston brought a bowsprit for the Stone. It is much longer than the old stick, and as more cloth in the headsails is necessary, it will be had, and the Stone‘s sailing qualities be improved.”

There was danger on a busy wharf, and Captain Manta himself was nearly a victim in November 1903. “While at work on his vessel lying at Manta’s wharf, he was hoisted by a rope,” the Advocate reported. “While clinging to the rope and swinging back and forth, the captain managed to secure hold of the vessel’s rigging, thus saving himself from a fall to the deck below.”

The captain’s son, Joseph A. Manta, continued in the business. This signature comes from a business postcard sent in 1909 about an order of hemp rope. Posted by Salvador R. Vasques III on his Facebook page, My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection, 25 June 2020.

Cod drying on fish flakes along the wharf in the 1890s. Posted by Salvador R. Vasques III on his Facebook page, My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection, 15 December 2019.

Willie L. Swift and Julia Costa were among the vessels tied up at the wharf. Captain Manta owned a 50 percent share — or “8/16ths” — in Costa. Posted by Salvador R. Vasques III on his Facebook page, My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection, 26 January 2020.

A March storm in 1917 seriously damaged the wharf, but it was the unrelieved icing of the harbor during the winter of 1917-1918 that crippled the structure. “During Monday, hard ice that had formed on the ‘Cove’ flats broke away, and in its cross-harbor flight battered down sections of wharves that had suffered great injury earlier in the month,” the Advocate said on 21 February 1918. “Manta’s wharf — formerly 600 feet long, is no more than 200 feet long today.” By 1929, it had been removed entirely. Captain Manta, too, had passed into memory. But the family owned the property another three decades.

And the wharf was immortalized in the cover photograph of Irma Ruckstuhl’s 1987 book, Old Provincetown in Early Photographs.

¶ Last updated on 29 December 2020.

179 Commercial Street on Town Map.

Also at 179 Commercial Street:

Scott Dinsmore Antiques (Unit 2) | Jimmy’s HideAway (Unit 1)  | Captain’s Court Condominium.

Thumbnail image: Cover of Old Provincetown in Early Photographs, by Irma Ruckstuhl (1987).

In memoriam

• John Rogers Manta (1876-1958)

Find a Grave Memorial No. 167704375.

• Joseph Augustus Manta (1873-1954)

Find a Grave Memorial No. 91286080.

• Joseph Manta (1846-1928)

Find a Grave Memorial No. 91284344.

• Philip P. Manta (1879-1949)

Find a Grave Memorial No. 91285436.

• Philomena (Amaral) Manta (1857-1936) — also spelled Phelomina

Find a Grave Memorial No. 91284368.

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