One Sunday afternoon in September 1952, a man dressed in what looked like a black dress made his way down an almost-secret driveway to one of the most well-hidden houses in downtown Provincetown. His very presence caused a sensation. His quick trip was Page 1 news in the Advocate. That was because the man was the powerful Archbishop Richard J. Cushing of Boston. He had come to 180 Commercial to pay a call on the aging Anna “Annie” Josephine (O’Donnell) Francis (1870-1958), who was to die the year that Cushing was created cardinal by Pope John XXIII. You see, Mrs. Francis was not just any communicant. Her son William A. Francis (1901-1955) was married to the archbishop’s sister Anna Elling (Cushing) Francis. So this was in the nature of a family visit, after Cushing had addressed a gathering of the Catholic Daughters of America at Town Hall.

Mrs. Francis was born in Galway, Ireland. She came to America in 1891 and worked in Provincetown as a domestic. Her husband, Capt. Joseph F. Francis (1864-1931), was a Provincetown native. He skippered fishing vessels, worked for the J. A. Rich fish company, and then served as the floor manager at Sklaroff’s Wharf, for S. Sklaroff & Son. ‘Twas Mrs. Francis bought this house in 1908, when she was in her late 30s. She paid $900.

Her descendants still own her home. At this writing, 180 Commercial Street has been in the Francis-Jacobs-Cartwright family for 113 years — an astonishing continuity for a property in downtown Provincetown.

What’s equally astonishing about 180 Commercial is that few outsiders, except Archbishop Cushing, have ever seen it. Only a small sign indicates that there’s a substantial house at the end of the 120-foot-long passage from Commercial Street. (Judging from a brief glimpse, it looks like an old three-quarter Cape to which a big shed dormer has been added.)

180 Commercial Street in 2011, by the Town Assessor. On the Property Summary Report.

Other family members who have shared this house at one time or another include Annie’s brother, Thomas O’Donnell (d1941), a fisherman; Annie’s daughter, Maude V. (Francis) Jacobs (1906-2001), and son-in-law, Frank M. Jacobs, who married into the family in 1927; Annie’s sons Stanley Gabriel Francis (1909-1971) and Joseph Thomas Francis (1894-1958), a fish buyer who was cited for extraordinary bravery as a coxswain in the Navy during World War II when his destroyer, the U.S.S. Covington, was sunk by torpedoes; and Annie’s granddaughter, Ann (Jacobs) Cartwright, who owns the house today through the Ann J. Cartwright Revocable Living Trust.

The only sign on Commercial Street that there’s a 180 Commercial Street at all. Photo, 2013, by David W. Dunlap.

¶ Last updated on 1 January 2021.

180 Commercial Street on the Town Map.

Thumbnail image: Photo, 2013, by David W. Dunlap.

• Anna “Annie” Josephine (O’Donnell) Francis (1870-1958)

Find a Grave Memorial No. 129230393.

• Joseph F. Francis (1864-1931)

Find a Grave Memorial No. 139171897.

• Joseph Thomas Francis (1894-1958)

Find a Grave Memorial No. 129158690.

• Stanley Gabriel Francis (1908-1971)

Find a Grave Memorial No. 137827334.

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