Union Wharf Marine Railway.
The most curious structure in the Union Wharf ensemble was the pier shed with the enormous notch cut out of its gabled roof. What on earth?
Actually, it was the epitome of simple ingenuity. That notch allowed the bowsprits of vessels being hauled up on the sloping railway to pass easily over the pier shed, allowing them to be brought that much higher and farther out of the water for inspection, repair, and maintenance. And how was the cradled vessel pulled along the railway?
“Horses provided marine railway motive power well into the 20th century,” John R. Stilgoe wrote in Alongshore. “Often only a single horse walked around and around a capstan, a massive vertical winch set securely in the ground. Jumping over the chain or cable once each revolution, the lone horse and massive reduction gear pulled carriage and schooner from the water and inched them up the slope.”
For an overview of Union Wharf, and another image of the railway and capstan pier shed, please see 99-101 Commercial Street.
¶ Last updated on 28 August 2018. ¶ Image courtesy of the Provincetown History Preservation Project (Dowd Collection), Page 2225. Scrapbooks of Althea Boxell, Book 8, Page 106.