Ina May (Small) Snow (1885-1982) was — if such a distinction can be imagined — the Beach Plum Queen of the Lower Cape. She was an energetic, indefatigable, and outspoken advocate of the domestic cultivation of the wild beach plum, seeking to tame and industrialize it as an economically beneficial crop, elevating it from its status as a local curiosity available only at roadside stands. So this handsome house — now home to Lauren Richmond and Bruce Deely — was, for a time in the 1940s and 1950s, Beach Plum Central. The house was constructed around 1840, the Provincetown Historic Survey said, a date that would seem to be borne out by the Greek Revival detailing. It had been in the Small family at least several decades before title was formally transferred in 1944 to Ina Snow from her mother, Harriet A. (Bixby) Small (1864-1960).
Ina was the second wife — and widow — of Clarence Snow (1880-1932), a Provincetown native who moved to North Truro in the 1920s to run the Arrowhead Farm. It was at Arrowhead, Snow later recalled, that her horizons expanded far beyond the pastime of mere “beach plumming” for homemade jellies and preserves. Besides her hands-on work at Arrowhead, Snow was the secretary-treasurer of the Cape Cod Beach Plum Growers Association, from which bully pulpit she thundered on the need to modernize beach plum production.
The 1960s and early 1970s were not kind to Snow or her house. She had been in a nursing home for several years, Lauren Richmond, the current owner, recalled. The property had to be sold by Snow’s attorney to manage her affairs. An auction was conducted on the front steps of the house in 1976. Richmond prevailed.
“It had been neglected for 10 years or so and was in major need of repair,” Richmond said in a comment to Building Provincetown. “I have pictures of what it looked like in 1976, with wisteria growing in the windows. The plumbing, wiring and heating systems were all non-existent. There were holes in the floor and the roof. It took two years for a crew of carpenters to restore the property.” Richmond added that she found bags of feathers in the basement at No. 36 that had, in all likelihood, come from Arrowhead. She gave them to a friend, the artist Ray Keyton, who used them in fabric and feather collages.
The interior of the house is dominated by what may be the most amazing of the many astonishing, Gaudi-esque fireplaces designed and constructed around town by Conrad Malicoat. It is a massive, double-faced structure, opening both to the library and the dining room. Richmond’s recollection is that it was constructed without plans, though Malicoat composed meticulously as he went along; laying courses without mortar at first to see how they would build from the previous day’s work. (A form was used for the parabolic arch that dominates the library side.) It is Richmond’s strong suspicion that Malicoat created no horizontal courses precisely so that owners would not be tempted to place objects on his artistic composition, as if it were a mere mantel. If so, she has subverted his purpose, but to good effect.
Richmond was no stranger to the neighborhood when she bought and renovated No. 36. Her father, Lawrence Richmond, a music executive from Great Neck, N.Y., had acquired 40 Commercial Street in 1945 from Helena Rubinstein. His daughter’s arrival in the world the next year was a big enough event to merit mention in Billboard. Active for many years in town life, Richmond served as the chairwoman of the Historic Commission until 1997, when she announced that she would not seek reappointment, frustrated in part because there was not — yet — a locally designated district over which the commission could exercise more than suasion. More recently, she has been one of the volunteers who make the ever-expanding Provincetown History Preservation Project a reality.
Her own testimony would seem to show, too, that 36 Commercial continues to channel the spirit of Ina Small Snow. Here’s what Richmond had to say: “There were three fruit trees on the property along with raspberries and asparagus. The plum tree was lost in a subsequent storm but the apple and quince are each over 100 years old. The story goes that they were brought over from Boston by boat in barrels and planted in 1900 …. I’m told that the quince is one of very few surviving in town. Several friends come and pick each year and make jelly and jam.”
¶ Adapted from Building Provincetown (2015).
Lauren Richmond wrote on 15 November 2009: I bought my house at auction, right on the front steps in, I believe 1976. It was previously owned by Ina Small who had been in a nursing home for quite a few years. Her attorney had to sell the house to manage her affairs. It had been neglected for 10 years or so and was in major need of repair. I have pictures of what it looked like in 1976, with wisteria growing in the windows. The plumbing, wiring and heating systems were all non-existent. There were holes in the floor and the roof. It took 2 years for a crew of carpenters to restore the property. I found, and have framed, Ina Small’s school diploma. Ina’s family owned a farm in Truro and we found bags of feathers in the basement. I gave them to an artist friend, Ray Keyton, who used some of them in his fabric and feather collages at the time. There were three fruit trees on the property along with raspberries and asparagus. The plum tree was lost in a subsequent storm but the apple and quince are each over 100 years old. The story goes that they were brought over from Boston by boat in barrels and planted in 1900, according to Wallace O’Donnell’s father. I’m told that the quince is one of very few surviving in town. Several friends come and pick each year and make jelly and jam.
Lauren Richmond wrote on 6 November 2016: We actually have a third Malicoat fireplace upstairs in the bedroom, and a brick wall in an upstairs bathroom that Conrad built using some of Annie’s pottery. Conrad also did some custom cabinets and shelves in our kitchen. He built the arch that leads into our living room from the front hall, but it was Moe Van Dereck who steamed and curved the wood for the arch, not Conrad.
My recollection is that it took close to two years for Conrad to actually build the three fireplaces and the brick wall in the bathroom. He didn’t work every day. He kind of ‘created when the spirit moved him.’ The cost may have been around $14,000, which was princely sum back in 1976 when he began our project. He didn’t do any drawings or sketches. At the outset, I told him I wanted a double-sided fireplace in the center of the first floor in the style of his ‘brick breakthroughs,’ that would be eight feet wide and floor to ceiling. He said he would build it dry and take down any bricks I didn’t like before he set them in mortar. True to his word, that’s what he did. I never asked him to take a single brick down. We went back and forth a bit about incorporating some sort of mantel. I was in favor and Conrad was opposed. He didn’t want tchotchkes cluttering up his design. We compromised with two small shelves wrapping around the left of the main fireplace and a few crevices which, indeed, I have been able to fill with some of our personal treasures. The library side of the fireplace has no mantel and no crevices. The bedroom, on the other hand, has not only a mantel but a few individual brick shelves and a bench seat.
I should add that Conrad was a good friend long before the fireplace project. We had seen his brick breakthroughs at Napi’s, the Red Inn, 641 Commercial Street and Judy and Jerry Thompson’s in Truro before we decided to ask him to build ours. Maybe 10 or 15 years after the original construction, we asked Conrad to brick up the opening between the living room and library so that we could use the living room side independently for a wood/coal stove and still have fires on the library side. Fortunately he had built the chimney with two flues so it wasn’t a problem. It has worked out beautifully and most nights in the fall and winter, and even early spring, we can be found enjoying our evening meal cozy and warm by the fireplace in the front room.
The Dutch oven seemed like a great idea at the time but, truth be told, we only ever lit it once. I made the worst batch of bread I’ve ever made and lost interest in learning how to use a wood fired oven for baking! We love the hand-forged door and make good use of the oven as storage space. The wood storage area below the oven is where Bruce’s dog, Jeremy, took up residence. The oils from his fur darkened the bricks and continue to bring back fond memories.