Add the name of Nan Hancock to the list of remarkable Provincetown women whom history has overlooked for too long. She was a high-ranking Navy veteran of World War I, a businesswoman, and a real-estate developer. And 262 Bradford was her “home port” from the 1930s through the 1950s. Anna Wilson “Nan” (Lyle) Hancock (1887-1962) was the daughter of Mary J. Lyle (1860-1933) and John Lyle, who lived at 252 Bradford Street. She had four sisters and a brother. As an 11-year-old, she was given souvenirs of the Portland Gale of 1898: a footstool and a porcelain stateroom numeral from the steamship Portland, which wrecked with the loss of more than 190 lives.
In 1905, she married Orrell Inslee Hancock (1867-1927), a captain in the Navy, and joined him in naval service during the Great War. She held the rating of chief petty officer, “the highest rank then obtainable by a woman,” The Advocate stated, and she was attached to naval intelligence. The Hancocks found themselves stationed in South America (including as attachés to the American embassy in Brazil) and at the Panama Canal Zone. Many years after the war — in fact, four years after the Second World War — she maintained discretion about her assignments. A profile that appeared on the front page of The Advocate said, somewhat cryptically:
Nan Hancock is reticent about her exact duties as a chief petty officer with the Navy. She explains that even now her experiences are essentially undisclosable although “to have worn clothes for 10 days” because of certain dispatches “taped to the body” was not out of her department.¹
Navy brass did not intimidate her. Among the cadets whom she knew was William Frederick “Bull” Halsey Jr., who would go on to great distinction as the commander of the Third Fleet in the Pacific Ocean during World War II before retiring with the rare rank of fleet admiral. Her own superior, Adm. [Henry Braid?] Wilson, took it upon himself to measure the height from the floor of Chief Petty Officer Hancock’s uniform skirt. He found it to be 11 inches, three inches shorter than regulations, and ordered her to lengthen the garment. “She says she assured him she would, but didn’t, naturally,” The Advocate profile said. She was decorated with a Navy medal “for notable service.”
Chief Petty Officer Hancock was a founding member of the American Legion post in Lynbrook, N.Y., on Long Island, sworn into the post in September 1919 by Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who was instrumental in founding the national organization only six months earlier. She was later a charter member of the Legion’s Morris-Light Post No. 71 here in Provincetown.
A 1949 front-page profile in The Advocate showed Nan Hancock in her Navy uniform. Image from the Provincetown Public Library.
The 1920s were especially tough. Captain Hancock died in 1927 and it fell to her to raise three children alone: Orrell I. Hancock Jr. (1906-1972), George W. Hancock (1910-1981), and Eleanor I. Hancock (1909-1956). She taught in a New York City school for children with heart disease [perhaps the Tompkins Square School for Cardiac Children?] and worked in the evenings as a librarian at New York University. She managed to put all three through school. And she also credited the Boy Scouts with having “aided her greatly” in raising the boys. Orrell Jr. wound up as a production manager for the Columbia Broadcasting System radio network. Eleanor married Philip S. Days and lived at 10 Law Street.
With the children squared away, Hancock returned to Provincetown. In 1937, she bought a large tract of land at 262 Bradford Street, running all the way to the tracks of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, from Minnie Perry.² Two years later, The Advocate announced that Hancock was “building four cottages on her 262 Bradford Street premises.”³ Shortly after that announcement, a plan filed with Barnstable County showed a cluster of four small cottages, and a larger cottage (reached by a flight of steps), more than 200 feet in the woods around Hancock’s main house.⁴ These — plus two other structures — formerly known as the Home Port Housekeeping Cottages, now constitute the Homeport Condominium, 262A Bradford Street.
Perhaps Hancock’s most prominent guest was the poet Howard Nemerov (1920-1991), who spent the summer of 1949 at what The Advocate referred to as “the Nan Hancock cottages.”⁵ Nemerov was to win both the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the National Book Award for Poetry in 1978 for The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov. His sister was the photographer Diane Arbus.
In addition to the cottage business, Hancock operated Nelson’s Oil Company, with James Nelson, out of this address. Nelson’s acted as an agency of the Standard Oil Company of New York (Socony), selling fuel oils and “range oils,” which were used in oil-burning kitchen ranges. “She is on intimate telephone terms with townspeople she has never seen who call to order oil from her,” The Advocate said. She told the newspaper that she aspired to give money away while she was alive rather than “poke it in the bank so somebody can drink it up after I’m gone.”
Hancock sold the property in 1960 to Mika Marinkovich and Louise T. (Dodge) Marinkovich of New York. They sold it in 1969 to Max and Elizabeth H. Birnbaum, who sold it in 1973 to Warren H. and Wilma R. Falkenburg, who sold it in 1977 to Manfred M. and Huguette Betten. It was the Bettens who seem to have split off the main house from the cottage colony. They sold the house in 1987 to Barbara Tucker Cardinal, the proprietor of the Kiley Court Gallery and a granddaughter of the celebrated publicist Benjamin Sonnenberg. Cardinal identified the house as “Home Port” in a 2013 message to me. She sold the property in 1995. Janet G. Beattie and her wife, Karen M. Jasper, bought 262 Bradford in 2013.
¶ Last updated on 23 November 2018.
262 Bradford Street on the Town Map.
Thumbnail image: Photo, 2016, by David W. Dunlap.
¹ “In 1920, the Navy Had the New Look,” The Provincetown Advocate, 17 March 1949, Page 1.
² Minnie Perry to Anna W. Hancock, 22 March 1937, Barnstable County Registry of Deeds, Book 526, Page 315.
³ “Provincetown Personals,” The Provincetown Advocate, 2 February 1939, Page 3.
⁴ “Plan of Land in Provincetown Belonging to Anna Hancock,” May 1939, Barnstable County Registry of Deeds, Plan Book 60, Page 71.
⁵ “Provincetown Personals,” The Provincetown Advocate, 30 June 1949, Page 3.