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Winslow Street Water Tank III.

That elephant in the middle of the living room that nobody talks about? It is the Winslow Street Water Tank. Apart from the Pilgrim Monument, the tank is the most prominent feature of the town’s skyline, but we always seem to elide over it, as if by ignoring its great bulk, we could wish it away. Of course, it plays a critical role in the town’s well-being. And you could also argue that its presence keeps the town’s visible profile — appealingly and appropriately — on the side of the functional, rather than the quaintly picturesque. It also serves as a reminder how precious water is, even when it surrounds a community.

Provincetown’s drinking water comes principally from wellfields in what is known as the Pamet Lens of the Cape Cod Aquifer. After being treated with potassium hydroxide, sodium hypochlorite and a polyphosphate sequestrant, it is pumped along a 12-inch transmission main. Two storage tanks — also known as standpipes — are part of the system: Mount Gilboa in the east and this one, at what is officially known as 7 Captain Bertie’s Way. They act both as reservoirs (to supply water during the thirsty summer months) and as gravity pumps, providing the pressure necessary to move water throughout the system.

The first water tank, constructed in the 1890s, was 100 feet tall and 28 feet in diameter, with a 600,000-gallon capacity. It stood until 1932. The second tank, designed by Whitman & Howard of Boston and constructed in 1931, was 115 feet tall, with a diameter of 42 feet and a capacity of 1.1 million gallons of water. It stood until 2011.

This tank — known as “No. 2” when the 1931 standpipe was still standing — was constructed from 1977 to 1978. It is 108 feet tall, with a diameter of 78 feet and a capacity of 3.8 million gallons of water. Once again, the design was by the engineering firm Whitman & Howard. And once again, town officials agonized over the color. “Descriptions and drawings of rainbows, landscapes and geometric designs were sent by those who felt Provincetown’s artistic element should be represented,” The Advocate reported. The selectmen chose Northern Blue, though George Bryant, who was on the board at the time, held out for Canary Yellow. Of course, Provincetown stories never end neatly wrapped up. A month later, the exasperated selectmen learned that the contractor had picked a paint called Powder Blue. The original construction budget was $525,000 (nearly $1.8 million today). The tank was rehabilitated in 2005 and 2006 for $800,000.

¶ Last updated on 29 April 2017.


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