The trouble seemed to have begun when Woodrow Wilson was president. It took more than six decades to clear up.

Some time in the early 1910s, Capt. Charles A. Foster of 70A Commercial Street built a shed in the back yard. He kept a cow there, and later a couple of goats. His grandson, Capt. Charles A. Bennett, tore the shed down in the early 1950s and planted grass on the 400-square-foot site. All fine and good, except for the fact that the site was apparently not on the Foster-Bennett property. Instead, it seemed to have been a panhandle within the boundaries of the 70 Commercial Street parcel, which belonged to Patricia Helen “Trisha” (Cabral) Papetsas.

Both sides claimed ownership. To complicate matters, Bennett could only reach his property through a 12-foot opening in a stone wall along West Vine Street. That opening gave directly on to a corner of the Papetsas land, over which Bennett necessarily had to trespass to reach his own home.

Good walls make bad neighbors. In 1973, Bennett and his wife, Amelia, sued Papetsas in Superior Court, asserting that she was obstructing access they had used for decades. Papetsas countersued, asserting her claim to the 400-square-foot panhandle. The judge dismissed Bennett’s suit and granted Papetsas her claim. But in 1978, the Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed both rulings, handing the ultimate victory to the Bennetts.

Writing for the court, Associate Justice Reuben Goodman said about the trespass issue that the Bennetts’ travels through the West Vine Street passageway for more than 20 years, without any prior effort by the owners of 70 Commercial to restrain them, gave rise to an “easement by prescription” in the Bennetts’ favor. They had met the test of “open, notorious, hostile, and continuous” use of the land. (In legalese, neither “notorious” nor “hostile” have the deprecatory sense they do in plain speaking.)

As to the panhandle, Justice Goodman said it would have belonged to the Bennetts solely by their “open, peaceable, continuous and exclusive” use of the land, but that a finding of adverse possession was unnecessary since they had claimed ownership all along. Another victory for the Bennetts. Eventually, the property lines were drawn to reflect this decision. The panhandle now belongs to No. 70A, as shown below, at right.

2020 Commercial 070A Gallery Diptych

Left: The property claimed by the owners of 70 Commercial Street included a small panhandle where the 70A Commercial Street shed stood. Right: The amended boundary gave the panhandle to the owners of 70A Commercial. Map by David W. Dunlap.

For the Papetsas main house, please see 70 Commercial Street.

For the Bennett main house, please see 70A Commercial Street.

¶ Last updated on 8 July 2018. ¶ Image courtesy of the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Provincetown Historic Survey, Page 2685.

For further reading online

Charles Bennett vs. Patricia E. Papetsas (6 Mass. App. Ct. 658), Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and Appeals Court Cases, Massachusetts Cases.

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