Carver 09-11 (2).jpg

(Circa 1898)

Gifford House Inn | Original hotel.

In a resort town where accommodations come and go by the year — and by the dozens — the Gifford House Inn is an astonishing stalwart. It is more than 140 years old. With 77 Bradford Street, it occupies the crest of Mill Hill, from which surprisingly generous vistas of the town and harbor can be enjoyed. Beautiful, it is not. Grand, it is not. But with 26 guest rooms and the Club Purgatory, Porchside Lounge, and Thai Sushi Café by Ying, it’s certainly lively. And that’s saying a lot for a hotel of its age — whatever that age may be.

The early story is a little bit foggy, as so much town legend tends to be. The inn’s own historical account says that the “original hotel was the last stop for the stagecoach as early as 1858.” An 1869 news account noted that James Gifford had purchased land formerly owned by M. L. Adams (who lived at 10 Carver Street) and that “he intends remodeling in order to accommodate a few boarders during the summer season.” Gifford also owned the Pilgrim House. The History of Barnstable County, Massachusetts, also said that Gifford “rebuilt” the hotel in 1869, strongly suggesting an earlier incarnation. Gifford himself would have been 48 years old. The oldest section of the Gifford House is the wing behind the parking area on Carver Street, immediately recognizable by the deep wrap-around porch and the Greek Revival pilasters in the facade. The side that faces the harbor was once the principal elevation.

This was a good moment to be building a hotel in Provincetown. Rail service had already reached Orleans and would make it all the way to the tip of the Cape in 1873. A shrewd entrepreneur would surely have been willing to gamble that once folks from Boston could get to such a picturesque and inexpensive spot as Provincetown in (relative) ease, tourism might take off. Indeed, one of the earliest visitors by rail was President Ulysses S. Grant, who came to town on Aug. 28, 1874. The Gifford claims him as a guest, as it does President Theodore Roosevelt and President William Howard Taft, but none of the presidents stayed in town overnight. However, it did fall to James Gifford to offer Provincetown’s official civic greeting to President Grant: “To whatever of enjoyment or interest there may be found on this far-off end of Cape Cod — a place memorable in the history and the institutions of the Pilgrims of the May Flower — during your brief stay, we bid you hearty welcome.” “I regret that my stay in Provincetown cannot be longer,” President Grant replied. “I am not unmindful of what has been done by the men of this peninsula for the history of this country, nor of their influence upon the nation.” Gifford held on to his namesake hotel until 1903. His son, Moses N. Gifford, was president of the First National Bank of Provincetown and lived a few doors down, at 8 Carver Street. James died in 1913 and was buried, fittingly enough, in the old Gifford Cemetery. Moses survived his father by five years and is buried in the same plot.

The Merrills were the next family in charge of the Gifford House, which they would run for 60 years. Paterfamilias was George A. Merrill, a native of Maine, who came to Provincetown in his early 40s to take over the Gifford House. In 1910, Merrill added the large, blocky Bradford Street wing that dominates the ensemble.

¶ Last updated on 9 January 2010. ¶ Image by G. H. Nickerson, courtesy of the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Municipal Collection, Page 1907.

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