99-101 Commercial Street.
A century before Manhattan skyscrapers broke the 1,000-foot mark, Union Wharf was constructed at that length in 1831. It remained one of the largest and busiest wharves in town, until it was wrecked in the Portland Gale of 1898. Vestiges of it, including the building that houses Sal’s Place, persist more than a century after its demise, as do institutions like Seamen’s Bank, which was founded at the foot of the wharf by men whose business interests encompassed both the bank and the Union company.
The Union Wharf Company was formed in 1831 by Capt. Stephen Nickerson (1793-1879), his cousins Thomas Nickerson (1791-1852) and Capt. Jonathan Nickerson (1781-1871) , and Capt. Samuel Soper (1791-1860). The company was incorporated in Massachusetts in 1833. “Said company shall have power to continue and extend the said wharf into the harbour of said Provincetown, to the distance of seventy-five rods from high water mark,” the act of incorporation declares. That would be 1,237½ feet.
In his definitive round-up of the town’s historical wharves, published in The Advocate in 1941, Irving S. Rogers said about Union Wharf that it “was one of the most important, with a blacksmith shop, blockmaker’s shed, sail-loft, rigging yard, and a marine railway for hauling out vessels. One of the numerous buildings was solely for the packing of mackerel.” Near its remnants, Manuel Furtado conducted his important boatbuilding and repair business in the mid-20th century.
¶ Last updated on 28 August 2018. ¶ Image from the Atlas of Barnstable County (1880), courtesy of Ken Janson and Robert Vetrick.
Union Wharf (27) in 1882. A ship is “up on the rails.” ¶ Image from Bird’s Eye View of the Town of Provincetown (1882), by A. F. Poole, courtesy of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library, Call No. G3764.P78A3 1882.P6.
Amy Whorf McGuiggan wrote on 29 June 2014: A few more facts about Union Wharf gleaned from our whaling research. Union Wharf was the first long wharf (more than 1,000 feet long) built in Provincetown, and was equipped with a marine railway — very important for hauling vessels out of the water and repairing their hulls, especially the largest vessels. Up until that time, smaller vessels were sailed right up onto the beach and allowed to keel over at low tide when work could be done on the hull. Union Wharf Company was founded by brothers Jonathan Nickerson and Thomas Nickerson, their cousin Stephen Nickerson (54 Commercial Street), and Samuel Soper, and was considered the largest corporation on Cape Cod in its day. Its success encouraged others to establish firms and build wharves.
Grave sites in Provincetown
Nickerson, Jonathan. Find a Grave Memorial 50766332.
Nickerson, Stephen. Find a Grave Memorial 120782894.
Nickerson, Thomas. Find a Grave Memorial 120767390.
Soper, Samuel. Find a Grave Memorial 54272352.