171-173 Commercial Street.
Short and short-lived, this utilitarian wharf would scarcely have been remembered but for a couple of memorable and widely reproduced photographs showing old whalers tied up alongside and almost dwarfing the structure. One of those pictures, from around 1899; shows the brig D. A. Small, also known as David A. Small; the hardware store of B. H. Dyer & Company, which was in business until 1997; the original Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church, at Commercial and Winthrop Streets, where Joe Coffee and Curaleaf are now; and a saltbox-roofed storehouse at the end of Dyer’s Wharf, slathered in advertising for Beeman’s Pepsin Gum. It’s the cover image of Irma Ruckstuhl’s 1987 book, Old Provincetown in Early Photographs.
This photo, c1899, shows Dyer’s Wharf at left, with D. A. Small. Through the masts, you can see the Dyer hardware store, with rooftop cupola. Manta’s Wharf is in the foreground. Looming large is Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church, 170 Commercial Street. Irma Ruckstuhl used the image for the cover of Old Provincetown in Early Photographs. Salvador R. Vasques posted it in his My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection on Facebook, 28 March 2019.
Dyer’s Wharf was no more than 200 feet long; that is, roughly equal in length to Captain Jack’s Wharf.¹ It is not shown on Henry F. Walling’s 1858 Map of the Counties of Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket, but it does appear on the 1880 Atlas of Barnstable County, narrowing the construction date to the 1860s or 1870s. Perhaps its construction coincided with the arrival from Truro in 1866 of Benjamin Huldah Dyer (1833-1907), who opened his paint and hardware store that year at 169 Commercial Street. The wharf behind the store was used mostly for fish packing, according to Irving S. Rogers. The 1889 Sanborn insurance map identified it as Rich’s Wharf, but just about every other source refers to it as Dyer’s. John Hardy Wright also said that it had at one time been known as D. A. Small’s Wharf.²
“Whaling Brig D. A. Small, Provincetown, Mass. (1888),” by H. K. Cummings, Snow Library, Orleans. Accessed 19 October 2020. localarchives.us/snowlibrary/items/show/167.
“Typical Cape Cod Scene” — a 1930 postcard view of the brig D. A. Small at Dyer’s Wharf. Several local historians have misidentified this as the schooner Baltic. From the Scrapbooks of Althea Boxell, Book 7, Page 10, in the Dowd Collection of the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 2036.
Schooner Baltic at Dyer’s Wharf. From Provincetown Town Centre, prepared by Josephine Del Deo et alia for the Massachusetts Historical Commission, 1977. In the collection of the Provincetown Public Library.
Left: Arrow points to Dyer’s Wharf. The first Centenary church is numbered 4. Bird’s Eye View of the Town of Provincetown, Barnstable County, Mass., 1882, by A. F. Poole. Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library, Call No. G3764.P78A3 1882. P6. Right: The second Centenary church, numbered 11. Walker’s Bird’s-Eye View of Provincetown, c1910, by George H. Walker. Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library, Call No. G3764.P78A3 1910. W3.
There is confusion in several accounts of Dyer’s Wharf. Wright, Clive Driver, and Althea Boxell all mistakenly identified the brig D. A. Small as the schooner Baltic. Both were whalers and both were owned at one time by the cooper Adam Macool and both tied up at Dyer’s — or the abutting spar yard. But the vessel to which these writers refer as a schooner has a made foremast of several spars, rigged with yards for square sails, as one would typically find on a brig. The vessel that can be positively identified as Baltic in a photo published by Ross Moffett has pole masts fore and aft, and no yards. (Ruckstuhl does not make the same mistake.)³
A fierce storm in February 1918 nearly finished off the structure, according to a contemporary account in the Advocate. “The B. H. Dyer Wharf has been robbed of much of its supporting piling at the outer end, where a big storehouse stands, and can withstand but little additional ice pressure.” That unbearable pressure came nine months later, as the newspaper reported:
The outer end of the B. H. Dyer Wharf, with the long storage building thereon, fell sometime Sunday night. With piling impaired by the ravages of sea worms, and weakened, perhaps, by the ice-crowding of last winter, the wharf end had revealed a tendency to lean eastward the past month. … The fallen building was about 60 feet in length and the section of wharf which went down measured, perhaps, 80 feet. Workmen began the task of getting the wrecked heap to the shore in the morning of Monday.”⁴
On the insurance map for 1919, the wharf had disappeared entirely. But more than a century later, members of the Dyer family still own the upland parcel.
Postcard, presumably from the winter of 1918, showing ice cakes around Dyer’s Wharf. At the left is the tower of the Centenary church. Between that and the ice is the cupola-topped B. H. Dyer hardware store. From the Clive E. Driver Collection at the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum, PC4790.
¶ Last updated on 19 October 2020.
171-173 Commercial Street on the Town Map.
Also at 171-173 Commercial Street:
Thumbnail image: 1930 postcard from the Scrapbooks of Althea Boxell, Book 7, Page 10, in the Dowd Collection of the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 2036.
• Benjamin Huldah Dyer (1833-1907)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 154831770.
¹ “Puff and Pot Shots,” by Irving S. Rogers, Provincetown Advocate, Page 2 Column 2. In his supremely useful three-part series about old wharves, Rogers put its length at 300 feet. But contemporary atlases and insurance maps don’t bear that out.
² Images of America: Provincetown, Volume II, by John Hardy Wright, 1998, Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, Page 19.
³ Wright, Page 19; Looking Back, by Clive Driver, 2004, Provincetown: Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association, Page 32; Scrapbooks of Althea Boxell, Dowd Collection, Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 2036; Art in Narrow Streets, by Ross Moffett, 1968 reprint, Provincetown: Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association, Page 8; Old Provincetown in Early Photographs, by Irma Ruckstuhl, 1987, New York: Dover Publications, Plates 40 and 76.
⁴ Untitled article, Provincetown Advocate, 21 February 1918, Page 2, Column 1; “Provincetown,” Provincetown Advocate, 14 November 1918, Page 3, Column 5.