Certain picknickers in the Dunes’ Edge Campground are lucky enough to have a monumental bit of history as their silent breakfast, lunch or dinner companion. This is one of 15 granite bounds, or markers or monuments, that delineate the irregular border established in 1893 between the state-owned Province Lands and the Town of Provincetown, in which property could be held privately. They are incised with the legend “STAT. 1893 CHAP. 470” (Statutes of 1893, Chapter 470) on one side and “P. L.” (Province Lands) on the other, together with a letter designation.
Photograph taken in 2019, by David W. Dunlap.
The Province Lands was a great swath of the Cape tip that had been claimed by Plymouth Colony for the common benefit of European occupiers. The acreage gained its name in 1692 when the colony was subsumed into the Province of Massachusetts Bay. The land kept its name even after passing into the hands of the successor Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Town of Provincetown was incorporated within the Province Lands in 1727. The minor detail that the government held title to the land underneath them didn’t deter the fine townspeople from occupying and conveying properties privately to one another. Confusion reigned. The state declared in 1854 that “no adverse possession or occupation [in other words, the state of affairs in Provincetown] shall be sufficient to defeat or divert the title of the Commonwealth.”
Click on the image for a high-resolution version of the Map Showing the Bounds of the Province Lands of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, as Fixed and Marked by the Board of Harbor and Land Commissioners of Said Commonwealth, Under Chapter 470 of the Acts of 1893, in the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library.
As usual, folks in Provincetown paid little heed to threats from Boston, though they were careful to convey properties by “quitclaim” deeds, since sellers couldn’t assert quiet and clean title, given the state’s claim. It wasn’t until the sitting of the General Court in 1893 that the Town was effectively split from the 3,200-acre Province Lands to the north and west. The Town included the private “Great Lots” of the East End; spaghetti-thin parcels that stretched from harbor to ocean along a 25-degree, north-northwesterly angle. Private rights to these lots north of Route 6 was extinguished in the 1960s, when the federal government condemned the dune properties for the Cape Cod National Seashore.
¶ Last updated on 7 May 2021.
Other existing bounds (as far as is known):
Thumbnail image: Mark Adams of the National Park Service gives a sense of scale to Bound J, photographed in 2019, by David W. Dunlap.