“O” for outermost. This easy-to-remember mnemonic brings us to the last of the granite markers, or bounds, that were set out in 1893 to settle definitively the boundary between the state-owned Province Lands and the Town of Provincetown, where land could be bought, sold, and owned privately. Like the other bound stones, it records the date and number of the law bringing the bright-line Province Lands boundary into effect: “STAT. 1893 CHAP. 470” — Statutes of 1893, Chapter 470. Bound O cannot be visited reliably. Much of the time, it is submerged in sand. Sometimes, just its tip peeks over the ever-shifting ground level. Sometimes, so much sand has blown away that the deep base of the bound stone is revealed, and it looks more like an obelisk than a marker.
At times, so much sand has blown away from Bound O that one can see its deep granite base. Photograph by Nathaniel Champlin, courtesy of Mildred Champlin.
Mildred Champlin, a longtime resident of the Back Shore, spotted Bound O — or “Monument O” — in the winter of 2020-2021. “Hadn’t seen it in a long time,” she told me by email on 27 February, when she shared two photographs of the bound stone taken by her husband, Prof. Nathaniel Champlin. The closest dune dwelling to Bound O is not the Champlins’ Mission Bell, but the house known as Leo’s Shack, after Leo Fleurant, who lived there year-round from 1963 until his death — in the shack — in 1984. “Leo was told he was on the Province Lands side, but he actually was on Ptown land,” Champlin said.
“STAT. 1893” etched on the bound stone refers to the Statutes of 1893, when the boundary was set by the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Photo by Nathaniel Champlin, courtesy of Mildred Champlin.
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.
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: Photo by Nathaniel Champlin, courtesy of Mildred Champlin.