125 Commercial Street.
Elisha Freeman’s Wharf was one of the most important in town, built around 1830 and run in its latter years by the Atlantic Coast Fisheries Company, a monopolistic combine that dominated the fishing industry in this area. Given its name and date, I’m surmising the wharf was constructed by Capt. Elisha Freeman (1790-1855). The structure was originally 600 feet long. It was lengthened 200 feet in 1888 by Joshua Paine (1819-1891) — Freeman’s first cousin once removed, by marriage — who was the proprietor of the J. Paine Jr. Lumber & Coal Yard, on the site of what is now Coast Guard Station Provincetown. Therefore, it can show up on some insurance maps and street atlases as “J. Paine Jr. Wharf” — as it does most notably in the 1889 Sanborn map at the Library of Congress.
Elisha Freeman’s Wharf shows up on an 1835 map of Provincetown. Nearby Lancy’s Wharf probably stood at 109 Commercial Street, and was later known as Brooks Wharf. The image is from the extraordinary A Map of the Extremity of Cape Cod Including the Townships of Provincetown and Truro, With a Chart of Their Sea Coast and of Cape Cod Harbour, State of Massachusetts (1835), by Maj. J. D. Graham, in the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library, Call No. G3762.C35 1835.G7.
This diagram by David W. Dunlap shows how Freeman’s Wharf was extended in the early 20th century by the Cape Cod Cold Storage Company.
The Cape Cod Cold Storage Company, successor to Paine’s lumber yard, extended the pier at least twice. By 1941, in his history of Provincetown’s wharves and piers, Irving S. Rogers wrote in The Advocate that “the last vestiges of the old Frank Freeman wharf have long since disappeared.”¹ I’m assuming that Rogers is referring to architectural fabric: piles, timbers, decking, and the like.
But the Freeman name held on, as names often do in town.
Around the neighborhood, however, it was often referred to as the Cold Storage Wharf. At this pier, the fish — typically whiting, mackerel, or herring — were taken from arriving boats and loaded on to a narrow-gauge trolley to be hauled up into the giant freezer building. Much more about the trolley and the man in the driver’s seat, Francis G. “Molly” Joseph (1929-2006), will be found in a subsequent entry on the cold storage.
A photograph in The Advocate of 11 February 1971 showed pieces of Freeman’s Wharf and one of its pier sheds washed up by ice on the East End Breakwater. The full article is in the Scrapbooks of Althea Boxell, Book 2, Page 124, on the Provincetown History Preservation Project (Dowd Collection), Page 477.
A postcard, also from Page 477 on the Provincetown History Preservation Project, shows the wharf end in 1972. I suspect that the airborne gull flew in from another photograph.
For a time in the late ’70s and ’80s, the remains of Freeman’s Wharf existed alongside, and nearly parallel to, the pier at Coast Guard Station Provincetown. The photo at left, taken by Jim Gilbert for the Provincetown-Boston Airline, was published in The Advocate on 1 March 1979, and can be found in the Scrapbooks of Althea Boxell, Book 9, Page 20, on the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 2245. The footprint of the demolished trap shed is evident. The photo at right was taken in 2009 by David W. Dunlap.
Freeman’s Wharf looks ready to give up the ghost in this uncredited 1980 photograph, which is also from Page 2245 on the Provincetown History Preservation Project.
The pier was last in active use in the summer of 1970. The following February, ice floes five feet thick, moving westward across the harbor with the wind and the outgoing tide, ripped off the outermost 400 feet of the 1,200-foot-long pier, effectively dooming it.²
A trap shed remained on the pier until 1975, when it was abruptly demolished by the owners, despite the strenuous efforts of preservationists — principally Josephine (Couch) Del Deo (1925-2016) — and the sympathetic intervention of the Coast Guard. More will be found on this unhappy episode in a subsequent entry on the shed.
By the end of the decade, the Coast Guard had constructed a pier roughly parallel to the Freeman’s Wharf ruins. Some decking remained on the old wharf until the early 1980s, but its place is now marked only by a ghostly pile field between Station Provincetown and Taves Boatyard.
Photo from under the Coast Guard pier taken in 2017 by David W. Dunlap.
Photo, 2010, by David W. Dunlap.
¶ Last updated on 28 November 2018.
125 Commercial Street on the Town Map.
Also at 125 Commercial Street:
Thumbnail image: Photo, 2008, by David W. Dunlap.
For further reading online
• Elisha Freeman
Find a Grave Memorial No. 120758722.
¹ “Puffs and Pot Shots,” by Irving S. Rogers, The Provincetown Advocate, 9 October 1941, Page 2. I’m not sure who “Frank Freeman” is. Contemporary maps and deeds all refer to Elisha, E., or Ea. Freeman as the owner of this wharf.
² “Pier Carried Away by Ice,” The Provincetown Advocate, 11 February 1971.