Court Street Landing.

We take for granted that it’s easy to reach the waterfront from upland. But there might be an unbroken barrier of private property between Commercial Street and the beach were it not for Title XIV of the General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (Chapter 88, Section 14): “In every city or town where the tide ebbs and flows there shall be provided on a tidal shore thereof at least one common landing place.” Happily, Provincetown has had eight common landings since the early 19th century. Town Landing No. 4, at Court Street, was recognized as such in 1837. Today, it starts as a 15-foot gap between Bubala’s and the Fire House Comfort Station, widening to nearly 40 feet as it wraps around behind the old fire station. Amenities at the Court Street Landing include a kayak rack.

The Fourth Town Landing in 2019. Photograph by David W. Dunlap.

A “reservoir” used by firefighters in the 19th century was dug under the approach to the landing. Detail of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map From Provincetown, Barnstable County, Massachusetts (1889), from the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division. Digital ID g3764pm.g038261889.

In the 19th century, a large underground cistern lay directly below the Commercial Street end of the landing. Forty-one of these cisterns — or “reservoirs” — were situated around town, from which firefighters could draw water through reciprocating-action pumps on their apparatus. As many as 20 men stood on opposite sides of the apparatus and, using broad cross-bars, pumped water in a seesaw manner “like a double pair of pistons gone berserk,” one Fire Department history said.¹ The pumper sent the water streaming out through rubber-lined cotton hoses tipped by copper nozzles.

Recommendations for the Court Street Landing in the 2018 amended Provincetown Harbor Management Plan included its continuation as an active boat landing area, with paving for necessary vehicles and equipment. The plan recommended converting any part of the landing not needed for water-dependent access to a park with landscaping, paving, benches, and bike racks. “The police should enforce ‘no parking’ at this site,” the planning document added.

The landing, as seen from the back door of the Fire House Comfort Station. 2017, Dunlap.

A plan shows how the landing widens from 15 feet to nearly 40 feet behind the old fire house, No. 189.

Noting the erosion of the Court Street shore, the plan also called for beach nourishment at the landing. In December 2020, Codfish II, a 50-foot hydraulic dredge in the service of Barnstable County, sucked up about 700 cubic yards of sand that had accumulated around the northeast edge of the harbor breakwater and deposited it at the Fourth Town Landing.

The action around Codfish II was imperceptible from the surface. But Josephine de La Bruyère described the underwater drama in The Provincetown Independent of 7 January 2021: “Her six-blade cutterhead — 43 inches across — spins, agitating sand on the harbor floor. The cutterhead sits at the tip of a ladder (which looks precisely like a tube and nothing like a ladder, but no matter). It sucks the sand, airborne and swirling, through the ladder, aboard. The dredge’s engine room, humming, shoots it through that length of trailing pipe, onto whatever beach needs nourishment.” In this case, the 183-year-old Fourth Town Landing.

Codfish II dredging sand from around the harbor breakwater to nourish the beachfront at the Court Street Landing in December 2020. Photograph by Josephine de La Bruyère for The Provincetown Independent, 7 January 2021.

¶ Last updated on 9 June 2021.

Other landings:

• First Town Landing, at Pearl Street.

• Second Town Landing, at Freeman Street.

• Third Town Landing, at Gosnold Street.

Fifth Town Landing, at Atlantic Avenue.

Sixth Town Landing, at Good Templar Place.

Seventh Town Landing, at Franklin Street.

Eighth Town Landing, at West Vine Street.

Thumbnail image: Photo, 2011, by David W. Dunlap.

¹ Scrapbooks of Althea Boxell, Book 2, Page 114. Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 1335.

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