Provincetown is a town located at the extreme tip of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, United States. The town is known for its beaches, harbor, artists, tourist industry, and its reputation as a gay village.
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The United States Census Bureau provides additional demographic detail for the more densely populated central village area within the town. Those details are included in the aggregate population and area values reported here. See: Provincetown (CDP), Massachusetts.
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The Pilgrim Monument, designed by Willard T. Sears after the Torre del Mangia in Siena, Italy; built 19071910.
Commercial Street in an 1890s postcardThe area was originally settled by the Nauset tribe, who had a settlement known as Meeshawn. Provincetown was incorporated by English settlers in 1727 after harboring ships for more than a century. Bartholomew Gosnold named Cape Cod in Provincetown Harbor in 1602. In 1620, the Pilgrims signed the Mayflower Compact when they arrived at the harbor. They agreed to settle and build a self-governing community, and then came ashore in the West End. Though the Pilgrims chose to settle across the bay in Plymouth, Provincetown enjoyed an early reputation for its fishing grounds. The “Province Lands” were first formally recognized by the union of Plymouth colony and Massachusetts Bay colony in 1692, and its first municipal government was established in 1714. The population of Provincetown remained small through most of the 18th century.
Following the American Revolution, however, Provincetown grew rapidly as a fishing and whaling center. The population was bolstered by a number of Portuguese sailors who, hired to work on US ships, came to live in Provincetown. By the 1890s, Provincetown was booming, and began to develop a resident population of writers and artists, as well as a summer tourist industry. After the 1898 Portland Gale severely damaged the town’s fishing industry, members of the town’s art community took over many of the abandoned buildings. By the early decades of the 20th century, the town had acquired an international reputation for its artistic and literary output. The Provincetown Players was an important experimental theater company formed during this period. It was an example of intellectual and artistic connections to Greenwich Village in New York that began then.
Provincetown includes eight buildings and a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the mid-1960s, Provincetown saw population growth. The town’s rural character appealed to the hippies of the era; furthermore, property was relatively cheap and rents were correspondingly low, especially during the winter. Many of those who came stayed and raised families. Commercial Street gained numerous cafes, leather shops, head shops , various hip small businesses blossomed and many flourished.
In the mid-1970s members of the gay community began moving to Provincetown. In 1978 the Provincetown Business Guild (PBG) was formed to promote gay tourism. Today more than 200 businesses belong to the PBG and Provincetown is perhaps the best-known gay summer resort on the East Coast.
Since the 1990s, property prices have risen significantly, with numerous condo conversions causing some residents economic hardship. The recent housing bust (starting in 2005) has so far caused property values in and around town to fall by 10 percent or more in less than a year. This has not slowed down the town’s economy, however. Provincetown’s tourist season has expanded to the point where the town has created festivals and weeklong events throughout the year. The most established are in the summer: the Portuguese Festival and PBG’s Carnival Week.
For those who follow the gay travel and event circuit, Provincetown is currently a destination of choice during the week surrounding the July 4th holiday. The town is successful enough to now offer two full series of events that compete during “Circuit Week” for best boat cruise, most elaborate dance event, and most famous DJ – and for tourist dollars.
Other notable festivals during the year include the Christmas-themed “Holly Folly”, “Bear Week”, “Mate’s Leather Weekend”, “Women’s Week”, “Family Week”, “Single Men’s Weekend”, “Provincetown Film Festival” and the “Provincetown Jazz Festival.” In October, Provincetown sees the arrival of transvestite, transgender and transsexual people for the annual Fantasia Fair. Started in 1975, it is the longest running event of its kind in the USA.
Provincetown is also home to three contemporary resident theater companies: The New Provincetown Players, Shakespeare on the Cape (SOTC), and the Gold Dust Orphans. Shakespeare on the Cape is a relatively new company formed by graduates of the Guthrie Theater/University of Minnesota BFA Actor Training Program. In 2005, SOTC performed Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Schoolhouse, owned by WOMR, 92.1 FM Outermost Community Radio. In 2006, SOTC performed Romeo & Juliet and As You Like It at the Art House in downtown. SOTC performed a world-premier Tennessee Williams’ one-act play, The Parade or Approaching The End of A Summer on October 1st, 2006 at the Art House as part of the 1st Annual Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival. Original company members were Eric Powell Holm, Elliot Yingling Eustis, Raphael Richter, Tessa Bry, Ben Griessmeyer, and Vanessa Caye Wasche.
The Gold Dust Orphans have been performing in Provincetown and Boston for 10 years. Notable summer productions have included: The Gulls, Scarrie, The Septic Wives, Golden Squirrels, Cinderella Rocks! and Cleopatra. Current and past company members include Penny Champayne, Olive Another, Afrodite aka Andre Shoals, Windsor Newton, P.J. McWhiskers, David Hanbury, Adam Berry, Megan Ludlow, Ariana Schulman, Mark Meehan, Gene Dante, Billy Hough, Larry Coen, Cheryl Singleton and many others.
Norman Mailer’s novel Tough Guys Don’t Dance, and Annie Dillard’s novel The Maytrees are primarily based in Provincetown.
In 2003, Provincetown received a $1.95 million low interest loan from the Rural Development program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help rebuild the town’s MacMillan Pier. It primarily serves tourists and high-speed ferries that charge their passengers up to $45 per one-way trip. Between 2004 and 2007, the Provincetown Art Association and Museum received four Rural Development grants and loans totalling $3 million to increase the museum’s space, add climate-controlled facilities, renovate a historic sea captain’s house (the Hargood House) and cover cost overruns. As the mission of the Rural Development program is “To increase economic opportunity and improve the quality of life for all rural Americans”, the USDA considered Provincetown’s residents in the 2000s to still be rural and to still require such federal assistance.