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Pilgrim Monument, line drawing by Ewa Nogiec
Provincetown History: Chrysler Museum / Heritage Museum / Provincetown Public Library

What is today the town-owned Provincetown Public Library, was built in 1860 as the Center Methodist Episcopal Church. The English Gothic building is a Provincetown landmark and the subject of countless paintings. Financial problems almost 100 years after its founding led the congregation to sell the structure to Walter P. Chrysler Jr., son of the Chrysler Corporation founder.

He re-opened it as a museum and art library on July 10, 1958, at a cost of $200,000. Chrysler was an eclectic collector whose museum contained pieces ranging from early Egyptian to modern art, with a group of 19th century Masters and a major collection of art glass. He had a great interest in contemporary American art and acquired many paintings from local artists. The Chrysler shows and purchases attracted more young artists to town, followed by more collectors and new galleries.

Chrysler enlivened the local art scene with indoor and outdoor shows of POP art including work by Robert Indiana, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. Summer shows included "The Controversial Century 1850-1950" (1962) and "The Twentieth Century, Prototype and Antecedents" (1965).

Chrysler moved his collection to Norfolk, Virginia in 1971 and sold the building in 1974. The new owners turned it into a center for the arts which was not successful. In 1975 it was designated a National Registered Landmark and residents voted to purchase the building to use as a museum for preservation of the town's historic and artistic legacy, Provincetown Heritage Museum.

Scenes from domestic and business life of the past were recreated using wax figures and authentic artifacts. Antique fire and marine equipment was displayed and a 60 foot (half-scale) model of the famous Provincetown fishing schooner "Rose Dorothea," was constructed inside the museum. Poet Harry Kemp's dune shack was moved from the Province Lands and reassembled there.

The Museum holdings included more than 200 paintings (the town owns a total of almost 350). Works from every period of the art colony were displayed throughout the building and incorporated into periodic theme shows of museum artifacts. The studies for Ross Moffett's Town Hall murals are there and a major Moffett retrospective was mounted in the summer of 1995.

While Chaim Gross' sculpture "The Tourists" still stands at the entrance to the museum grounds, the building was closed to the public in 1999. Extensive structural deterioration is being remedied while residents ponder future uses of both this facility and the public library, two structures of significance in the life of Provincetown.

Today the building hosts Provincetown Public Library, beautifuly restored inside. Outside elevation still needs to be finished.


from PROVINCETOWN: THE ART COLONY A Brief History and Guide by Nyla Ahrens, published by Provincetown Art Association and Museum, 1997. Revised edition published 2000. Available in print at Provincetown Art Association and Museum Store.

© Nyla Ahrens

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