Gay and lesbian destination
The Town began promoting itself as a tourist destination to boost the economy after the Great Portland Gale of 1898 wiped out the Town's fishing fleet and wharfs. Artists and bohemians were among Provincetown's earliest visitors. They were attracted to the incredible natural beauty, eclectic population, and sense of acceptance found in the town at the outer most tip of Cape Cod.
1920s - 1930s ~ The 1920s and 1930s saw the gay and lesbian presence flourish as contingents of artists, writers, playwrights, poets, novelists, journalists, socialists, radicals, and dilettantes began to summer in Provincetown. These newcomers found inspiration in this avant-garde town's beauty and freedom of exploration. They were instrumental in developing Provincetown's famous art colony and participated in the beginnings of modern American theater.
The ability to experiment with varied art forms without fear of judgment eventually led to an artistic environment that spawned the first American school of art and birth of modern American theater. Many of the artists and their friends who enjoyed the intellectual freedom of Provincetown were gay. It was this sense of acceptance and the burgeoning art colony that drew more people to visit the avant-garde town at the outermost tip of Cape Cod.
It was not long before Provincetown became the place to spend the summer months for gay men and women. Soon thereafter, many summer regulars became permanent residents as they purchased guesthouses and other local businesses, further enmeshing themselves in the local fabric.
Recent History ~ The 1970s marked Provincetown's rise as the gay and lesbian mecca and destination that it is widely considered today. Perhaps gay author Reed Woodhouse summed up Provincetown's allure best when he wrote in 1991, "To such an extent that Provincetown is, for anything, known for us, known for being one of the two or three places on the continent where gay people can be seen in something like their native habitat. It is one of our hometowns."
Woodhouse's comment truly sums up the attraction Provincetown holds for gays and lesbians. It is a place where you can be yourself without fear of condemnation. It is the only tourist location in the United States where gays and lesbians can hold hands and show affection openly. It simply feels like coming home. Provincetown truly is like nowhere else.
Gay Marriage ~ Since gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts in 2004, Provincetown has become the place to get married with over 1,400 marriage licenses issued to date. Couples chose Provincetown for its gay symbolism and the breath-taking backdrop of the town's beaches. For more information on marriage, please visit Getting Married.
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The oldest art colony in America
Provincetown is the America’s oldest art colony. Charles Webster Hawthorne (1872-1930) founded the Provincetown art colony when he opened the Cape Cod School of Art in 1899. During the thirty years of Hawthorne’s tutelage the school attracted students and art teachers from America’s cities and hinterlands, eventually led to a year-round art community of young aspiring artists.
The art colony flourished in the first quarter of the twentieth century in a atmosphere of diversity, experimentation and freedom of expression. Eugene O’Neill, considered the father of modern American theater, mounted his first play here on a wharf in the East End in 1915 and today the tradition is carried on by our new Provincetown Theater which is also used as a small convention center.
Art Galleries and Shopping
Provincetown’s abundance of art galleries today reflects the quality and diversity of all the original art created here past and present. Friday evenings in season are traditionally ‘opening’ nights in the galleries found along Commercial Street and everyone’s invited to become an art connoisseur if only for the evening. Shopping is anything but routine in the cosmopolitan climate of Provincetown’s summer community. Many shops offer exquisite collections of local hand crafted merchandise. Clothing, antiques, furniture, cooking utensils, jewelry are available in a bazaar of shops, none of them the same.
Well-fed and Happy
If armies travel on their stomachs its safe to say the same is true for tourists. No one has ever gone hungry visiting Provincetown. The real surprise for our visitors is the diversity and quality of our food - from local, ethnic ‘fast food’ to outdoor cafe fare to the gourmet cuisine served in elegant dining rooms of historic mansions. Think about a very small town having a dinner party and thirty thousand people show up – obviously it’s imperative everyone’s well-fed and happy. All of Provincetown’s restaurants are locally owned and express the individual owners’ tastes and commitment to their cuisine. Given the high cost of doing business in Provincetown, only the best survive and your palate is the beneficiary of this fact of local life.
Entertainment, Nightlife & Fun
Entertainment is ubiquitous in Provincetown. People-watching, theater, music, street performers, concerts, world class celebrity impersonations and cabarets - its hard to escape it unless you’re at the beach where you can bury your head. It’s all done in good fun and without pretense. Tip: look for it in unusual places. While the cabaret scene is marketed right on Commercial Street, you will have to dig a little to find chamber music at PAAM or chorale music at the UU Church.
Beaches and the Cape Cod National Seashore Park (CCNS)
In the early 1960’s the entire ocean side of Cape Cod was preserved as a national park - ocean beaches, critical coastal habitats and endangered wildlife were protected forever. Today you are the beneficiary of this far sighted legislation. Visitor center provide educational exhibits and films, along with information about walking and biking trails, and ranger-guided activities.
In 1975 Provincetown Dolphin charter fishing boat captain Al Avellar noticed that the only time his clients stopped fishing was to watch whales feeding near the boat. On a hunch he started offering guided excursions to Stellwagen Bank, now a National Marine Sanctuary, so everyone could observe these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. Thus whale watching was introduced to the East Coast out of Provincetown Harbor. Trips start in mid-April when migrating humpback whales start arriving in Cape Cod Bay and continue to early November when the whales generally depart our waters.
Art Costa came back from World War II with a dream that the public would like to explore the vast desert of sand dunes surrounding his home town of Provincetown. Putting fat tires on Model A’s he launched Art’s Dune Tours to carry passengers out into this inaccessible environment. Today a fleet of SUV’s are federally permitted to give the general public access to this protected environment.
Provincetown’s abundance of migrating shore and sea birds is well documented. The outer Cape peninsular is some forty miles out to sea and migrating fowl use the protected woodlands, ponds, wetlands and salt marshes in the Cape Cod National Seashore Park as a welcome refueling stop on their trips from North to South America and back. The best starting point for bird watching information is the Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Sanctuary found at www.wellfleetbay.org or the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster at www.ccmnh.org.
Text © Edward Mick Rudd