Origins of the Collection
By Laurel Guadazno
The Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum’s collection is a combination of the collections of the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association (CCPMA), the private non-profit founded to build the Pilgrim Monument, and the collections of the Provincetown Historical Museum, which was operated by the Research Club of Provincetown, Inc. from 1923 to 1956. In August 1956 the membership of the CCPMA voted to accept the Historical Museum collection, agreeing to serve as stewards of the collection for future generations.
The Provincetown Historical Museum was housed in the home Benjamin Lancy built for his mother in 1874 located at 230 Commercial Street. In 1923 the members of The Research Club purchased the 20-room mansion on Commercial Street for a historical museum from Mr. Lancy. The Research Club was organized in 1910 by a group of women whose objective was to restore the old burying ground, place historical markers, do ancestral research, and preserve an old Cape Cod House in Provincetown. As part of their work to place historical markers, the ladies began reading old letters and historical documents. They found this research so interesting that they began to write papers and present their research as part of the regular club meetings, and thus the group became known as the Research Club.
The first mention of a historical museum comes in the group’s minutes from a meeting held on March 7, 1923. At this meeting the group voted to incorporate. The articles of incorporation list the names of all 24 members and one new purpose: to establish and maintain an historical museum. On September 5, the Treasurer of the Research Club took out a mortgage on the house at 230 Commercial Street in the amount of $4,000. In only 13 short years the group had progressed from a few women meeting in each other’s homes to do historical and genealogical research to the proud owners of a historical museum.
All winter long the women worked getting the house ready to open as a museum in the spring. On the evening of May 27, 1924, despite bad weather, Provincetown’s Historical Museum formally opened to a crowd of 500 people. The next day, Wednesday the 28th of May 1924, the Historical Museum opened to the public with an admission fee of 25 cents. All who visited agreed that finally the town had a worthy collection and a museum of which they could be proud.
In 1956 the building and its contents were deeded to the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association (CCPMA), the non-profit that operates the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum. The CCPMA ran the Historical Museum on Commercial Street until 1961 when the present building on High Pole Hill at the base of the Pilgrim Monument was opened.
As you walk around the Provincetown Museum today, many of the objects from the first Historical Museum can still be seen as part of the permanent exhibits and others are put on view from time to time in special exhibits.