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A Haven in East Harwich

Stacey Hedman

Three Cavalier King Charles spaniels burst through the screen door of Pleasant Bay Animal Hospital in East Harwich, straining at leashes gripped by slightly out-of-breath owners. Hannah and Lily, the two larger dogs, are in for their annual physicals and shots; Brigitte, the puppy, has come along for a grooming. Hannah is first up on the shiny steel examination table. Her tail is between her legs, and the loving strokes from her owner do little to ease her anxiety. Read more…

Dress, Dine, and Decompress

Dan Cutrona & Dan Dewey It is a hot Thursday morning in July. All week, temperatures have climbed into the low 90s. Cape Cod beaches have been jammed with visitors and year-rounders looking for relief from the heat. Rick Penn, co-owner and president of Puritan Cape Cod, walks to the front of his expansive store located on Main Street, Hyannis, and looks out from 18,000 square feet of air-conditioned elegance at the crowded sidewalks. “It’s going to be a really busy day,” says Penn happily. “People are tired of going to the beaches.”

Penn, dressed in a hand-tailored Puritan suit, knows what he is talking about. As the third generation of Penns to own and manage Puritan Cape Cod, he is adept at anticipating the moods of Puritan’s buying public. Rick works at the retailing Main Street magnet hands-on six days a week, alongside his first cousin, Puritan Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Jim Penn. The cousins are the latest in a long line of hard-working Penn retailers, following in the footsteps of Milton and Howard Penn, who brought the business to prominence in the last half of the twentieth century. The Penns have come far since the days when Rick and Jim’s grandfather, Abraham Penn, emigrated from Russia in the 1920s and worked as a street peddler selling cloth on the streets of Boston.

Dan Cutrona & Dan Dewey

Soon, Puritan’s doors swing open and a tall, impressively built man walks in to the men’s department, obviously in a hurry. Rick, who learned long ago how to judge a customer on a mission, watches as one of Puritan’s veteran sales associates welcomes the customer. “I need two suits by Monday morning for a meeting I didn’t plan on having,” says the man, accompanied by his wife. “And I would like them to be high-quality suits.” After explaining that he has a second home in Chatham, the man also asks for shirts and ties, and is whisked into Puritan’s handsome dressing rooms.

“Everything comes back our grandfather’s motto,” says Jim Penn. “We would rather make a friend than make a sale. It’s not just one transaction, it’s a lifetime of transactions.”

Across the floor, Rick Penn approaches the customer’s wife, who wanders into Puritan’s bright, attractively designed Vineyard Vines lifestyle section. After striking up a conversation, he quickly learns that the woman loves spas. “Follow me,” says Penn to the surprised shopper, leading her to a corner of the store where a sign leads downstairs to Solstice Spa. Penn and his new Main Street convert head to the posh salon, where almost a dozen women have escaped from the heat to be pampered with manicures, hair cuts, facials, and massage therapy.

Professionally trained staff work in the spa’s cool sophisticated interiors, painted a restful coastal blue. Amenities at Solstice include four massage rooms designed to accommodate couples massages, a large steam shower, custom-built pedicure chairs, a private hair salon area with five stylists, and even a “sanctuary room” where customers can enjoy healthy refreshments.

Sheryl Baba, who co-founded Solstice with Kimberlee Schuler in 2002 in Hyannis’s Independence Park, explains that the spa had outgrown their original space. Solstice heard about the available Puritan space after partnering with the Penns for several special events. “We were looking for at least 2500 square feet, in a good neighborhood, with great parking,” says Sheryl. “We love it here­—and we share a lot of the same clients. The Puritan shopper is someone who usually takes good care of themselves. Main Street has changed so much—there is just a great energy here now. And partnering with Puritan is great—they have been in business for 90 years and I am so flattered that they wanted to do business with us.”

Solstice Spa is just part of this destination experience marketing concept created by the Penns. In early July, the last piece of their marketing plan fell into place when the Naked Oyster, long a Route 132 favorite of discerning mid-Cape seafood lovers, opened in a new location—just off Hyannis Puritan’s main floor. The restaurant’s handsome pub-style spaces are attractively decorated featuring brick walls showcasing original art by Cape and Islands artists above gleaming hardwood floors. A comfortable Main Street lounge area, anchored by a spacious mahogany bar, flows to double doors that open right into Puritan Cape Cod.

Dan Cutrona & Dan Dewey

“We share many of the same customers,” says Florence Lowell, co-owner of the Naked Oyster with her husband. ‘We love this location­—Main Street has changed a lot in the last two years and is so much more dynamic.” Lowell—who notes that the Naked Oyster can go through more than 1,000 locally farm-grown fresh oysters on a busy summer day—says her new executive chef, Carlos Reyes, has flourished in the new restaurant. “He is an adventurous chef who is not afraid to try new things and this has been a great experience for him,” says Lowell, before accepting compliments from a customer for raw oysters served with a touch of ginger and Wasabi. Reyes, who worked as a sous chef for the Chatham Bars Inn and Brewster’s Ocean Edge before coming to the Naked Oyster, says his favorite cuisine features “interesting flavors with a touch of Asian and Caribbean” flair.

Lowell says that the Naked Oyster is also planning to open an elegant function room/wine cellar tasting area adjacent to the spa. “It’s going to be great—customers can wander to all three places. For wedding parties it will be ideal; you can have refreshments in the function room, come in and have spa services. With these three businesses, we are a real lifestyle destination,” says Sheryl Baba.

“We call this concept, ‘Dress, dine, and decompress,” says Rick, before heading back to the Puritan men’s department, just in time to help his customer select the perfect ties for his Monday power meeting.

Both Penns grew up working on the floor of the store and know first-hand how the buying public’s tastes have evolved. In 2010, Puritan Cape Cod is a multi-level shopping experience with four locations in Falmouth, Mashpee, and Chatham. The stores feature well-integrated departments for women’s, men’s, and outdoor fashions including several high-end lines like Vineyard Vines, Burberry, Eileen Fischer, ISDA, and at the Hyannis store, the only Northface Concept Shop in southeastern Massachusetts.

“The bar raises all the time,” says Jim. “It keeps going up with all the retail options that folks have today. People are starved for time, which means that retailers really need to figure out what’s best for each customer. As a retailer you have to love what you do—it’s a 24/7 job. It’s great that we can work from home with laptops and Blackberries. But still, you have to get up every day and be happy about going to work.”

Meanwhile, back in the men’s department, a pleased businessman laughs when he learns that his wife has just made two spa appointments at Solstice Spa. “She loves spas,” he says. Rick Penn smiles and then points across the store floor to the attractively lit, cool spaces of the Naked Oyster where staff are getting ready to open for lunch. “And when she’s done, you can have a great seafood dinner at the Naked Oyster,” says Penn as the sales associate takes the man’s final measurements for Puritan’s experienced custom-tailoring department.

Such service is a matter of course at Puritan, where the Penns have refined the art of personalized care for every customer from the man off the street to members of the Kennedy family and other Cape and Island celebrities. “We’ve been very fortunate to basically outfit three generations of the Kennedy family,” says Jim Penn. “These always know—like all Puritan clients know, that they will be taken care of and things will be handled the right way, which is very important to us.”

Watching Puritan’s morning’s activities closely is Max Penn, Rick’s 17-year-old son. Like his father, Max wears a button-down shirt and an attractive tie. Even though it is a perfect summer day, he seems content to be inside, helping to man Puritan’s sales staff. “I really like working with people,” says Max. “I like being the fourth generation to work at Puritan.”

Rick Penn watches his son proudly. “We start them out here when they are this tall,” says Penn, gesturing to the sales register counter. It seems a given that 10 or 20 years from now, Max will be welcoming shoppers in on hot summer days to a Puritan store somewhere on Cape Cod. Somehow you know that this Penn will have new ideas, safeguarding Puritan Cape Cod as a famous place to visit.

“Everything comes back our grandfather’s motto,” says Jim Penn. “We would rather make a friend than make a sale. It’s not just one transaction, it’s a lifetime of transactions.”

A Perennial Gardener’s Prayer: Sleep Easy, Sleep Deep

One of the best things about gardening on the Cape and Islands is that just when you can’t stand another minute of watering, weeding, fertilizing, and replanting, the first frost comes . . . and your garden goes to sleep. You can put away all your garden tools, roll up those hoses that you’ve been wrestling with all summer long, close the door to that patio garden that just didn’t quite turn out right, and take a long winter nap from gardening.

As one of those obsessive gardeners who gets up two hours before work every morning from April to October to inspect the latest tiny tomato seedling’s health, to see whether that expensive new lily finally blossomed, to bemoan the decades-old hydrangea that got hammered in a thunderstorm the night before, Jack Frost can’t come soon enough for me. When the first snow falls, I feel as if a blanket of calm has fallen and I can crawl back under our down puff every morning, read trashy novels, and have two cups of coffee before I go to work, and not give a single thought to facing slugs, winter moths, and late tomato blight. I don’t know how anyone survives gardening in California where gardens need care all year-round.

Of course, as soon as the first January thaw begins to unlock winter’s icy fingers on Cape Cod, I’m up to my elbows in gardening books, cruising Fine Gardening magazine for ideas, and mooning over spring catalogs. But that’s only because I’ve had a few months off from slogging it out in the garden on a daily basis.

But since I am writing this in mid-summer when my trumpet lilies are in full glorious bloom, the tomatoes are rounding up perfectly, and the hydrangea are still having what has to be the most glorious year in history, I know that September and October will bring a whole different set of gardening tasks. Because before the perennial gardens go to sleep, they must be cleaned out, mulched, and basically prepared for that first marvelous day in late winter when the delicate white blossoms of the Snowdrops appear.

Winter on Cape Cod is just plain capricious—one day its so warm and balmy that golfers sprout up on Olde Barnstable’s wintry greens and the next day the temperature plummets down to single digits. Buds swell sometimes on rhododendron in late autumn above foliage that folds up in frigid temperatures a few days later. This kind of feast or famine environment is very tough on plants, trees, and shrubs. The truth is that winters with deep snow and constant cold are much better for gardens. Like humans, plants want to just lie still under the snowy puff and have a long undisturbed rest before they have to perform again next spring and summer.

I gave Chris Joyce, the owner of Marstons Mills’ well-known Joyce Landscaping, a call recently to ask for some inside info on putting Cape and Island perennial gardens to bed. “As soon as we get that first frost, our gardening staff cut back all the plants and leave a nice clean bed for the winter,” Joyce says. “Some people like to leave plant material there over the winter, but we like to cut everything down and mulch in the bed really well, or you are setting up an environment for plant diseases the next spring.”

Joyce’s crews use several inches of wood mulch on the beds, although he says seaweed can also be used as mulch. Sometime gardeners also use pine boughs, although as Joyce says, it is probably better to lay down a consistently thick layer of mulch to safeguard the plants. “It’s just so much better to keep everything frozen, because if you have a sudden thaw, the plants will start pushing up and you’ll end up having root damage,” he says, noting that moist springs encouraging plant growth too early can also wreak havoc on unmulched gardens.

Joyce says that his crews do not fertilize their customers’ perennial gardens in the fall, preferring to wait until spring to apply Coast of Maine fertilizer, perhaps lightened with vermiculite, depending on the horticultural needs of the individual bed. Still, Joyce says the most important thing to remember when putting your perennial garden to bed is that the plants need a good, long uninterrupted rest. “Basically, you want the garden to stay good and frozen all winter,” says Joyce. Sounds like great advice for all those gardeners who also want to curl up under their puffs and sleep on cold Cape and Islands mornings, come November and December.

For information on Joyce Landscaping, go to www.joycelandscaping.com.

Eye Candy

Ashleigh Bennett Vivid colors are the first thing that catch your eye. Inside the O’Donnell Art Gallery in New Seabury, paintings and prints of golden beach scenes, fields of bright orange poppies, and striking blue coastal panoramas adorn the walls of the gallery, creating a visual archive of summer life on Cape Cod. Rebecca O’Donnell and her husband, Gene, opened the gallery in an old candy shop in the Popponesset Marketplace. “I’m very lucky that this used to be a candy store. Everyone already came into the place,” O’Donnell says. “Now we just offer them a different type of candy.”

Growing up in a family of artists, O’Donnell began painting many years ago. She got her start painting note cards for the Popponesset Marketplace Country Store; when they started selling well and she realized their popularity, she decided to open the gallery in 2004. The gallery is known for the annually changing colors of its walls; this year’s shade, an intense cobalt blue, inspired a series of paintings as well. In one recent work, O’Donnell moved toward a more spare style by depicting a sky with a solid shade of blue—a great contrast to a richly detailed foreground.  “This way the viewer can imagine that there is a bird in the sky, or a boat,” O’Donnell says. “People aren’t as involved with what is in the background, and they love it.”

Ashleigh Bennett

Working primarily with a mix of watercolors, acrylics, pencils, and oil paints, O’Donnell draws her inspiration from her surroundings. “I love this place,” she says. “That’s really my motivation.” Her homegrown paintings document the changes on Cape Cod. For example, authorities recently prohibited boaters from anchoring off of Popponesset Spit, which opens up to Popponesset Bay. One of O’Donnell’s paintings depicts the catamaran-filled waters in a scene that captures memories for those who treasured this place in days gone by. “I love it when people look at my paintings and say things like, ‘Oh, that used to be my house!’ or, ‘I remember that!’” she says.

Ashleigh Bennett The gallery does not represent other artists, but O’Donnell does feature other items made by local artists and family members, including a stunning line of pearl and semi-precious jewelry hand-crafted by O’Donnell’s daughter in law. On occasion, the gallery hosts a book signing by a local author, or a show featuring local artists to promote the gallery and the works of others in the local arts scene. “It’s nice to be a part of the community I live in,” says O’Donnell. “I like to get the word out about art events, and promote local arts.” She paints with a group of artists every Monday morning, and this summer the group rented one of the Hyannis Harbor Artists Shanties for a week. The shanties project gives artists who don’t own shops a chance to get used to the feeling of showing up for work, and paint in the company of others. “We’re doing a lot as a group,” says O’Donnell. “We even had a show together this summer.”

O’ Donnell says opening the gallery has contributed to her growth, both as a person and as an artist. It’s been a lifestyle change, but one she doesn’t regret.

“Having the gallery has helped my artistic abilities snowball,” she says, then smiles. “Otherwise, I’d be holed up at my house with a lot of paintings and no one knowing who I am.”

The O’Donnell Art Gallery is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Memorial Day through Labor Day; weekends only Labor Day through Columbus Day.

For more information, log on to www.odonnellgallery.com, call (508) 477-8057, or visit the gallery at Popponesset Marketplace in New Seabury.

Life’s Bittersweet Season

Life October 2010 September and October are two of my favorite months of the year on Cape Cod. There is a certain slant of sunlight then that gilds the ocean and the beaches in this grande finale to summer. The cranberry bogs glow ruby red against skies so blue they don’t look real. Autumn on Cape Cod is like a kaleidoscope, brilliant colors shifting and sliding. It is almost as if nature saves her best show for last to comfort us before winter arrives.

Sometimes I feel like a squirrel gathering acorns, storing up these autumn moments to get me through those November days when it gets dark at 4 p.m. There is a part of me that dreads the coming winter, even though I love Cape winter activities, skating on frozen ponds and brisk walking, especially on winter beaches when the clear light and the sharp wind make you feel lucky to be alive.

Yet, with every passing autumn I discover new joys about Cape life that have nothing to do with sunbathing, parties on the beach, or even flying over Nantucket Sound waves with sails trimmed tight. It used to be that when I thought of Cape cuisine, I thought of clam chowder, lobster, or anything made with cranberries. One of the great joys about living here year-round is that you discover the Cape and Islands are a locavore’s dream. Cape Cod’s ever-bountiful cuisine is spread out before you at the Cape Land and Sea Harvest (CLASH), held this year in Hyannis, the weekend of September 24-26. You can savor seasonal epicurean delights prepared by excellent local chefs, many who come from year-round Cape restaurants, or stock up for hearty winter cuisine with fresh out of the garden fare at a farmers market.

The weekend of October 2 and 3, Falmouth’s Barnstable County Fairgrounds come alive with a fall festival where you can find great homemade items from local growers and artisans-—it’s a terrific place to stock up for holiday entertaining and gift-giving. On Columbus Day weekend, the Yarmouth Seaside Festival offers a craft fair, fireworks, and good music.

For a lot more ways to savor your Cape autumn, turn to page 48 and peruse “Festivals, Feasts, and Fun,” our feature on autumn’s highlights. And if the winter days close in too soon, you can always spend a day on Main Street, Hyannis where Puritan Cape Cod’s resourceful owners have partnered with Solstice Spa and the Naked Oyster restaurant- (see our story on page 54) to offer fine shopping, personalized spa services, and tasty cuisine-—all in one convenient indoor location. Wear a pair of flip-flops and you can pretend that summer never left.

Happy autumn,

Susan Dewey

A Natural Masterpiece

Michael McLaughlin Standing in the center courtyard of the Henry T. Wing School in Sandwich, landscape designer Paul Miskovsky is taking in the scent of flowers and herbs and the sight of butterflies flitting from one beautiful blossom to another. Miskovsky is recalling a very different time and place, though: In 1975, when he was a student here, this building was the town’s high school and the courtyard served as the smoking area for students and faculty. Then, it was little more than slabs of concrete pierced with weeds here and there, the air heavy with the smell of cigarettes.

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Community Spirits

Ashleigh Bennett A stroll through the Wellfleet Community Garden yields an array of sights. Mark Gabriel’s smiling Buddha, surrounded by pink and orange portulacas, seems to bless a barrel of herbs. Across the hay-strewn aisle, a tuba overflows with purple petunias. Across the way, a bit further up, horticultural therapist Bodil Drescher has planted raised beds constructed by her daughter, Nette. Maura Condrick opted for planting her crops in geometric patterns, with a bright red chair against the fence as a focal point. “We’ve been surprised at the creativity of the gardeners,” Wellfleetian Celeste Makely says. “People are expressing themselves in their own way. It’s kind of quirky. It’s Wellfleet.”

Makely, the garden’s project director, envisioned creating a community garden in Wellfleet where people from all walks of life could gather to grow vegetables and make friends. As she had her husband, John, spread the word, they found themselves surrounded by a circle of hands, all eager to dig into the soil of the football-field sized garden in front of the Council on Aging on Old Kings Highway. The garden is a fun place to be, full of imaginative decorations and 32 cleverly designed plots. The individual gardens are as varied as the folks who tend them. “When I garden, I garden with my ancestors, and when I cook, I cook with my mother,” says Makely, who began gardening with her father in a World War II Victory Garden. “It’s a nice feeling.”

Wellfleet’s first community garden in 50 years came to fruition when the town’s board of selectmen approved the Makelys’ proposal to use land in front of the Council on Aging facility for that purpose. “We started with a half-acre of scrub pines,” says Makely, whose enthusiasm and drive have steered this year-long effort. She was assisted by several local businesses: Dennis Murphy of Murphy-Nickerson, Inc. cleared land; Bartlett Tree conducted soil testing; Capello Well Drilling drilled a well; and many others donated their services to make the project a reality. “This is a community effort,” Makely says. “A lot of people donated their time, tools, and money to make this happen.”

Ashleigh Bennett The 32 gardeners lease their plots; a 20-by-20-foot plot is $30 a year, 10-by-20-foot plots are $15. One plot is set aside for seniors who want to garden from throughout the community and from the Council on Aging (COA). Gardeners planted blueberry bushes so those inside the COA building facing the garden have a pleasant view; soon gooseberry bushes will be planted. All of the available plots filled up immediately, and now there is a waiting list. The group is largely self-governed; five gardeners called the “Cabbage Heads” mediate disputes that arise. Some gardeners supplement their income with the vegetables they’ve grown. Others donate their surplus to the Mustard Seed Kitchen, the Wellfleet Food Bank, and the COA’s Iris’s Café.

Some plots have traditional rows while others plant in geometric patterns. One gardener sculpted a raised flower with petals that soon will bloom. Cedar and Ennie Cole, created a meandering path of log steps surrounded by sedum with driftwood adding vertical interest. Their scarecrow with a mannequin’s head stands guard with outstretched arms.

Further up the path, a gaggle of plastic dinosaurs circle Rich Sobol’s herbs. Sharyn Lindsay and her son, Caleb Potter, have built an elaborate driftwood arbor leading to a rustic bench surrounded by begonias and foxglove. A landscape designer, Sharon’s garden is a mix of flowers, lettuces, cabbages, tomatoes, and herbs. A Grecian urn filled with nasturtium and purple salvia flanks the bench while a stone birdbath beckons feathered visitors.

Claudia and Bruce Drucker have made a planter from a clam rake filled with moss, green beans, and thyme. Their garden has a criss-cross pattern with 48 varieties of plants. “I try to plant unusual varieties and different colors of plants,” said Claudia. She has yellow and purple peppers and tomatoes, golden beets, candy-striped radishes, and purple carrots. All the flowers are edible including nasturtium, calendula, pansies, and corn flowers. Claudia also has lovage, a perennial that she says “tastes like celery and smells beautiful.”

Gardening is an activity that benefits people of all interests and abilities. For more than 45 years, former horticultural therapist Bodil Drescher has helped the physically and mentally disabled garden. “Anybody can garden, you just need the right tools,” says Bodil. Her garden paths are wider for better accessibility and she has constructed special tools to accommodate the disabilities of her gardeners, She hopes to establish gardening programs at the senior centers in Wellfleet and Eastham.

Ashleigh Bennett This beautiful garden is generating a lot of interest in the community. The Makelys have given tours to people from all over who are interested in community gardening. The gardeners partnered with Wellfleet Preservation Hall for its June garden tour. As a master gardener, Celeste and other experienced gardeners are available to help beginners.

Perhaps the most gratifying aspect of the Wellfleet Community Garden for the Makelys has been the good friends they’ve made along the way. “This is a people place,” said Celeste. “You walk down that aisle and people are happy. Gardeners are nice people.”

The Horse-Mad Hatter of Harwich

Michael McLaughlin & Tom Steinmann When you step into Sally Faith Steinmann’s studio, you know instantly that an artist is at work. Poster decorated walls, depicting everything from landscape paintings to Bob Dylan, lead you through a second-story Harwich apartment. The entire studio is shelved with stacks of multi-colored fabric. Amidst the organized chaos are . . . hats. Hats, glorious hats, in all shapes, styles, and sizes.

From the corner, Billie Holiday’s voice crackles out of a stereo. Sunshine flows in. Sally fits in perfectly with the room, which seems to reverberate with creative energy. The artist behind Maggie Mae Designs Custom Millinery®, Sally has long had a passion for the rare art of hat making. “I have found my inspiration over a lifetime,” she says. As a child, she fashioned tiny hats for her stuffed animals. After graduating from Wellesley College with degrees in women’s studies and psychology, Sally yearned for creative inspiration. That year, on a whim her mother presented her with a large yarn hat that she shrank in the washing machine with the idea of creating a smaller felt hat. Sally was intrigued, thinking, “This is a hat that needs something to make it sparkle, something to make it special.” She did just that, made a few more, and in 1998, began to sell designs to Chatham’s The Artful Hand Gallery. When she saw how popular the hats were, she realized that she had found her calling.

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The Coordinates of Bygone Days

W.B. Nickerson Cape Cod History Archives & Cape Cod Community College

“Maps are artifacts of their time, and, as such, they are windows, not only on the world of the past that they represent, but on the worldview or the mind of the time that produced them.”—Robert Finch, The 1858 Map of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, & Nantucket

Robert Finch’s commentary, “Two Windows,” which appears in The 1858 Map of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, & Nantucket, tells us about the two views the map presents. One is “a wide-angle or macroview of its time,” he writes, while the other is a closer look at the people who lived then, including their individual stories. The broader view gives us town borders and bodies of water, village centers and back roads. The deeper, more penetrating look reveals, for example, that many of the listed heads of household in Truro Village—no fewer than 17—begin with “Mrs.”, which denotes a widow. “The explanation lies in the tragic gale of October 3, 1841,” Finch writes in his commentary, “in which the lives of fifty-seven Truro men were lost at sea.” Read more…

Among the Dunes

Luke Simpson

The invitation was unexpected and intriguing: Did I want to spend the night in a dune shack just yards away from the Atlantic in Provincetown?

For those unversed in Cape Cod lore, the dune shacks are the bare-bones dwellings that run along a two-mile stretch of dune ridges and valleys between Race Point in Provincetown and High Head in North Truro. The earliest shacks housed sailors who shipwrecked during the 19th century on the treacherous Peaked Hill Bars just off the beach. Others were constructed to provide a getaway from nearby bustling Provincetown center. Today, 19 rough-hewn shacks remain, and like the rest of the Provincetown community, they are steeped in history, culture, stories, and legend. Read more…

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