Splendid 1882 bird’s-eye view of Provincetown Massachusetts

A.F. Poole Del. / Beck & Pauli Lith., BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF THE TOWN OF PROVINCETOWN, BARNSTABLE COUNTY, MASS. 1882. Madison, Wisconsin: J.J. Stoner, 1882.
Two-stone lithograph, printed area 17”h x 38 ½”w at its greatest extent plus good margins.

A large, detailed and dramatic 1882 bird’s-eye view of Provincetown, at the far end of Cape Cod.

This view by Albert F. Poole depicts Provincetown as seen from the direction of Long Point, looking northwest across the harbor, with the wharves in the middle ground and the town just behind. Provincetown’s distinctive settlement pattern is evident, with development extending east and west along the waterfront rather than inland. Behind it the dunes of the Outer Cape stretch into the distance, with the Atlantic Ocean in the far background.

When this view was published Provincetown was in the midst of an economic boom, catalyzed by the completion of the Old Colony Railroad in 1873 (This was made possible by the diking of East Harbor to create the first viable land route, before which Provincetown was functionally an island accessible only by a long walk along the Atlantic-side beach.) Indeed, many features of the view suggest the town was thriving at the time: the six pictorial vignettes depicting its fine churches and public buildings, including two built in the past few years; the dozens of sail and steam vessels plying the harbor and the Atlantic; and the numerous hotels, businesses and other landmarks listed in the legend at the base.

19th-century bird’s-eye views of American towns were often underwritten by businesses and individuals eager for their premises to be highlighted. In the case of Poole’s view of Provincetown the wharf of the Old Colony Railroad is positioned exactly in the center of the image, a strong indication that that firm played a part in financing the production.

Albert Poole (1853-1934) was a gifted artist born in Brockton, Mass. and was responsible for at least 46 town views published between 1880 and 1905. Reps praises his work: “Poole… had a distinctive and original style…. [He] was a professional illustrator, and he obviously drew with ease and confidence. He used attractively designed titles, decorative borders, and vignettes to enhance the character of his prints.” (Reps, p. 199-200)

Reps, Views and Viewmakers, #1607 (Boston Public and State Street Bank & Trust only). OCLC #898187758 (as of November 2017, Boston Athenaeum only).