(Formerly The Centenary Church)
170 Commercial Street
Provincetown, Massachusetts 02657

Simmons & McIntire, Boston, Massachusetts, 1851
Rebuilt by Wm. A. Johnson, Westfield, Massachusetts, Opus 201, 1866

Two manuals and pedal
Mechanical Key and Stop Action
3 divisions, 27 ranks

Originally built with recessed console and 16 ranks with drawknobs and straight stepped jambs. Rebuilt with a projecting console. The Center Medthodists built a new church at the corner of Center and Ryder Streets. It was built in English Baroque style with a huge bronze bell in the bellfry. The sanctuary was on the second floor with a tracker organ. The church cost $22,000 and had a spire 162 feet high which was later removed due to storm damage. The Johnson organ was destroyed by fire in 1908. On March 4, 1908, Centenary Church spire 165' high struck by lightning at 1:55 am. Fire spread through building and at about 3:00 am the steeple fell nearly killing a dozen firemen. Buildings on both sides were spared by the firefighting efforts.

Formerly The Center Methodist Episcopal Church (100 years)
356 Commercial Street, Provincetown, Massachusetts

Rebuilt Thomas Appleton, Boston, Massachusetts, ca.1861
Two manuals and pedal
3 divisions

Recessed console with drawknobs and flat case sides. This organ was scrapped in the early 1950's when the church was converted to an art museum. This was possibly a mixture of Appleton and Simmons organs mixed up. A new 1861 neo-classic building with a projecting entrance tower and a 162' spire. The tower was partially removed in 1899 with a cost of $22,000. The church moved to a new building in c1955 on Shank Painter Road. This building was sold to Walter Chrysler in 1958 as an Art Museum and then was sold to the town in 1978 for the Provincetown Historical Association. A major building renovation was planned for 2001/02.

The church was featured in The Provincetown Banner...Architectural Treasure Restored on April 28, 2005

Laurel Guadazno

The re-use of buildings is one of the characteristics that contribute to Provincetown's unique character. Buildings here are not, for the most part, torn down and replaced with a newer style of architecture. They are restored and adapted to new uses. This and the density of the town contribute to the urban quality that appeals to those who want to walk to dinner, shopping or the library, as one would in a city. As Mary Heaton Vorse wrote, “In most places when a man builds a house he builds it and there it stands, practically unchanged, keeping the same form in which it began, and almost invariably in the same place. This is not true in Provincetown.”

The former Center Methodist Episcopal Church, located at 356 Commercial Street at the corner of Center Street, is one of the many buildings in Provincetown that has had a long and varied history of use. When the church was built in 1860 it was reputed to be the largest church of Methodist denomination anywhere in the United States. It cost $22,000 to complete and could seat 900 people in the 128 pews. The original spire, weakened during the Portland Gale, was 162 feet tall and contained a huge bronze bell cast by George Holbrook in Eastmeadow, Mass., according to a history of Provincetown Methodists done in 1995 by the 200th Anniversary Committee of the modern-day Provincetown Methodist congregation. The present steeple, when it is restored, will rise only 100 feet from the ground. Even today looking from the end of MacMillan Wharf towards town, the building is one of the most prominent on the skyline.

During the later half of the 19th century Methodism was the predominant religion in the town, and their large numbers could support a large church. In 1865 members from the west end of town even began plans to build a second larger Methodist church with a steeple one foot taller than the Center Methodist Church. Their ambition was their undoing. The steeple of the new Centenary Methodist church, on the corner of Winthrop Street, was struck by lightening and the church was completely destroyed in a spectacular fire in March of 1908. Methodism in Provincetown was in decline by this time and even though the church was rebuilt, by 1943, the two parishes once again merged as there were not enough people to support and maintain two churches.

Records from 1953 indicate that the Center Methodist Episcopal Church had a large choir, a church school open on a year-round basis attended by 120 children, an interfaith Boy Scout troop and a bowling team. In a booklet published on the 200th Anniversary of Provincetown Methodists 1795-1995, the 200th Anniversary Committee records that one of the ministers and his wife even allowed youth hostel groups to sleep in the church and parsonage. The committee continues, “By 1958, the upkeep of the large church building was becoming a problem for the members. There was much controversy about what to do. A new church, the present United Methodist church of Provincetown, was built on Shank Painter Road.”

In 1958 the Methodist congregation sold the building at 356 Commercial Street to Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., son of the founder of the Chrysler Corporation, for conversion to an art museum. Walter Chrysler ran the Chrysler Art Museum with limited success until 1970. During this period he collected many works by local artists. Discouraged when the Town of Provincetown would not help him find parking for visitors to the museum, Chrysler packed up his collection and moved to Virginia, where he opened a modern facility still operating today.

For a number of years the building stood abandoned until, in 1974, Jules Brenner and Fred Jungman, two local men, bought the building from Chrysler for $90,000 with the idea of starting a “Center for the Arts.” They built a small kitchen building on the east side of the property to use to prepare food for a café on the lawn. Many local people taught courses. Unfortunately the idea was a cultural success but a financial failure, and the building was bought back by the bank after only one year of operation.

Through the efforts of the Provincetown Historical Association and the Historic District Study Committee, the building was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. It received certification in October 1975. Subsequently in 1976, at a special town meeting, a group of citizens secured a vote to acquire the building for $135,000 and turn it into a local historical museum. The Provincetown Heritage Museum officially opened to the public on July 4, 1976. A dedicated group of volunteers set up exhibits on various aspects of the town's heritage such as the volunteer fire department, the public library, as well as a Portuguese kitchen and the maritime history of the town. There was a fine art gallery on the second floor that hosted changing exhibits. Finally a half scale model of the schooner Rose Dorothea was built and installed in the building. The Heritage Museum operated on a seasonal basis with a minimal staff and a dedicated group of volunteers through the summer of 2000.

At Town Meeting on April 2, 2001 the Provincetown Heritage Museum property was officially conveyed to the Board of Library Trustees for rehabilitation of the property as the Provincetown Public Library. After much study, the Trustees had concluded that the building could be successfully renovated and transformed into a new library for the Town. In 2002 renovations began to convert the building into the Provincetown Public Library when the Town engaged the firm of Perry Dean/Partners Architects to design the new library. The Provincetown Public Library website set forth the plans, “The interior of the building will be completely gutted, reconstructed and restored to its original design insomuch as is possible. ... Finally complying with the Massachusetts Historical Commission requirements to maintain the grand staircases and restore the vaulted ceiling in this National Historic Landmark property, the stairs will be re-railed in order to open them for use by the public, and the vaulted ceiling will be enhanced with a secondary vault to embrace and accommodate the masts of the Rose.”

At last, after many long years of work, the Provincetown Public Library will officially open to the public on April 28, 2005, and this great building that has had so many lives will begin a new phase in its history.

Evolution of Provincetown Landmark
1860 - Center Methodist Episcopal Church
1958 - Chrysler Art Museum
1974 - Center for the Arts
1976 - Heritage Museum
2005 - Public Library

(Laurel Guadazno is curator of education for the Pilgrim Monument & Provincetown Museum.)

Source: Organ Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia
           Organs of the United States and Canada Database (OUSCDB), Seattle, Washington
           The Provincetown Banner, Provincetown, Massachusetts