“Ptown Souvenir” wall, by Jürek Zamoyski, at 16 Aunt Sukey’s Way. [2010, Dunlap]
The artfully coursed stone wall at No. 16 was the work of the Polish artist Jürek Zamoyski (a/k/a Jerzy Berowski), who owned this property with his wife, Kathy C. Berowski, from 1984 to 2000. The house was constructed in 1981.
Though the houses on Aunt Sukey’s Way generally date to the 1980s, the subdivision of which they are part was begun in the 1950s by the developer Robert Elisha Collinson (1920-1978). He assembled parcels in and around what was long ago intended to have been the enormous Provincetown Heights neighborhood, stretching from Bradford Street across the Old Colony Railroad tracks and into what is now the Cape Cod National Seashore.
The Provincetown Heights project sites were owned by the Cape Cod Land Company, whose most prominent partner was Maj. Sylvanus Bourne Phinney (1808-1899) of Barnstable. Provincetown Heights would have created nearly 30 new streets. Aunt Sukey’s Way was one of them, though it was platted as “Central Avenue.” Running roughly northwest-by-north, it picked up where Pearl Street left off, just south of the railroad tracks (now Harry Kemp Way). After crossing the Old Colony right-of-way at grade, Central Avenue would have formed a T-shaped intersection with “Carver Avenue” (now Old Colony Way), before petering out after passing in front of five house lots on either side.
Provincetown Heights, however, was doomed at birth. That’s because the year it was mapped — 1873 — was the year of a worldwide financial panic, followed by a depression that lasted in America until 1879. Major Phinney died in 1899. Sixty years later, his great-grandsons Elliot H. Knowlton and Warren P. Knowlton were the last living heirs to the Provincetown Heights acreage. At that time, they sold three large parcels to Collinson.
Robert Collinson was born in South Truro. Through his mother, Ethel Franklin (Cobb) Collinson, he was descended from William Brewster, a Mayflower passenger who served as the spiritual leader of Plymouth Colony. His father was Claude Merrilliam Collinson. Young Robert grew up in the home of his grand aunt, Julia Rich, at 8 Johnson Street. During World War II, he was a chief machinist’s mate in the Navy. He married Graciette Leocadia “Grace” Gouveia — namesake of the Grace Gouveia Condominium at 26 Alden Street — in 1951. She retained his surname for official purposes, though they had divorced by the early 1960s.
On the northeastern Provincetown Heights parcel, at what is now designated 386 Route 6, Collinson established the Dunes’ Edge Campground in 1960. That is almost surely the project for which he is best remembered today. In 1972, he married Miriam Martin of 23 Conant Street.
The lots shown in pink composed Robert E. Collinson’s subdivision of the old Provincetown Heights project, proposed in 1974.
Collinson mapped out a 17-lot subdivision along Aunt Sukey’s Way and Old Colony Way (or Road) in 1973. By this time, the “Aunt Sukey’s” name had been in use at least 58 years. (The earliest reference I’ve found so far comes from the Yarmouth Register of 10 April 1915, which describes a license granted to Texaco to build oil tanks “near Aunt Sukey’s road.”) I still do not know who Sukey was; only that the name — a diminutive form of Susan — seems to have been in regular use in the 1800s. More than a dozen Sukeys are buried in Barnstable County.
Rules and regulations for the nameless subdivision were promulgated by Collinson in 1974 in the form of protective covenants running with the land until 1999. “The developer is desirous of creating an attractive residential community,” a preamble to the covenants explained, “encouraging harmonious and pleasing homes, assuring a high quality of community appearance; preserving and protecting the actual character of the land, conserving the trees, shrubbery, and other natural features for the benefit of all property owners; preventing nuisances, to maintain the desired tone of the community.” Among other things, that meant that “[a]ll buildings shall be of Cape Cod or modified Cape Cod, traditional, New England-type design.”
Collinson faced a good deal of trouble, however, in registering and confirming his title to the property he was attempting to market. His chief opponent was Elliot Knowlton, one of Major Phinney’s great-grandsons, who alleged in Massachusetts Land Court that Collinson had obtained the Provincetown Heights properties “by fraudulent means, with undue influence, and in collusion” with Knowlton’s lawyer, and moreover that the amount Collinson paid for the properties was “inadequate.”
Chief Justice William I. Randall found in favor of Collinson — posthumously — on 22 May 1979. The judge ruled that Elliot and Warren Knowlton had been given a fair price and were not subject to undue influence nor victimized by their lawyer. Justice Randall also dismissed the allegation that Collinson acquired more property than the Knowltons had intended to sell. “Since the sale occurred nearly 20 years ago,” he wrote, “we find it extremely unlikely that if the Knowltons sincerely believed they retained ownership to any land in Provincetown, their suspicions would not have been aroused by their failure to receive any subsequent tax bills.”
This particular parcel, Lot 15 on the Collinson plan, has been owned since 2000 by the artists and muralist Jane Winter, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. “The long history of nature on this planet, (including the evolution of life forms, continental shifts, the transformation of ocean floor into mountain range) is a subject I try to explore in all my work,” she is quoted as saying in Ewa Nogiec’s Provincetown Artist Registry. “I have to admit that I am impressed by the effect a billion years or so can have on one’s perspective.”
Jürek Zamoyski wrote on 4 January 2014: That was my home for nearly 20 years of my life in P-town. The wall was my “Ptown Souvenir” that I hope will last for a few long moments. Thank you for posting it.
16 Aunt Sukey’s Way on the Town Map, showing property lines.
¶ Last updated on 19 January 2022.