26 Alden Street

26 Alden Street, from the north. [2008, Dunlap]


Grace Gouveia Condominium | Former Grace Gouveia Town Building | Former Cape End Manor | Former Town Infirmary, Town Home, and Almshouse. The name of this nine-unit condo, where unit prices have approached $1 million in recent years, pays tribute to a beloved social activist who was instrumental in the creation of the senior center that used to occupy the building. That center followed the municipal nursing home that occupied the structure for a quarter century after its use for 86 years as the town’s poor house.

In a place whose economy turned on the luck of the fishery, poverty was often no farther away than one capsized boat or a couple of empty nets. By 1870, there were so many destitute people that the Overseers of the Poor constructed a two-and-a-half-story, 70-foot-long Almshouse to shelter them, at the cost of $6,526.91, roughly $140,000 today. (It has been expanded and rebuilt several times since.)

Narrative continues after photo gallery

26 Alden Street in 1915, when it was called the Town Home, a euphemism for “poor house.” [Scrapbooks of Althea Boxell 3:71 / Provincetown History Preservation Project 875]


As the Grace Gouveia Town Building. [2012, Dunlap]


As the Grace Gouveia Condominium [2016, Dunlap]


As the Grace Gouveia Town Building. [2012, Dunlap]


As the Grace Gouveia Condominium [2016, Dunlap]


As the Grace Gouveia Town Building. [2012, Dunlap]


As the Grace Gouveia Condominium [2016, Dunlap]


Left: Alice L. Reis, administrator of the Cape End Manor. [Salvador R. Vasques III / My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection] | Right: Grace Gouveia. [Jay Critchley]


Building directory. [2012, Dunlap]


Café Gouveia was the name of the dining room. [2010, Dunlap]


Café Gouveia. [2010, Dunlap]


This quilt, created in 2010 by Gladys Johnstone and Katherine Kacergis for the Council on Aging, hung in Café Gouveia. [2010, Dunlap]


The awards were for the Council on Aging’s floats in the Fourth of July parades over the years. [2010, Dunlap]


Corridor of the Senior Center at 26 Alden Street. [2010, Dunlap]


The attic was used to store artifacts from the Provincetown Heritage Museum. [2010, Dunlap]


The wax librarian from the “1873 Library” diorama was in the attic, along with chairs by Peter Hunt. [2010, Dunlap]


“The want of more suitable accommodations for the Poor … has been supplied the past year, in the erection by the town of a large and substantial building for an Almshouse,” the Overseers reported in 1871, “thus affording ample accommodations for the present and future of the town in that direction.”

Built for 12 residents, the Almshouse sheltered 10 as 1870 came to an end: Joseph Ghen, 46 years old; Lucy Hill, 55; Rebecca Hill, 24; Zilla Howe, 41; George F. Newcomb, 41; Lorena Newcomb, 80; Lydia Nickerson, 63; Thomas Smith, 35; Michael Whelding, 82; and George Whorf, 33. (And, yes, the identity of Almshouse residents was a matter of public record at the time.)

One could not seek to be housed there and simply get in, as was made plain by the Overseers in a letter to Anthony E. Mayo dated 3 September 1888: “Your father (Solomon Mayo) has applied to this Board for leave to enter the Almshouse to be supported by the Town of Provincetown. He says he is treated poorly at home and has nothing to eat. Under the law should we take him, you are responsible for the aid furnished him. We write you before taking any action in the matter to get your views in the case.”

“Your father (Solomon Mayo) has applied to this Board for leave to enter the Almshouse …. He says he is treated poorly at home and has nothing to eat.”

The name “Almshouse” fell out of fashion in the 20th century, when the facility was commonly referred to either as the Town Home or — somewhat misleadingly — the Town Infirmary. Martha Edna (O’Neil) Tasha (1884-1959) was appointed matron of the infirmary by the Overseers in 1928 and remained in that position until May 1955, just before it closed. The “Overseers of the Poor” became the Public Welfare Department in 1938. Perhaps the longest-term resident of the Town Infirmary was a “feeble-minded” woman who entered in 1913 and was still housed there in 1954, when she was 66.

Calls to close the Town Infirmary were coming from welfare officials themselves by the mid-1950s. Irving S. Rogers made his case in the 1955 Town Report:

“As Agent Administering the Town Infirmary I strongly recommend that it be abandoned as a Town Home (Poor House). The name Town Infirmary is erroneous as we do not have facilities or provisions to take care of any ill persons. Inmates who become ill and require any amount of care and treatment must be immediately transferred to a hospital or nursing home. As long as the facility is operated by the Town in its present capacity and status, it will continue to be more costly each year. The average of four inmates would be both financially and mentally much better off under a categorical assistance program for which they are qualified and eligible. They would be allowed to live in apartments of their own and all of their needs would be met on a as needed basis.

“If the Infirmary is not, or cannot be, converted into a modern nursing home, I advise that its use be abandoned as a poor house, which is unnecessary and not needed under the broadened provisions of today’s public assistance laws.”

“I advise that its use be abandoned as a poor house, which is unnecessary and not needed under the broadened provision’s of today’s public assistance laws.”

A year later, the old Almshouse closed and the new Cape End Manor, a municipally-run nursing home for 22 people, opened in its place, at a cost of $33,491.38 (about $345,000 today). One of its chief attractions, Town Manager James V. Coyne Jr. said, was that it would house “many Provincetown residents who had previously been a considerable distance from home in order to get the care their condition required.”

Mary Enos was the first resident to arrive, on Monday, 27 August 1956. She had been in a nursing home across Cape Cod Bay, in Barnstable. Only minutes later, Jennie Green and Mary Goulart arrived by ambulance from the Green Pastures Nursing Home in Middleborough, about 90 miles away.

“In the following days patients continued to arrive by ambulance and private cars until on October 10th 22 patients had been ad­mitted thus reaching peak capacity,” Coyne and Rogers wrote in the 1956 Town Report. “At the present time there are 21 patients in the home. Seventeen females and four males. Three of our patients are Truro residents and 18 are Province­town residents. Their ages range from 46 to 96, with the majority being in the 70 year old or over group. …

“At the Manor there is a decided atmosphere of friendliness and happi­ness in being home with relatives, friends and neighbors. The patients have gained weight and their appearance and spirits improved tremen­dously because of the personal attention of a thoroughly trained staff. Unfortunately we did have two deaths during December but both cases were 95 years old and were previously patients at other homes.

“Larger and more costly items such as desk, examining table, walkers, wheel chairs, etc., were for the most part donated by individuals.”

“All basic equipment such as wash basins, emesis basins [for vomit], medicine and water glasses, bed-pans, blankets, spreads, sterilizers, urinals, enema outfits, hot water bottles and a narcotics safe, were purchased at the outset. Larger and more costly items such as desk, examining table, walkers, wheel chairs, etc., were for the most part donated by individuals.”

More than any physical asset, however, the Cape End Manor possessed — from Day 1 — the indefatigable person of Alice Leonora (Metrick) Reis (1917-2009), a native of Chelsea who graduated in 1939 from the Massachusetts General Hospital School of Nursing. Among her patients at Mass General was one Augustus S. “Gus” Reis (1914-1968), from Provincetown. They married and eventually settled here. Reis joined the staff of the new Cape End Manor in August 1956, working under the supervising nurse, Elsie Mae Witherstine (1893-1984), who was married to the artist Donald Frederick Witherstine (1895-1961).

The Advocate approved thoroughly. “Here we are putting our elderly people into a fine home in their own home town where not a few of them can mingle with those they have grown up with and worked with, their aches, pains and troubles, real or imaginary, ministered to by a thoroughly trained and competent staff,” an editorial said on 11 October 1956. “Here they can hear the bells of their churches, breathe the air upon which they have been nurtured and know they are at home with their folks and friends just a few steps away.”

“Here they can hear the bells of their churches, breathe the air upon which they have been nurtured and know they are at home with their folks and friends just a few steps away.”

In April 1959, after Witherstine resigned, Reis took over as head nurse. She then became administrator of the manor, while keeping her role as the supervisor of nurses. She held both posts until the completion of a new Cape End Manor at 100 Alden Street. The building was officially turned over to Reis and Town Manager William McNulty on 2 January 1981. She retired the next year.

A third life was all but guaranteed for 26 Alden Street, given the great demand for space in public buildings. Two of the top contenders for tenancy were the Recreation Department and the Council on Aging, which had lost their home on 22 June 1979 when fire tore through the Community Center at 44-46 Bradford Street (now the Commons).

The council dated to 1972, emerging from the Senior Citizens Group run by Graciette Leocadia “Grace” (Gouveia) Collinson (1909-1998), best known in town simply as Grace Gouveia. She was beloved of generations of Provincetown residents as their fifth- and sixth-grade teacher in the Governor Bradford School, forerunner of the Community Center on Bradford Street. She had arrived in town as a seven-year-old immigrant from Olhão, Portugal. After graduating from Provincetown High School, Gouveia attended the American International College in Springfield, which had been founded specifically to educate immigrants, and then Mount Holyoke College, one of the Seven Sisters, in South Hadley.

Gouveia taught grade schoolers in Provincetown until 1961, when she moved to New York City, where she served as a social worker and teacher in Spanish Harlem. That was a followed by a stint in Appalachia with the Volunteers in Service to America, the domestic version of the Peace Corps. “By the 1970s, she was back in Provincetown and very much a presence,” Marilyn Miller wrote in the obituary of Gouveia that appeared in The Advocate of 7 January 1999. “She served on many boards and committees in town.”

One of these was the Council on Aging, which Gouveia directed in the late 1970s. The council’s Senior Citizen Center, displaced by the 1979 fire, operated temporarily out of both the Provincetown United Methodist Church, 20 Shank Painter Road, and the Episcopal Church of St. Mary of the Harbor, 513-519 Commercial Street. It moved to 26 Alden Street on 4 December 1981, by which time Ann E. Dowling was the director.

“They can’t do that! I’m not dead yet, and you can’t name a building for someone if they aren’t dead.”

Two years later, at the Special Town Meeting of 24 October 1983, the building was renamed the “Grace Gouveia Town Building,” on a motion of Mary-Jo Avellar, then the chair of the Select Board. Rachel White, a longtime friend, told Miller: “I remember how she called me and said, ‘They can’t do that! I’m not dead yet, and you can’t name a building for someone if they aren’t dead.’ But she was pleased all the same, pleased that she had received the recognition.” In fact, she was to live another 16 years — though badly debilitated by a series of strokes — in the Cape End Manor just down the street.

The Council on Aging occupied most of the first floor of the Grace Gouveia Town Building, with its dining room, treatment room, educational and leisure center, library, and offices. Sharing the rest of the building in the early 21st century were the Town Nurse and Human Services Department, on the first floor; the Public Works Department, Water Department, and Cemetery Department, on the second floor; and, in the attic, the artifact collection from the Provincetown Heritage Museum, which once occupied what is now the Provincetown Public Library.

The Almshouse was to have yet another life. Groundwork for Act IV was laid in the Special Town Meeting of 4 April 2011 when voters approved the sale of the Grace Gouveia Town Building. Two years later, the Council on Aging moved to the Veterans Memorial Community Center, 2 Mayflower Street, newly created out of the former Veterans Memorial Elementary School. In 2015, the Grace Gouveia parcel was sold for $710,000 to 26 Alden L.L.C., managed by David L. Goldman and Dennis R. Kanin.

Under the terms of the sale, three of the nine residential condominium units were to be “rented in perpetuity to households earning no more than 80 percent” of the area median income. The Provincetown Housing Authority purchased the three affordable rental units from the developer in 2016 for $30,000; or $10,000 a unit.

The highest price commanded by a privately owned unit in the former Almshouse at the time this was written — $940,000 — was paid in June 2017 by an L.L.C. based in Naples, Fla. Owners of the other condos are from Provincetown (two); Needham Heights; Manhattan; and North Palm Beach, Fla.


From the Pilgrim Monument. [2012, Dunlap]


26 Alden Street. [2012, Dunlap]


View of 26 Alden Street, at center left, from Cemetery Road. [2012, Dunlap]


David L. Mayo wrote on 2 February 2010: My mother, Margaret Mayo, was at the Monument/Museum for 25 years and retired in her mid-80s. Going through her papers, I found this information about 26 Alden: During an epidemic of smallpox in 1801 a private dwelling surrounded by a high board fence was set aside as a hospital. In 1806 it was converted into a poor house and was used for that purpose until the erection of a new building on Alden Street in 1870. It was later used as an infirmary and in August 1956 it was opened as the Cape End Manor.


26 Alden Street on the Town Map, showing property lines.


In memoriam

• Graciette Leocadia “Grace” (Gouveia) Collinson (1909-1998)

Find a Grave Memorial No. 113977025.

• Martha Edna (O’Neil) Tasha (1884-1959)

Find a Grave Memorial No. 156750744.

• Elsie Mae Witherstine (1893-1984)

Find a Grave Memorial No. 171183009.


¶ Last updated on 1 December 2021.


What would you like to add to this article?