33R Berry Lane

Foss Woods is recognizable in early spring because of its heavy concentration of pine trees; a swath of deep green against the dun-colored landscape. The roadway at the center of the photo is Berry Lane. [2010, Dunlap]

Foss Woods, described by the Provincetown Conservation Trust as the “second largest undeveloped upland parcel in town,” pokes a small neck out to meet the Berry Lane rotary, between Nos. 28 and 33. This is not a public access point to the 14.87-acre woods — those are off Snail Road and Mount Gilboa Road. In fact, the number 33R is my own invention. It’s not so designated on the Town Map.

Though Foss Woods carries the official address 784 Commercial Street, a small neck extends to the Berry Lane rotary. The undeveloped property at No. 33 still belongs to the Foss family.

Foss Woods seen from the north. The prominent house with the gabled roof that seems to rise out of the woods is 28 Berry Lane. [2010, Dunlap]

But it’s a useful place to introduce Foss Woods, especially since the abutting undeveloped private parcel at 33 Berry Lane is still owned by members of the Foss family. The Fosses have played an important part in the life of the town’s eastern outskirts for more than a century. The first generation was led by Eliphalet J. Foss (1840-1922) and Louise Sanbourn (Woodworth) Foss (1841-1891), who started acquiring property in Provincetown in 1898. (Digressive comment: folks don’t name their boys Eliphalet any longer, do they?)

Their son, Paul Maurice Foss (1884-1971), was the family’s big mover and shaker in Provincetown. He attended Boston University as an undergraduate and as a law student. He and Vincent P. Clarke formed the law firm of Foss & Clarke in Boston, at 27 State Street. Foss worked there more than 50 years, retiring in 1962. Meanwhile, he was buying and selling large tracts of land in Provincetown, where he and his wife, Bertha Dean Foss (1891-1976), had honeymooned. At one time, their holdings encompassed 137 acres.

By the late 1940s, Town officials were looking somewhat hungrily at the acres of wooded property owned by Foss and others as the site of possible housing, industrial, or recreational development. One of the earliest motels, the Breakwater at 716 Commercial was built on a chunk of the Foss property in 1953. By 1961, Foss’s holdings were estimated by the assessor to encompass 18.1 acres.

The Fosses had three children: Paul Birney Foss (1916-1993), who became an architect; Ernest Dean Foss (1923-1999); and Elizabeth Dean Foss (1919-2002). She attended Tufts University. In 1948, she married the Rev. David Harris Cole, a Tufts alumnus and a prominent Unitarian Universalist minister, with whom she had two children: Stephen J. Cole and Victoria Foss (Cole) Staples. After the marriage with Cole ended, Foss and her children lived on the Cape, leading the Advocate to note in 1961 that Stephen and Veronica were “the fourth generation to call Provincetown ‘home,’ but will be the first to live here year-round and attend Provincetown schools.”

Elizabeth Foss was remarried, to William Turner Mayo, and was known at the time of her death as Elizabeth Foss-Mayo. Several years before her death, she had begun taking steps with the Provincetown Conservation Trust to protect a remarkably intact and cohesive tract of oak and sassafras woodland, 14.4 acres in extent, with an additional 0.4 acre of wetland. In the April 1995 Town Meeting, voters approved the $425,000 acquisition cost of Foss Woods, contingent on the receipt of state financial assistance, which was forthcoming later that year.

Title transferred in January 1997. Foss-Mayo lived another five years and came up with the idea of a bird-feeding sanctuary to mark the entrance to Foss Woods, which Stephen Cole constructed. A plaque on the structure says: “Enjoyed and appreciated by five generations of Foss young and old, these unique and very special acres are to be preserved for all generations to come.”

It is one of perhaps no more than two places on Cape Cod where the checkered rattlesnake orchid can be found. Some of the pine trees are more than a half century old, and two feet in diameter at breast height. Denizens include the Eastern box turtle and the great horned owl. In Birding Foss Woods, Blair Nikula has declared it “one of the best sites for spring warblers, vireos, and other songbirds on Cape Cod.”

Foss Woods (784 Commercial Street) on the Town Map, showing property lines.

¶ Last updated on 9 February 2022.

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