The United States Census Bureau provides additional demographic detail for the more densely populated central village area within the town. Those details are included in the aggregate population and area values reported here. See: Provincetown (CDP), Massachusetts.
The area was originally settled by the Nauset tribe, who had a settlement known as Meeshawn. Provincetown was incorporated by English settlers in 1727 after harboring ships for more than a century. Bartholomew Gosnold named Cape Cod in Provincetown Harbor in 1602. In 1620, the Pilgrims signed the Mayflower Compact when they arrived at the harbor. They agreed to settle and build a self-governing community, and then came ashore in the West End. Though the Pilgrims chose to settle across the bay in Plymouth, Provincetown enjoyed an early reputation for its fishing grounds. The "Province Lands" were first formally recognized by the union of Plymouth colony and Massachusetts Bay colony in 1692, and its first municipal government was established in 1714. The population of Provincetown remained small through most of the 18th century.
Following the American Revolution, however, Provincetown grew rapidly as a fishing and whaling center. The population was bolstered by a number of Portuguese sailors who, hired to work on US ships, came to live in Provincetown. By the 1890s, Provincetown was booming, and began to develop a resident population of writers and artists, as well as a summer tourist industry. After the 1898 Portland Gale severely damaged the town's fishing industry, members of the town's art community took over many of the abandoned buildings. By the early decades of the 20th century, the town had acquired an international reputation for its artistic and literary output. The Provincetown Players was an important experimental theater company formed during this period. It was an example of intellectual and artistic connections to Greenwich Village in New York that began then.
In the mid-1960s, Provincetown saw population growth. The town's rural character appealed to the hippies of the era; furthermore, property was relatively cheap and rents were correspondingly low, especially during the winter. Many of those who came stayed and raised families. Commercial Street gained numerous cafes, leather shops, head shops — various hip small businesses blossomed and many flourished.
In the mid-1970s members of the gay community began moving to Provincetown. In 1978 the Provincetown Business Guild (PBG) was formed to promote gay tourism. Today more than 200 businesses belong to the PBG and Provincetown is perhaps the best-known gay summer resort on the East Coast.
Since the 1990s, property prices have risen significantly, with numerous condo conversions causing some residents economic hardship. The recent housing bust (starting in 2005) has so far caused property values in and around town to fall by 10 percent or more in less than a year. This has not slowed down the town's economy, however. Provincetown's tourist season has expanded to the point where the town has created festivals and weeklong events throughout the year. The most established are in the summer: the Portuguese Festival and PBG's Carnival Week.
Other notable festivals during the year include the Christmas-themed "Holly Folly", "Bear Week", "Mate's Leather Weekend", "Women's Week", "Family Week", "Single Men's Weekend", "Provincetown Film Festival" and the "Provincetown Jazz Festival." In October, Provincetown sees the arrival of transvestite, transgender and transsexual people for the annual Fantasia Fair Started in 1975, it is the longest running event of its kind in the USA.
Provincetown is also home to three contemporary resident theater companies: The New Provincetown Players, Shakespeare on the Cape (SOTC), and the Gold Dust Orphans. Shakespeare on the Cape is a relatively new company formed by graduates of the Guthrie Theater/University of Minnesota BFA Actor Training Program. In 2005, SOTC performed Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Schoolhouse, owned by WOMR, 92.1 FM Outermost Community Radio. In 2006, SOTC performed Romeo & Juliet and As You Like It at the Art House in downtown. SOTC performed a world-premier Tennessee Williams' one-act play, The Parade or Approaching The End of A Summer on October 1st, 2006 at the Art House as part of the 1st Annual Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival. Original company members were Eric Powell Holm, Elliot Yingling Eustis, Raphael Richter, Tessa Bry, Ben Griessmeyer, and Vanessa Caye Wasche.
The Gold Dust Orphans have been performing in Provincetown and Boston for 10 years. Notable summer productions have included: The Gulls, Scarrie, The Septic Wives, Golden Squirrels, Cinderella Rocks! and Cleopatra. Current and past company members include Penny Champayne, Olive Another, Afrodite aka Andre Shoals, Windsor Newton, P.J. McWhiskers, David Hanbury, Adam Berry, Megan Ludlow, Ariana Schulman, Mark Meehan, Gene Dante, Billy Hough, Larry Coen, Cheryl Singleton and many others.
In 2003, Provincetown received a $1.95 million low interest loan from the Rural Development program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help rebuild the town's MacMillan Pier. It primarily serves tourists and high-speed ferries that charge their passengers up to $45 per one-way trip. Between 2004 and 2007, the Provincetown Art Association and Museum received four Rural Development grants and loans totalling $3 million to increase the museum's space, add climate-controlled facilities, renovate a historic sea captain's house (the Hargood House) and cover cost overruns. As the mission of the Rural Development program is "To increase economic opportunity and improve the quality of life for all rural Americans", the USDA considered Provincetown's residents in the 2000s to still be rural and to still require such federal assistance.
Provincetown is located at the tip of Cape Cod. The town's total area is 17.5 sq mi (45.2 km²), 9.7 sq mi (25.0 km²) of it being land and 7.8 sq mi (20.2 km²) of it water. The town is bordered by the town of Truro to the east, Provincetown Harbor to the southeast, Cape Cod Bay to the south and west, and Massachusetts Bay to the north. The town is north (by road) from Barnstable, by road to the Sagamore Bridge, and from Boston via roadway.
Nearly two-thirds of the town's land area is covered by the Cape Cod National Seashore. To the north lie the "Province Lands," the area of dunes and small ponds extending from Mount Ararat in the east to Race Point in the west, along the Massachusetts Bay shore. The Cape Cod Bay shoreline extends from Race Point to the far west to the Wood End in the south, eastward to Long Point, which points inward towards the Cape, and providing a natural barrier for Provincetown Harbor. All three points are marked by lighthouses. The town's population center extends along the harbor, south of the Seashore's lands.
Provincetown is the eastern terminus of U.S. Route 6, both in the state and in the nation. Although the terminus is directed east officially, geographically speaking, the road, having curved around Cape Cod, is facing west-southwest at the point, and is marked only by its junction with Route 6A. The state-controlled portion ends with a "STATE HIGHWAY ENDS" sign as the road enters the Cape Cod National Seashore, after which the road is under federal maintenance. Route 6A passes through the town as well, mostly following Bradford Street (whereas US 6 originally followed Commercial Street before the bypass was built and Commercial Street was switched to one-way westbound), and ending just south of the Herring Cove Beach.
Provincetown is served by seasonal ferries to Boston and to Plymouth that charge their passengers up to $44 for a one-way trip, up to $70 for a round-trip ticket. Both dock at MacMillan Pier, located just east of the Town Hall. The town has no rail service (the town's only railway having been abandoned by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad in the early 1960s), but is the home of Provincetown Municipal Airport, located just east of Race Point.
The Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority offers flex route buses between MacMillan Pier and Harwich and a shuttle to Truro. Provincetown is also served by Mercedes Cab & Livery taxis and Ptown Pedicabs.
The airport is mostly for private and occasional commuter service (currently, summer 2007, there are several flights daily to and from Boston Logan airport). It is a well-equipped if small general-aviation airport with a single runway, an ILS approach, and full lighting. The nearest national and international service is from Logan International Airport in Boston.
There were 1,837 households out of which 9.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 17.7% were married couples living together, 5.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 74.7% were non-families. 53.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.69 and the average family size was 2.65.
In the town the population was spread out with 8.0% under the age of 18, 5.2% from 18 to 24, 36.1% from 25 to 44, 32.9% from 45 to 64, and 17.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 45 years. For every 100 females there were 115.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 116.2 males.
The median income for a year-round household in the town was $32,716, and the median income for a family was $39,679. Males had a median income of $30,556 versus $25,298 for females. The per capita income for the town was $26,109. About 8.5% of families and 16.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 22.7% of those under age 18 and 17.0% of those age 65 or over.
Provincetown's zip code has the highest concentration of same-sex couple households of any zip code in the United States.
And economic statistics based on federal census figures may be deceptive. For example, the census counts 3,890 housing units in Provincetown, but only 1,837 "households." And there is an apparent disparity between the census figures for median household income ($32,716) and median home value ($323,600).
Part-time residents are not counted in the census. These people may own a second home in the town or pay rent for up to six months each year. Many of them pay property and other taxes, hold jobs in the community and even own businesses.
Provincetown is represented in the Massachusetts House of Representatives as a part of the Fourth Barnstable district, which includes (with the exception of Brewster) all the towns east and north of Harwich on the Cape. The seat is held by Democrat Sarah Peake, a former Provincetown selectman. The town is represented in the Massachusetts Senate as a part of the Cape and Islands District, which includes all of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket except the towns of Bourne, Falmouth, Sandwich and a portion of Barnstable. The Senate seat is held by Democrat Robert A. O'Leary. Provincetown is patrolled by the Second (Yarmouth) Barracks of Troop D of the Massachusetts State Police.
On the national level, Provincetown is a part of Massachusetts's 10th congressional district, and is currently represented by Bill Delahunt. The state's senior (Class I) member of the United States Senate, re-elected in 2006, is Ted Kennedy. The junior (Class II) Senator, up for re-election in 2008, is John Kerry.
Provincetown is governed by the open town meeting form of government, and is led by a town manager and a board of selectmen. The town has its own police and fire departments, both of which are stationed on Shankpainter Road. The town's post office is located along Commercial Street, near the town's Fourth Wharf. The town's Provincetown Public Library is also located along Commercial Street, in the former Center Methodist Episcopal Church building since 2005.