PROVINCETOWN — The sun broke through a dense fog. The town hall clock chimed, tourists rolled suitcases down Commercial Street, and there was something new: a glass elevator glided up and down High Pole Hill.
With almost no fanfare, the funicular, or the inclined elevator as it is technically called, began to operate on Friday, April 1 after five years of planning, construction, permitting, a lawsuit, and general handwringing. It is the first major change to High Pole Hill since 1910, when the 252-foot granite Pilgrim Monument was completed to honor the first landing of the Mayflower Pilgrims, said K. David Weidner, executive director of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum (PMPM), which owns and operates the elevator.
The so-called Bradford Access Project is “the continuation of the story to connect the grand Pilgrim Monument with the rest of Provincetown as it was envisioned in 1907,” Weidner said.
For many residents, however, the idea of a glass contraption pulled up an 85-foot hill seems as bizarrely out of place as the monument itself. Paul Teixeira, who owns an abutting property at 116 Bradford St., sued the PMPM over the project. He complained about the traffic and noise the elevator would bring to his condominium, and he questioned the hill’s ability to support a 50-ton funicular system. The lawsuit was settled out of court; the terms were not made public.
The elevator was originally scheduled for completion in 2020 in time for the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower in Provincetown. The fact that the funicular was not ready became insignificant in light of the Covid-19 pandemic that shut down nearly everything that year.
The original price tag of $2.2 million more than doubled, first to $4.5 million and then $5 million because of permitting, regulatory work, and more engineering than was expected, Weidner told the Independent in 2020.
Through it all, the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association, the oldest nonprofit on Cape Cod and owner of the PMPM, carried on with its plans.
“I became director in January of 2017, and with a new board president, Courtney Hurst, we pushed this idea and made it happen,” said Weidner, adding that many other partners helped, including the Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod, which provided financing.
This inclined elevator is one of just two in Massachusetts; there are only a few dozen in the U.S.
“It is beyond my imagination,” said Jenny Humphreys, who accidentally came upon the opening day scene at the Bas Relief Park on Bradford Street and got a ride — free trips were offered on opening day. “It makes me feel like a little kid.”
Now, for a $20 ticket, you can push a button to call the glass elevator. Going up is a surreal experience. Provincetown’s buildings become little Monopoly board pieces as Cape Cod Bay fans out before your eyes. The $20 also gives you all-day access to the monument and museum.
Mike Andrews, a Provincetown native and 1969 Provincetown High School graduate, was the first to use the ADA-compliant parking space at the base of the monument. His personal attendant, John O’Buck, rolled his wheelchair over the newly constructed pathway at the monument’s base and into the elevator.
“Whee, whee, whee,” Andrews said after a ride up and down. “It is hard to believe.”
A former fishing boat captain, Andrews uses a wheelchair because of Machado-Joseph disease, a progressive disorder that disproportionately affects those of Portuguese descent. He had been to the top of High Pole Hill about a year ago, he said, but then there was no way for him to get to the edge of the hill to see the view.
Now, he said, riding the inclined elevator will be among a very short list of activities he can do, along with riding to Herring Cove Beach on trips from his Eastham home to Provincetown.
“We will be back,” O’Buck said.
The elevator is open the same hours as the monument, that is, every day except Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.