Provincetown History Snippets: When Did Smallpox Hit Provincetown?
In 1848, when smallpox was still a powerful and frightening disease, a small treatment building called the pestilence house—known as the Pest House—was built a few hundred yards north of present day Route 6, meant to keep those infected safely away from the rest of the town. Shortly thereafter a vaccination for smallpox was developed. By 1873 Dr. Horatio G. Newton, a consultant to the Provincetown Board of Health, felt the disease was eradicated in the town due to stricter isolation and vaccination rules.
Unfortunately in the time in between many people in Provincetown died during outbreaks. From 1855 to 1873, fourteen people died of smallpox at the Pest House, and each was buried with a numbered stone rather than a name. The Pest House was removed in 1873, though a large hole remains at the head of the graves.
You can still see the cemetery, though it is overgrown, largely forgotten, the majority of the stones damaged. Only four of them currently remain in good condition, though we will never know what names corresponded to those numbers.
Click here to check out all of our Provincetown History Snippets!