Very Fine Cypresses

Mary Ellen Lepionka, May 21, 2018

Early Autumn. 1906                      Willard Leroy Metcalf (1858-1925)

This is Part 5 of a six-part series on The Colonists and Indian Land. The first four parts were published in Historic Ipswich (https://historicipswich.org/).

Aside from the matter of sheer scale—impacts of Europeans on the environment rose as their population densities rose across the continent, the chief difference between them and Native Americans lay in their definitions and use of the land they occupied. Consider the forests. The earliest accounts of European explorers describe the peninsulas north and south of the Great Marsh as “forests primeval”. On the northern tip of Cape Ann, tree species included a mixture of softwoods such as black spruce, red spruce, hemlock, cedar, and fir, and hardwoods, such as white oak, rock maple, sugar maple, elm, ash, sycamore, hickories, chestnut, walnut, beeches, aspen, black birch, dogwood, and basswood (linden). Today, some of these species remain, and some have disappeared. Present-day dominant tree species include red oak, black willow, flowering shad, black cherry, and pitch pine.1 According to another source, the original forest in Essex County was a mixed deciduous forest of white pine, oak, chestnut, poplar, maple, birch, and some other hardwoods and conifers. In the early 20th century Cape Ann had second-growth oak and chestnut trees in uplands and scrub oak and pitch pine in areas with dry sandy soil.2

Today, chestnut trees and sugar maples are in decline, with the old elms long gone and native magnolias, hemlocks, and dogwoods endangered. Some American elm and white ash may still be found, and red and white oak, white cedar, red spruce, juniper, black walnut, and white pine are still here. Black oak and scarlet oak predominate in tree communities recovering in watersheds such as Dogtown, which also has red maple, gray birch, paper birch, red cedar, black gum, black cherry, sassafras, pitch pine, white pine, and beech. Most of the trees there are less than 135 years old.3

Champlain remarked on the cedars of Cape Ann, which he referred to as cypresses:

The woods are full of oaks, nut-trees, and very fine cypresses, which are of reddish colour and have a very pleasant smell….4

Budding Oak. 1906               Willard Leroy Metcalf (1858-1925)

The Atlantic forest, as a mixed deciduous-coniferous forest, thus contained an incredible diversity of species. Native Americans both exploited and maintained this diversity.

They designed, marked, and protected individual trees for specific uses, often well into the future—big oaks for dugouts, big birches for canoes, burled trees for wooden bowls, young ash and dogwood for arrow shafts, cedars for sleeping platforms and storage pits, red spruce roots for bowstrings, knotted plum tree roots for clubs, medicinal trees for the leaves or bark—such as hemlock needles or slippery elm phloem, oak bark for winter wigwam covers, and numerous trees and shrubs for berries fruits, and nuts. Many species were multipurpose. Pines, for example, provided softwood to carve for many uses, and the needles were woven into baskets or stored as fire-starting brands. Pine pitch, boiled into tar, was an essential ingredient for caulking canoes, waterproofing baskets, applying to wounds, and burning in lamps and torches.5

Cape Ann lies near the southern boundary of birchbark canoe culture and the people also made dugout canoes. According to William Wood:

[They] crosse…rivers with small cannowes, which are made of whole pine trees, being about two foot & a half over, and 20 foote long: in these likewise they goo a fowling, sometimes two leagues to sea; there be more Cannowes in this town [Salem] than in the whole Patent; every household having a water-house [water-horse, common name for a canoe] or two.6

Log Boats

It is perhaps only a matter of time before remains of a log boat will be discovered in the mud in Jones River or in the banks of Cape Pond. Log boats remained popular with colonists into the eighteenth century. They were used to ferry passengers, animals, and goods across rivers and island channels and to haul manure and salt marsh hay. Individuals even reserved certain trees for making canoes. In 1679 in Essex County, for example, Robert Cross, Jr. testified that one Samuel Pipen [Phippen] “sold deponent a canoe tree that grew upon the north side of a hill amongst ledges of rocks”. Some towns even enacted laws to protect so-called “canoe trees”.7

So it is that the Algonquians preserved in large groves the trees they used for food, tools, fibers, medicine, building materials, and transportation (e.g., oak, chestnut, walnut, cedar, beech, ash, sugar maple, birch, witch hazel, sassafras, willow, slippery elm, and pitch pine). They also conserved trees that forest animal species they used depended on, especially cone-bearing trees that provided winter subsistence for deer (e.g., firs, hemlocks, and pines). There is no evidence that the people planted trees to replace those they took, although they undoubtedly protected selected saplings to ensure sufficient forest for the future.

Laurel Woods. 1906                    Willard Leroy Metcalf (1858-1925)

For Native people, forests were essential resources to be governed, while for the English, forests represented wilderness to be tamed. Expecting to find forested wilderness in coastal New England, Europeans were surprised to find instead vast expanses of managed land: grassy parkland with evenly spaced trees cleared of undergrowth. They also found planted, cultivated, and cover-cropped fields; protected wild food resource areas; and contained groves of diverse old-growth trees. These effects were achieved through Native stewardship and routine controlled burning of the land.8

The Algonquians cleared forest undergrowth twice a year, spring and fall, by setting fire to it. The process provided a collective hunting opportunity to drive game to kill sites. It also kept trails clear and made any approaching enemies visible. The burned vegetation returned nutrients to the soil and maintained habitats for berries (especially wild blueberries and mulberries, which still depend on periodic burning). Burning spared most conifers and left behind roasted cones to collect for the pine nuts or to leave as winter forage for deer. Burning also encouraged the growth of grasses in new clearings as forage for deer and created new habitat for small game. The burned ground at the same time deposited potash-rich pockets of inter-forest soil, which the people mounded up after each rainfall to conserve moisture in the soil in preparation for future cultivation. Demand for new soil was constant, as corn is a heavy nitrogen feeder and needs new ground to grow in every two to three years.

William Wood observed in 1635 that Native Americans burned the tops and slopes of hills but left stands along the river bottoms untouched, perhaps as hunting blinds and to screen trails from canoe traffic on the rivers. The heat and ashes from controlled burns conserved soil warmth and fertility.

Chebacco woods

For the Indians burning it [the ground] to supresse the Underwood, which else would grow all over the Countrey, the Snow falling not long after, keepes the ground warme, and with its melting conveighs the ashes into the pores of the earth, which doth fatten it.9

Fall burnings thus were most desirable. However, because fires sometimes got out of control, the General Court in 1631 passed a law making it illegal for colonists and Native Americans alike to set fire to the land in any months other than March or April, when damp spring weather would help control conflagrations. Court records clearly suggest that fire was a routine hazard. A 1638 law banned tobacco smoking in or near any common land at any time of year, and a 1652 law banned the starting of wood fires outdoors between January and March and on Fridays and Sundays generally.10

So Europeans were not solely responsible for deforestation and practices that altered or damaged the environment, as is commonly believed. They cut a lot of white pine for masts and spars and a lot of red oak for hulls and planks for the British royal navy and shipyards as well as for the growing New England shipbuilding industry. Timber for masts and spars for the royal navy and sassafras for the treatment of syphilis were the earliest exports other than furs.11  For more than 5,000 years, however, countless generations of Native people routinely killed trees for firewood, resource wood, and bark by girdling, burning, cutting saplings for wigwam frames, felling trees for dugout and birchbark canoes, and clearing land by the “slash and burn” method for the practice of swidden agriculture, growing maize in mounds of ash and soil where forests once stood.

At the same time, both Native people and colonists practiced conservation. In their slashing and burning, Native people were careful not to clear-cut forests, for example, saving thin forests soils from loss to erosion. In a sense, Native Americans were more future-oriented than Europeans. Their conceptualization of time was circular rather than linear: all times were one time, and that time was the present. Life, as lived, was an expression of all time, integrated on both a spiritual and a material plane. So while Europeans frequently took environmental resources for immediate consumption or application or for stockpiling or export, Native people often modified the environment with no expectation of immediate benefit. The idea was that in a year or two or three, or even in some future generation, some benefit would accrue. Examples include girdling trees to harvest in some years’ time as dry firewood, fashioning tools in living wood, and shaping trees to mark trails or to wrap spirit rocks in ceremonial landscapes.12

Green Canopy. 1908                    Willard Leroy Metcalf (1858-1925)

The timber industry on Cape Ann, well underway by 1645, specialized in the manufacture of boards, clapboards, hoops, and staves, as well as the cutting of cordwood for outside consumption. Streams and tides were channeled to power a gristmill at Beaver Dam in 1642 and later sawmills on Sawmill Brook and in Riverdale, West Gloucester, and Freshwater Cove. Allied barrel and shingle making enterprises sprang up. Salem and Boston were the chief markets for Cape Ann timber and wood products and for her wooden barrels and boxes, which were crucial to the fishing industry and transatlantic trade. Mackerel, cod, cider, flour, and tobacco were packed in them. Consumption of wood quickly threatened to outstrip supply, however, and the people were fully aware of it. As early as the mid-17th century they rationed wood lots and enacted conservation laws. In 1667 Gloucester voted to restrict the cutting of cordwood to the area between Brace’s Cove and Good Harbor Beach, for example. Then, in 1669 the sale of low-cost cordwood out of town was prohibited (it had to fetch a minimum of 3 shillings and sixpence per cord), and each family was limited to cutting 20 cords of wood per year on the Commons (Dogtown).13

Wooded areas today have less diversity because of land management practices of the English settlers, which called for a more ambitious selection and removal of trees as part of the process of taming the wilderness and establishing timber and shipbuilding industries. Nevertheless, surviving groves containing old growth specimen trees of diverse species in proximity are very likely a result of Native agency.  Few old-growth stands of trees remain in eastern Essex County. The Manchester-Hamilton area known as Chebacco Woods and Gordon Woods contains trails through old forest, and the Manchester-Essex woods (including Cathedral Pines, the Millstone Hill Conservation Area, and the Cedar Swamp Trail) has 1,500 acres of forest that were never farmed. In Gloucester, Ravenswood Park and Mount Ann Park contain specimens of old trees. The Cox Reservation in Essex has a grove of red cedars growing through an Algonquian clam midden and dating at least to colonial times, and Choate Island preserves ancient hickories growing up through an enormous clam midden, bearing nuts feasted upon by colonist’s hogs. Single ancient trees of great girth, sometimes called “founder trees”, may also be found abutting parks, playgrounds, and cemeteries throughout Essex County.14

 

Notes and Reference

1. Oaks, elms, sycamores, one pine tree, and John Endicott’s famous pear tree are featured in James Raymond Simmons’ 1919 book on The Historic Trees of Massachusetts, reflecting the enduring priorities of English colonists.

2. Other accounts of trees then and now include Foster and O’Keefe, New England Forests through Time: Insights from the Harvard Forest Dioramas (2000); Fergus, Trees of New England: A Natural History (2005); and Wessels, Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England (1997). See also the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees: Eastern Region.

3. This information comes from Harold Cook’s 1908 Handbook on Forest Mensuration of the White Pine in Massachusetts and from Melvin Copeland and Elliott Rogers’ 1960 book, The Saga of Cape Ann. See also Rogers’ article, Botanist’s Eye View of Dogtown Flora, in the Gloucester Daily Times (August 27, 1954).

4. Champlain is quoted in Volume 1 of Langdon and Ganong, The works of Samuel de Champlain (1922): 351-352, as well as in other translations.

5. See Tom Seymour’s Foraging New England: Edible Wild Food and Medicinal Plants from Maine to the Adirondacks to Long Island (2013). A primary source on Native American plant use is John Josselyn’s 1674 New England’s Rarities Discovered in birds, beasts, fishes, serpents, and plants of that country. An ethnographic source is Ralph Dexter and Frank Speck, Utilization of Animals and Plants by the Micmac Indians of New Brunswick (1952), in the Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 41 (8): 250-259. A Native American source is Indigenous Plants and Native Uses in the Northeast on the NativeTech web site: http://www.nativetech.org/plantgath/plantgaht.htm.

6. Wood (the 1897 Boynton edition), p. 35.

7. Robert Cross Jr.’s canoe tree is referenced in Essex County Court Records 1913-1919, Vol. 7, p. 203. For insight on Native canoes and dugouts, see especially Gordon Day’s article on pp. 148-159 in Vol. 15 of the Handbook of North American Indians (1979, Bruce Trigger, ed.); Ann Marie Plane’s 1991 article, New England’s Logboats: Four centuries of watercraft, in the Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society 52 (1): 8-18; Howard Chapelle’s article, Colonial and Early American Boats, in American Small Sailing Craft: Their Design, Development, and Construction (1951); and Edwin Tappan Adney’s 1964 (2014), Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America.

8. All the early explorers and settlers remarked on the Algonquian practice of setting fire to the woods. For example, see accounts in Champlain Voyages (1605), Higginson, New England’s Plantation (1629) and General consideracons for ye plantacon in New England (1630); Johnson, Wonder-Working Providence (1654) and Good Newes from New England (1658); and Wood, New England’s Prospect (1634).

9. Wood, p. 17.

10. Laws related to fires are in the Book of the General Laws of the Inhabitants of the Jurisdiction of New-Plimoth, and Generall Laws of the Massachusetts Colony (1632-1676). See http://www.princelaws.pdf.

11. For a perspective on the pre-colonial and early colonial lumber industry, see New England masts and the King’s Broad Arrow by S. F. Manning (1979). Read about the timber industry on Cape Ann in Eleanor Parsons’ book, Fish, Timber, Granite & Gold (2003). See also Bishop, Freedley, and Young, A History of American Manufacturers, from 1608 to 1860, Volume 1 (1864).

12. See Mavor and Dix (1989) Manitou: The Sacred Landscape of New England’s Native Civilization; Mitchell (1984) Ceremonial Time; and Downes (2011) Native American Trail Marker Trees.

13. The tree cutting laws of 1667 and 1669 are reported in Babson, pp. 203-204. See also Alina Bradford’s 2015 article, Deforestation: Facts, Causes and Effects, in Live Science: http://www.livescience.com/27692-deforestation.html. A “cord of wood” is a stack of logs 4 feet high, 4 feet deep, and 8 feet long.

14. Friends and stewards of Chebacco Woods, Gordon Woods, Cathedral Pines, Millstone Conservation Area, Cedar Swamp, Ravenswood, Mount Ann, the Cox Reservation, and Choate Island all maintain informative websites. See the web sites of the Trustees of Reservations, Essex County Greenbelt Association, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, Norton Memorial Forest, New England Forestry Foundation, Norton Tree Farm, Natti Woodland, Annisquam Woods, Willowdale State Forest, Bradley Palmer State Park, Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, Parker River Wildlife Refuge, and Cape Ann Trial Stewards. Of special interest is GloucesterForests.pdf, containing Liam O’Laughlin’s 2010 report in The North Gloucester Woods Study.

 

Mary Ellen Lepionka lives in East Gloucester and is studying the history of Cape Ann from the Ice Age to around 1700 A.D. for a book on the subject. She is a retired publisher, author, editor, textbook developer, and college instructor with degrees in anthropology. She studied at Boston University and the University of British Columbia and has performed archaeology in Ipswich, MA, Botswana, Africa, and at Pole Hill in Gloucester, MA.  Mary Ellen is a trustee of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society and serves on the Gloucester Historical Commission.

My Conversation With Harvey

“Boy on Stacy Boulevard”  @1976 Lynn Swigart  Courtesy of Trident Gallery

A post showed up on my Facebook page recently that asked who I would like to spend an hour with on a park bench talking about the state of the nation and the world.

Initially, I thought about men and women like Robert Kennedy, FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Rosa Parks.

But then I realized the person I would really like to spend some time talking with, as a sixty-year-old gay man who remains very concerned about the still tenuous progress my community has made on the civil rights front, is Harvey Milk.

In November, it will be forty years since  Harvey and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, Harvey’s colleague on the city’s board of supervisors.

In 1978,  when Harvey and Moscone were assassinated, I was a junior at Merrimack College. I was living in a state of constant fear that someone would find out I was gay.

I dated girls, played intramural hockey and lacrosse with a level of intensity and aggression that was totally counter to who I really was. But appearances and illusions in 1978 were critical, or so I thought, to survival itself.

I was in my dorm room with friends drinking beer and doing bong hits, with the Grateful Dead blaring on the stereo, when the news came on about the assassination of the nation’s first openly gay elected official.

The things my “friends” had to say in response to Harvey’s murder were the last straw. Still, I kept silent.

I decided I could not spend my senior year in the dorm. My parents, not knowing the truth about why I wanted out of the dorm so badly, agreed to let me live my senior year at the beach house and commute to school.

I got a dog of my own, decided to get honest with myself, and ever so slowly began to inch out of the closet.

Thirteen years later, I wound up moving from Cambridge to Gloucester to oversee NUVA’s HIV and AIDS counseling, testing, and prevention programs.

Prior to coming to Gloucester, I worked for several human service agencies in New Hampshire and metro Boston. It was in those positions that I, for the first time in my otherwise very sheltered and privileged life, saw the impact poverty and economic struggle have on individuals, families and entire communities.

Harvey Milk saw that impact as well. When he migrated from NYC to San Francisco to settle in the increasingly gay Castro District, he quickly recognized the long-standing working-class nature of the neighborhood. He worked hard to build bridges between long-time working class, straight residents of the Castro and the thousands of gay migrants flocking to the neighborhood from all over America.

Harvey’s camera shop became not only a hub of gay rights activity but also a place where union truck drivers who delivered Coors beer met to organize and strategize against the Coors family’s efforts to bust their union.

For many blue collar residents of the Castro, Harvey was the first openly gay man they’d ever met. Many were impressed by his commitment to working with them to fend off the gentrification going on in the rest of the city.

That gentrification was a phenomenon driven by wealthy, downtown elites, many of them erstwhile liberals, gay and straight, like California Senator Dianne Feinstein’s multimillionaire real estate developer husband, and the very wealthy gay man who founded the national gay newspaper called “The Advocate”.

But Harvey really won the hearts of the long-time, straight, blue-collar residents of the Castro, and the union truck drivers fighting Coors in particular, when he got all the gay bars in the Castro to stop selling Coors beer in a show of solidarity with the truck drivers.

Those blue collar, straight, Castro residents were as significant a factor in Harvey’s election to the board of supervisors as the newly arrived gay boys who never dreamed one of their own could win elective office anywhere.

Ironically, members of the wealthy, downtown, “liberal”, gentrification pushing establishment, including Dianne Feinstein, her husband, and the owner of the Advocate, did all they could to prevent Harvey from winning the Castro district seat on the board of supervisors because he was an obstacle to their agenda.

So, I’d like to sit on a park bench with Harvey to pick his brain about two things.

The first is the troubling rise of classism and elitism within certain elements of the gay community that mirrors what Harvey confronted and challenged in 1970’s San Francisco.

Harvey warned the gay community, particularly its more affluent members, that it was making a mistake aligning itself with San Francisco’s wealthy “liberal” elites, whose agenda of unregulated real estate development and gentrification would, in the long term, alienate and anger the long-time blue-collar residents of old city neighborhoods like the Castro.

In one speech, Harvey warned that the wealthy downtown, “liberal”, gentrification pushing elites were transforming San Francisco into a city where only the wealthy would be able to afford to live.

That speech went over like the proverbial lead balloon with Dianne Feinstein and her real estate industry political contributors.

Harvey gave that speech more than forty years ago. To say that speech proved prophetic is an understatement.

I see very real similarities between what Harvey warned about forty years ago in San Francisco and what is happening in Gloucester today.

I am sure if Harvey was sitting with me on a bench on the “Boulevard” in the city I affectionately call a “mini San Francisco,” he would wholeheartedly agree.

The second thing I would like to pick Harvey’s brain about is the gay rights front. Much progress has been made in recent decades, but there are some very troubling signs looming on the horizon. I worry more than a few in the American gay community, especially among the community’s more affluent and largely self-anointed political leadership, are not paying attention because they have grown complacent and too comfortable with the current status quo and their relationship with today’s affluent, straight, liberal, elites – particularly within the Democratic party establishment.

The troubling signs on the horizon relating to gay rights are not just limited to the United States.

The rise of far-right, faux-Christian, neo-fascist, nationalist politicians and parties is a global phenomenon, and in more than a few cases, gay men and lesbians are routinely scapegoated as the “others” that right-wing politicians, like Donald Trump, blame for a country’s problems to mobilize their followers.

A case in point is Costa Rica. A far-right, fundamentalist Christian minister may yet win the presidential runoff election, and the cornerstone of his campaign is his rabid opposition to gay marriage.

More locally, the Reverend Scott Lively is challenging Gov. Charlie Baker in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Lively is a rabid homophobe who, in 2009, was a consultant to the Ugandan government as it contemplated implementing the death penalty for gay and lesbian Ugandans.

Although Lively will never be the MA GOP’s gubernatorial nominee, he does have a following among the Bay State’s small but vocal far-right, Trump-loving, Republican base – including several people on Cape Ann.

But more troubling than Scott Lively’s longshot candidacy for governor, at least for this old school, Rooseveltian liberal, is the sad reality that many of the gay community’s straight, liberal “allies” have often been unwilling to go to the mat on our behalf.

For example, in 2009 the fundamentalist Christian organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast invited a Ugandan bishop who’d been a forceful advocate of the death penalty for people involved in same-sex relationships to attend the event.  Since its inception in the 1950’s, the breakfast has been a “must attend” event for sitting US presidents and any politician who aspires to the presidency.  When word got out about the Ugandan bishop’s presence, the gay community begged Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to boycott the breakfast. Neither one of them did.

So, for a long list of reasons, the person I would love to have a conversation with on a bench overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Stage Fort Park is Harvey Milk.

And what a fascinating conversation it would be.

 

Michael Cook is a long time liberal and gay rights activist who saw the uniqueness of Gloucester from the first moment he drove over the bridge during his move from Cambridge to Cape Ann in 1991 to run NUVA’s AIDS education and services programs.

 

SPRING

By Eric Schoonover

Gloucester Harbor, 1894.                  Childe Hassam (1859-1935)

 

When they put up the signs NO PUBLIC TOILETS

I’ll know. And when the daffodils bloom in

front of the bank on Rogers and the gulls

fight and flutter over the chimneys, I’ll know.

When the sailing team yanks their amazing 420s through

the wretched gusts in the harbor; and when the

night thermometer reads 38 and it’s rain and rain,

then I’ll know its spring in Gloucester . . . maybe.

 

 

Eric Schoonover is a writer who does enjoy Gloucester’s spring. Eric is also a  boatbuilder and watercolorist, who lives in Gloucester in a small 1735 Cape Ann cottage with his wife, also a writer. He is the author of the award-winning The Gloucester Suite and Other Poems and a novel, Flowers of the Sea. His latest book, Telling Tales, has just been published.

 

 

Main Street

Peter Anastas

Middle Street, Gloucester. Paul Cornoyer (1864-1923)

During the many years I used to meet her, she seemed unchanged, a little old lady full of energy: gray-haired, walking jauntily on Main Street, coming over to me in the post office to say she liked a column I’d recently published, or gently disagreeing with my argument.  She never offered her name, and I never asked because she seemed so much a part of my daily life.  A brown pillbox on her head, along with brown Oxford walkers; what our mothers referred to as “sensible shoes.”  Opaque nylon stockings, a short, light, cloth coat in spring, quilted parka in winter, both brown.  Lovely Yankee voice, pure Gloucester—“’’Twas” for “it was”—“’’Tis,’” for “it is”— locutions that have persisted in local speech.

One day I saw her, as I had during all the years past, and the next day I didn’t.  Had she died?  Was she suddenly in a nursing home or hospital?  At her age she couldn’t simply have moved away; not her, with the sense she projected of continually having been rooted here.

Was she a retired teacher?  She looked like one, had the rimless bifocals Miss Harris and most of our teachers once wore, hair in a bun.  Had she been a secretary in a law office?  There were many, women who hadn’t married, but who, like my mother, had gone to work out of school with typing, shorthand and bookkeeping skills they’d amply acquired in the former Commercial Course at Gloucester High School.  They staffed the banks, or they clerked in the gas and electric company, as my Aunt Harriette had done all her life.  They became operators in the Bell Telephone Company office building on Elm Street that later became National Marine Fisheries, where my mother also worked and is now the Cape Ann Museum’s library.

For weeks I agonized over her disappearance.  I could have asked my friends in the post office who knew everybody in town.  But it didn’t occur to me to ask.  It didn’t occur to me to do anything but remark her absence.  It didn’t even occur to me to check the obituaries in the Gloucester Daily Times, even though I didn’t know who she really was.

It got to be that way as I lived my life on Main Street during the thirty years I spent working at the city’s anti-poverty agency.  Two trips daily to the post office, one to pick up my own mail at 10:30 each morning, and a second in the afternoon to post the agency’s, but more to get out of the office during coffee break, when I could afford a few minutes for a walk around town:  Dale Avenue from the post office, City Hall and the library to Middle Street, then down to the Joan of Arc statue in front of the American Legion Building.  Around the corner to Main Street, through the West End, and all the way back to the office on Elm Street. Soon I began to think of myself as an old Gloucester dog, making his habitual rounds; that is, before the city instituted a leash law.

On those daily strolls I came to know dozens of people by sight, men, women, natives I’d recognized since childhood, having seen them every day in Woolworth’s, Sterling Drug, the Waiting Station, all of them gone now, the people along with the places themselves: Sears & Roebuck, W. T. Grant, Gorins, W. G. Brown.  Dr. Benno Broder’s dental office on Pleasant Street, with a human skull in a glass-doored bookcase; the old Western Union’s tiny dark storefront from which you could telegraph a message anywhere around the world.  Willie Alexander’s father’s Baptist Church across the street from City Hall and the Museum, torn down for parking.  Elks Lodge, now condos; Knights of Columbus, likewise; Red Men’s Hall vanished; Masons moved to Eastern Avenue.  Bradford Building burned down, the fire in which E. E. Cummings’ Harvard classmate, painter Winslow Wilson, lost the manuscript of his autobiography.  Hotel Gloucester, on Main across from Elm, where, in a small rented top floor room, I worked on my second novel—gone in urban renewal, along with the old police station and the Fishermen’s Institute, a bethel for retired mariners, who gathered to swap stories in front of the bank on the corner of Main and Duncan, or in the sun across the street at Sterling Drug.

One by one they’d disappear, like the little old lady in brown—the fishermen, the retired letter carriers, the women who sold us toys in Woolworth; those who drew the chilled root beer out of the casks at Kresge’s or measured out the penny candy.

Jake’s on Granite Street, where we bought bubble gum on the way to Hovey School, now an apartment house; Cher Ami’s ice cream parlor on Washington converted into a barbershop.  Bart’s Variety on Pine and Washington streets, where we went for Italian ice, a driving school today.  Captain Bill’s on Main and Washington, once Frank Barkas’ restaurant and pool room, now the Blackburn building with Giuseppe’s on the ground floor, until it, too, closed, to be replaced by a tonier Tonno.

I could see the old clapboard or redbrick buildings as they were abandoned or torn down, residents displaced. I watched them emptied of what they sold, windows gone blank.  Though devoid of human habitation, the places themselves had a lingering presence; even their smells persisted—yeast from the Sunnyside Bakery, burnt almonds at Mike’s Pastry, sawdust in front of the National Butchers.  But the people, like my little old lady in brown, had an equal vitality, which, as they too disappeared, slowly ebbed out of the city itself, along with the local dialect and the natives’ slouching walk, draining the city of its uniqueness and spirit, except for the young people I run into today on Middle Street.  They’ll be heading home from high school, pierced and tattooed, their hair in dreadlocks, often speaking Spanish, a language I never heard until I went to Europe, or Brazilian Portuguese.  Or they’re African-American.  It wasn’t until I moved to Rocky Neck in 1951, and started sneaking over to the Hawthorne Inn Casino to hear jazz, that I actually saw a black person.

What would these teenagers in 50 Cent T-shirts and slashed jeans think of the skinny kid in the maroon and silver sateen Mighty-Mac baseball jacket, coming toward them from Central Grammar as he headed home down the Cut?  He’s hatless and his hair, slicked down even in the autumn wind, has been cut at Bill Maciel’s barbershop on Duncan Street, next to the Fishermen’s Institute.  Theirs goes wild and they wear hooded sweatshirts against the cold.  They talk on cell phones, get their music from iPods, living in a digitized world that was imagined only in the science fiction novels I read at their age.

I find it remarkable that sixty-eight years later I’m taking the same route I took home from school, the route that led past the old “Y”, the Solomon-Davis house, and C. F. Tompkins’ furniture store, all since disappeared; past the Lorraine Apartments that managed to survive condo mania only to be destroyed in a fire that took the synagogue next door with it; past Pike’s Funeral Home, where my father’s and my brother’s memorial services were held and my mother’s ashes reposed before her grandchildren and I scattered them at sea; past Trinity Congregational Church, rebuilt after the fire in 1979 that destroyed the original structure, where my brother and I attended Sunday school during the war because the gas ration prohibited travel to the Greek Orthodox Church in Ipswich.  When I was twelve or thirteen, had anyone predicted that I’d be walking on Middle Street, balding and gray-bearded, or told me I’d still be in Gloucester in 2018, I would have been incredulous.

But it’s not myself as I appeared then I miss, it’s the old people I grew up knowing with their sense of correctness in what they wore and how the men still tipped their hats to women on the street, asking each time, “And how’s your mutha?”   Live in a place long enough and its entire history replays itself in your head.  You come to know where everyone’s house is, even in childhood, where their parents came from, their grandparents.  You saw their little sisters in strollers on the Boulevard or at St. Peter’s Fiesta.  You went to Hovey School or Forbes with their brothers and cousins.  You could tell from anyone’s face who he was, who his father was.  Each beautiful blond Finnish girl in school had a beautiful blond Finnish mother who’d gone to school with your mother or your aunts.  The minute you met the mother you knew who her daughter was, or her sister.  Visiting Gloucester High School today, I see the great-granddaughters of my classmates and know exactly who they are, even though I can no longer remember their mothers’ names.

Live in a place long enough and it enters your dreams.  There was another woman I saw one day on Middle Street, getting out of her car in such a way that I felt I was reliving a dream.  She’s tiny, like my mother, and she’s Lebanese, probably related to Freddie Kyrouz, who used to run the shoeshine parlor on Main Street before he became city clerk.  I know this woman from city hall, from the bank, from the post office, yet, like the lady in brown, I don’t remember her name.  We always say hello and smile.  And the other day when I caught the lovely clear expectant look in her eyes, her smallness like my mother’s and my aunts’, I was overwhelmed by impending loss because I realized she will become one of those people I may no longer see, one of the many who are ebbing away just as the city itself is being erased by strip mall commercial complexes, proliferating donut franchises, cheap modular houses jammed into pocket-sized lots, imposed upon us by those, as Charles Olson wrote, “who take away and do not have as good to offer.”

A bitterly contested retail complex with a mega supermarket was recently completed near the Route 128 entrance to the city.  Called Gloucester Crossing and billing itself as “the premiere shopping destination on Cape Ann,” the center is competing with downtown businesses that have been struggling for years to stay afloat.  Soon it will be accompanied by a 200-unit “market rate” housing complex with added retail space and a new YMCA.   And on the Fort, one of the last remaining ethnic enclaves in the maritime heart of the city, a billionaire developer has built a 94-room “boutique” hotel and function center in a neighborhood where a delicate balance has long existed between residents and a thriving marine industry.

I walked sadly away after I met the Lebanese woman getting out of her car across the street from St. John’s Church, in front of the house that used to be Dr. Doyle’s office, where my brother and I were taken when we got sick or had poison ivy infections.  In her persistence in my daily life, her smile of recognition, she embodies for me what my life here has meant, a connection to a single place and a sense of duration I never expected to experience when I was younger.

I don’t have to ask anyone in my generation who Pat Maranhas is, or if they remember that he played tenor sax in the Modernaires, or that his grandfather was a fisherman named Captain Green.  We take people like Pat, with whom we went to kindergarten or worked with at Gorton’s or see at the bank or walking his dog in Magnolia, for granted, just as we understand why a house covered by aluminum siding should never have been put up where our junior high school shop teacher Tom Brophy’s graceful 19th century white frame house once stood on the corner of Pleasant and Shepherd streets, or why it was unthinkable to tear apart the lovely wooded, granite-bouldered, hill above Brightside Avenue and wedge a bunch of houses into it that look like they were made from kits you’d buy at Wal-Mart.

And unless they happened to be born here, who will ever know what it felt like to walk home from high school every day along the waterfront, smelling the gurry and the rendered mink food, the codfish cakes at Gorton’s cannery, and the tar and oakum caulking from the railways; listening to the screech of gulls and the idling engines of the boats at dock.  Or returning home from Hovey School through the sumac bushes clustered high on Rider’s Rocks, the entire harbor spreading out beneath you, all the way to Boston.  Or even Middle Street, on the way home from Central Grammar, day after day, knowing the Solomon Davis house like one’s own, the two sisters who lived as recluses in it, apparitions from the 19th century, or that the YMCA bought it for a mere $25,000 and tore it down, the city’s stateliest example of Greek Revival architecture, for a concrete basketball court that was never built.  Or the Parsons-Morse house on Western Avenue, another of the North Shore’s endangered First Period houses, which Olson fought to save but couldn’t, torn down by the state to widen the highway that never got widened.

They wouldn’t know that if you walk to the post office through the parking lot behind City Hall, even on the hottest day in July, there is always a cool breeze; and if you choose the same route in the dead of winter, an icy wind hits you in the face and makes you shiver even in your warmest fleece jacket.

What about sitting in the Miami Pastry Shop, later Mike’s, among the fishermen speaking Sicilian, sipping the first espresso that was sold in town and eating a ricotta pie that one could not find the equal of in the bakeries of Boston’s North End?

And what of the smells and tastes that Proust insists are primary?  There were the strips of salt cod we pulled off the big fish drying on the clotheslines outside my grandmother’s house and ate like potato chips, and the taste of anise cookies our Italian friends’ mothers baked at Christmas.  There was the smell of the grass on the river bank after it had been mowed and the sickly sweet perfume of clethra, or the flowering locusts in June, which the fishermen could smell offshore, on their way in from a trip: When the locusts are in bloom the fish come home.  And always in Gloucester, the smell of fish—fish cooking and fish rotting—and the salt air off the ocean often combined with the rank smell of kelp.

In remembering these things I don’t intend to be nostalgic.  I mistrust nostalgia because it’s usually not about things that no longer exist—lost people, customs, ways of being—but about yearning for those things we thought we possessed but only imagined we had; and everyone will have a Gloucester of his own, no matter when they came or left.  I’m only recording what I remember of daily rhythms, of the names of people who still come to me in my dreams, of the ways these people who inhabited each neighborhood, even their dogs and cats, become so deeply embedded in our consciousnesses we can’t even articulate them, we just feel them in our blood.

There are expectations, or there were, of how each day would be, who you’d meet, who would tell you a story about whom, who would have lived next door or down the street at a time when hardly anyone ever moved, when moving was a momentous event; who would have gotten sick or died and was laid out in the family parlor, like Barry Clark’s grandmother, or little Joey Nicastro, who died in second grade from “ammonia,” and was one day in the neighborhood, reading Superman comics with us on my back porch, and the next in Addison Gilbert Hospital and then, when we saw the ribbon of black cloth pinned to his front door, lying with a suit on in a small coffin in his living room with the women in black all around him saying the Rosary and the men, home from fishing, consoling his father in the kitchen.

Don’t believe for one minute that having grown up and lived in a small town we had seen nothing of life.  We came upon rotting carcasses of deer that lay dead in the woods; saw our friends’ sisters naked in their bedroom windows; watched half-dressed couples making love under the bleachers at Newell Stadium; heard neighbors screaming at each other in the dead of night; saw a sailor who had been beaten nearly to death along the Boulevard, where his blood remained for days drying in the cracks of pavement; knew the drunken sea captain, who always came into my grandfather’s shoe repair shop on Stoddart Lane, speaking perfect Greek even though he was Portuguese, because he loved the tarama Papouli prepared from fish row in the back room, packing it in small wooden casks to sell to the Hellenic markets in Boston.  Yes, and we heard from our mothers talking together about the fisherman who strangled his wife, cut her body into pieces and ate her liver after frying it in a skillet; about the daughter who beat her mother to death with a hammer; the son who drowned his father in the bathtub; and the other son who killed his mother, cut her head off and tried to shred it in the Dispose-all.

We heard and saw these things, and more: the sutured wounds in Irving Morris’s head after he’d been attacked and robbed one night on Middle Street, while returning home with the day’s earnings from his First National grocery store; the blood all over the snow on Main Street after the city worker had his leg torn off by the snow removal machine; the body of a five-year-old Sicilian girl, who was run over by a trailer truck on Commercial Street (I wrote that story as a young reporter for the Gloucester Times), her tiny foot with its little red sneaker sticking out from under a tarpaulin the workers at a nearby fish plant had gently covered her with.

And I think we also came to understand certain moments of human vulnerability—the eager look I caught on a boy’s face as he approached the toy store on Pleasant Street with his father one Saturday morning, his excitement propelling him just ahead of his father, who was straining to catch up with him; or the other boy on his bike in Riverdale, shyly taking orders for Christmas cards door-to-door one August afternoon, who reminded me of my son Ben, who once sold them himself, and it made me think of my three children away at summer camp in Maine, missing them so much that I rushed home from my walk to sit alone in the darkened house on Vine Street counting the days until I would see them again.

Small events and moments—a teacher’s sharp rebuke, a neighbor’s reprimand if you stepped on her marigolds while on the run in war games—that stayed for years, returning again and again in the vacuum left by loss or abandonment.  Comments we made that hurt people’s feelings, stupid remarks in school, pain inflicted: the Irish kid who called me “Pinocchio Nose” and pushed me off the sidewalk in front of the “Y.”  And when I went home crying and asked my mother why he’d done it, she said I shouldn’t have been at the “Y” anyway with all those ruffians.  I was so terrified it would happen again, not so much the shove as his remarks about my nose, which I was sensitive about, that I never went back to the “Y” until high school, when I played piano there at Saturday night dances with the Modernaires.  And even when I saw that kid for years afterwards, still a bully—he was the son of a patrolman in Gloucester—long after he’d obviously forgotten what he’d said and done to me, maybe even forgotten me as I got older, my body would stiffen and I would find ways of avoiding him.  I can still see his pinched face, can tell what the beanie he was wearing looked like the day he pushed me off the sidewalk; can even remember the sound of his voice, the humiliation has stayed with me that much.  Why didn’t my mother comfort me, explaining to me why certain kids bullied or threatened us, instead of telling me not to go back to the “Y?”

So much about growing up here is about pain that you may wonder why I ever came back, or why I still love the place of my birth; and maybe it is about masochism, or the fear of new or unknown cities, which my children appear never to have experienced—Jonathan, at seventeen, on the road with his hardcore punk rock band—that kept me in Gloucester; or the inability to let go of family, of the place itself.  We often speak of an “island mentality,” which natives seem to share, the sense of innate comfort we take in remaining in one place, a house, a street, a certain neighborhood (I’ve only lived at the Cut, in East Gloucester and Riverdale during all my years in the city), and the inability ultimately to leave Gloucester.  Older people once boasted of never having “crossed the bridge,” when we only had one bridge out of town.  I knew some of those people.  They had never seen Boston and they apparently hadn’t needed to, their lives were that sufficient; though my mother took us often to the city on the train for shopping or to visit the museums.  We drove to the Witch City Candy Company in Salem to pick up the chocolate bars my father sold in his corner store, walking its then dark streets and visiting the Peabody Museum, full of artifacts from the city’s East India trade.  And we even ventured farther out to Newburyport, to Plum Island and the beaches of the New Hampshire coast.  So, slowly, I began to leave Gloucester, though, as the years go by now, I want less and less to do so.

In the end, it comes down to this.  In a shrinking world, when every place has either been destroyed or homogenized, when the culture, the national intelligence, has been reduced to the lowest common denominator; when the young hope only to consume the world’s goods, not yearn to know the world itself in all its particulars, or to embrace its arts and its languages, the books that beckon to be read, paintings to be seen, monuments to visit, cities to wander in at night, as I once did in Florence; in a shrinking world, we must have something, some place, to hold onto, and an ethos, related to that place, its history, and our own in it.  We must have such a thing or die from the lack of it.

So that little old lady in brown I knew without even learning her name is even more precious to me now.  For a long time I could count on her presence in Gloucester, in my own life, just as I could count on the presence of my father, my mother and my brother, who are dead now; or Charles Olson, who showed me how to know the place we inhabit through an immersion in its history; Vincent Ferrini, who first taught me about poetry; or John Rowe, the eighty-year-old carpenter on Perkins Road, who, as a child, I watched as he slowly rebuilt our front porch, hour by hour, day by day, plank by plank; patiently, carefully, purposefully, and not without delight, addressing the task, as I myself have finally learned how to write.

Now, I fear, we have come to an end of rhythms, of traditions and folkways, at least as I’ve known them; an end, too, of expectations, though the ocean remains and the seasons return, however more unpredictably.  Toward the end of his life, Olson said that a writer has two choices: you either oppose the destruction of the things you love or you describe the tragedy of their loss.  I’ve tried to do both, often with mixed results, but in the end, it is the loss that has remained with me, touching every aspect of my thought and being.  The only Gloucester that exists for me now is the city of my mind.

(This is the first chapter of Peter Anastas’ recently completed memoir From Gloucester Out)

 

Peter Anastas, editorial director of Enduring Gloucesteris a Gloucester native and writer. His most recent book, A Walker in the City: Elegy for Gloucester, is a selection from columns that were published in the Gloucester Daily Times.

 

 

 

 

 

How Did Gloucester’s Founding Shape Its Future?

Blyman Bridge. 1923
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)

by Mary Ellen Lepionka

As a municipality, Gloucester historically was regarded as poor compared to other seaside towns in Massachusetts. I wondered why and found answers in our early history. Massachusetts Bay Colony policies destroyed the productivity of the first comers to Cape Ann, and the newcomers who followed them were farmers who could not turn a profit on Cape Ann’s soils. Gloster Plantation was underfunded from the start. Its harbor never received enough investment to achieve its potential as an international port of trade. Later, the wars of the 18th and 19th centuries benefitted other towns but left Cape Ann depopulated and depressed. Historical circumstances shaped Cape Ann’s prospects, just as early childhood experiences can shape us in ways we may come to understand but find hard to change.

John Endecott (1588-1655)

In 1628 the New England Company, which became the Massachusetts Bay Company, sent John Endecott to govern the Old Planters at Salem Village (relocated members of Rev. John White’s failed Dorchester Company plantation on Gloucester Harbor) and to oversee Cape Ann. The next year the Company obtained a royal charter to start a colony and sent a fleet to Salem with 350 settlers, the so-called Higginson Fleet, named for the minister who wrote an account if it. Then in 1630, they sent John Winthrop with a much larger fleet to govern the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Masquenominet (Masconomet, Pawtucket sagamore) and his entourage canoed out to Winthrop’s vessel as it lay at anchor (in Beverly Cove or Mackerel Cove) and went aboard to welcome him. Winthrop gave trinkets to the Indians, relieved Endecott, and moved the capital from Salem to Dorchester. The Massachusetts Bay Colony then established a General Court.

The General Court promptly declared null and void all deeds of land bought directly from the Indians without the Court’s permission! Anyone living on such lands were squatters! They were to be evicted and the land redistributed to newcomers! This ruling (missing from what we are taught about the history of Massachusetts) had a devastating effect on all first comers. William Jeffreys, for example, lost his holdings at Jeffrey’s Creek and Jeffrey’s Neck and his lucrative fishing grounds on Jeffrey’s Ledge at Ipswich.

John Winthrop (1588-1649)

Independents and ex-Plymouth fisherfolk in Cape Ann’s nooks and crannies—Kettle Cove, Lobster Cove, Pigeon Cove—quickly added themselves to the rolls of the plantation or became part of the new town by gifting their land to it on condition of getting it back through redistribution or being allowed to live and make a living on it! In a long letter called The Planter’s Plea, John White begged the General Court to let the Old Planters in Salem-Beverly keep at least the land on which their houses stood, which was granted. First comers at Jeffrey’s Creek also were permitted some acreage for a town (renamed Manchester-by-the-Sea).

The four ships John Winthrop brought to New England, 1630
William F. Halsall (1841-1919)

The scale of this disaster makes one wonder if the plight of first comers—some of whose descendants still live here—is the deep-time source of local distrust of state government, prevalent in Gloucester and other coastal Massachusetts towns down to the present day. The earliest settlers and entrepreneurs had been disenfranchised, displaced, and potentially pauperized overnight. If they lacked ownership of their land, they lacked the chief means of upward mobility—other than participation in the slave trade by supplying corn, barley, and fish to the Bermuda and Caribbean slave plantations.

The fur trade was no longer a source of income. After a hundred years of dealing with Abenaki middlemen in the French fur trade, the Native people of Essex County were no longer interested and in any case, had already hunted beaver to near extinction. And the domestic shipbuilding and maritime industries had barely begun. The sketchy Cape Ann economy, interrupted, was soon thoroughly regulated and taxed, although to encourage maritime industries, the General Court excused fishermen from military training, duties on salt, and tithes on their catches.

The General Court redistributed the land first comers had borrowed, bought, or taken from the Indians to fleets of newcomers during the Great Migration, in which an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people emigrated to New England between 1630 and 1642.

Newcomers to Newbury, Rowley, and Ipswich included prosperous North Country weavers and woolen manufacturers and gentlemen farmers. They flourished on the rich alluvial soils of their broad floodplains and built country estates. Beverly and Beverly Farms likewise had large expanses of prime agricultural land.

First comers to Cape Ann (Gloucester, Rockport, Essex) had been fishermen from the West Country—Devon, Dorset, Hampshire—but most newcomers were illiterate and even less well-off farmers from Gloucester, Warwick, and Worcester. On Cape Ann, they were homesteading on marginal land unconducive to large-scale agriculture and easily damaged by over-grazing. Over time, first cattle and “rother beasts”, then sheep and pigs, and finally goats were all the land would support. Harvesting pole pines for the Royal Navy and salt marsh hay for animal fodder became the leading export industries.

Plantation proprietors petitioned the General Court for clear legal title to their lands, becoming towns with selectmen or aldermen. They were required to pay (or repay) the Indians to obtain quitclaim deeds. Gloster Plantation, established in 1638, and then the Town, incorporated in 1642, complied by renting land from Masquenominet! This is a little-known, possibly hidden, fact that you will not find in local archives. Gloucester rented to buy, paying the Indians over time. Over the next 50 years, they paid in kind—bushel baskets of Indian corn—in lieu of cash. The last recorded installment was paid in 1682. Gloucester paid its taxes and military dues the same way—in Indian corn, barley, and peas, with frequent requests for quota reductions and abatements.

In 1700/1701 Samuel English and Masquenomenit’s other grandchildren sued Gloucester in General Court—another little-known/hidden fact—and they won their case. The General Court ordered Gloucester to pay the balance owed in cash—£7 for the 10,000 acres, including Essex.

The newcomers to Cape Ann were farming among the rocks in sandy, acid soils, and after centuries of inshore overfishing, fishermen were having to sail five miles out to Stellwagen or Jeffrey’s Ledge (or 60 miles out to George’s Bank in the Gulf of Maine, and later even farther) to find market fish in any quantity. More important, the start of the English Civil War in 1641 put an abrupt end both to mass migration and to aristocrats’ investment schemes for making Gloucester Harbor into a prosperous international port.

In 1642 the General Court had invited a wealthy merchant prince in the tobacco trade, Maurice Thompson, to oversee Gloucester Harbor and to create and regulate shipping through a canal between Ipswich Bay and Massachusetts Bay. Such a canal—the Cut— would make shipping between Canada and Virginia both shorter and safer by avoiding the Cape, which was already littered with shipwrecks. The port also would serve as a distribution center for transatlantic trade. Thompson had a great flow of capital to invest from wealthy landowners in England, such as Richard Rich, the Earl of Warwick, who had a special interest in developing coastal New England.

The relationship between the Indian Village, Gloster Plantation, and the planned port at Duncan’s Point.

Governor Endecott had houses, docks, and warehouses built for Thompson at Duncan’s Point, where Harbor Loop is today, but the merchant prince did not accept the offer. He sent agents to check it out but never came. Greater riches were to be made in the Caribbean and South America. In 1643, in an effort to develop Gloucester on its own, the selectmen employed a Puritan from Plymouth, Richard Blynman, to make the Cut and serve as the town’s minister. Per usual, they paid in kind in lieu of a salary, offering some land and a free hand to profit from running a ferry or toll bridge across the Annisquam.

Things didn’t go well between the strict new pastor and the people of Gloucester. In 1650 he and his party, including the first town clerk, left for Connecticut Colony. The Cut was abandoned and soon filled in. It was dredged from time to time, but opportunities to salvage the dream were passed up again and again. By the time the Cut was reopened—in 1823 and again in 1907—it was too narrow and shallow to serve the international shipping industry, and steamships had less need of both the shortcut and the safety.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, Cape Ann men were out to sea or at war most of the time. Population declined. Provisioning fishing vessels became Gloucester’s main industry. Vessels were prey during the Anglo-Wabanaki and French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, the Napoleonic Wars, and the War of 1812. It’s said the British replenished their ships’ stores by raiding sheep pastures in Dogtown. Other coastal towns capitalized on home front industries that could provide war materiel—soldier’s uniforms, canvas for sails and tents, gun parts. Gloucester, in contrast, provided service as privateers, troop transports, and merchant marines. Later, men left for the California gold rush even as the granite industry was starting. But exploitation of immigrant labor meant that the quarries enriched their owners and corporate chiefs more than the towns. Men who did not fish left Cape Ann for jobs. The fishing industry became hugely successful, but dependence on fishing had given Gloucester a risky, undiversified economy—a kind of monoculture gradually leavened by summer resorts, artists, retirees, tourists, and (we can only hope) new industries.

History is a great teacher. As individuals and as municipalities, historical circumstances shape our prospects, but they do not necessarily determine them. We make ourselves, and we are not poor. That things are hard to change doesn’t mean they can’t.

 

Mary Ellen Lepionka lives in East Gloucester and is studying the history of Cape Ann from the Ice Age to around 1700 A.D. for a book on the subject. She is a retired publisher, author, editor, textbook developer, and college instructor with degrees in anthropology. She studied at Boston University and the University of British Columbia and has performed archaeology in Ipswich, MA, Botswana, Africa, and at Pole Hill in Gloucester, MA. Mary Ellen is a trustee of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society and serves on the Gloucester Historical Commission.

To An Unseen Loon

Loon © Marianne Thompson

by Barbara Beckwith

 

Listening for

Your loud loon-laugh

Lets me hear soft sounds

Bushes washing the harbor’s edge

Insect swarms, oardrip.

 

Searching for

Your long body skimming over water

Leads me to see secret shapes in driftwood,

Read meanings into your unseen deep dives

And surprise surfacings.

 

If by chance

I ever finally see you,

Mid one wild cry, I may lose you,

Your full mad beauty being half mine.

 

So if you dive deep and don’t come up

Except where I’m not looking,

I won’t mind.

Don’t let me make a poem out of you.

 

Barbara Beckwith writes essays, journalism, and poetry, often focused on her experiences with nature. She lives in Cambridge but often visits Gloucester, not to fish, sail, or lounge on its beaches, but to allow its slower pace to renew her writing.

FRED BUCK’S EMAILS

Prudence Fish

All of us have complicated lives that consist of varied activities, work, and interests.

I know little about Fred Buck’s family life, his life as a musician or even Fred Buck’s footsteps as a letter carrier immortalized by his friend, Willie Alexander, in a song by that name.  What I do know about is that he was photo archivist extraordinaire at the Cape Ann Museum and that I was the beneficiary of his emails.

More than ten years ago I was working on a book, Antique Houses of Gloucester, to be published by History Press.  What was necessary for the success of the book was access to the old photos of the houses that were hidden away at the Cape Ann Museum.

For some time Fred had been unearthing the boxes and stacks of old glass plate negatives that had not seen the light of day for who knows how long.  Fred tackled the huge job of scanning and identifying the collection; a seemingly never-ending job that would go on for years.

In the early 1880s, a team of photographers by the name of Corliss and Ryan came to Gloucester and photographed most of the houses in central Gloucester, the so-called Harbor Village, and the subject of my book.

Fred began searching for the houses on my list and as he emailed them to me the following pattern emerged.

Fred apparently was a true night owl.  I am a morning person.  So Fred, in the middle of the night, would email me a needed image.  Just a couple of hours later I would be starting my day in which the first order of business was checking my email.  An email from Fred would begin my day with a smile.  I couldn’t wait to see what fabulous antique images were attached to those emails! There was a steady flow.

The old Center house near the tracks on Washington Street in the snow. Circa 1950s.

But there was more.  The images for the book had to be put on a disk in the right order.  Some of my newer photos had to be tweaked to bring them up to the publisher’s standards.  Fred saw to it that everything was in good order and it was.  The publisher commented that the photos were perfect in quality and in order.  No additional tweaking was necessary.

With the book completed the email connection to Fred and the museum continued.  By this time Fred knew that there were certain houses I was interested in and he was always on the lookout for them.  One of these, the Jonathan Ober house, near Short and Main, tucked in the back but long gone was never found.  It showed up on Facebook last week!

Another house had eluded me for years.  The house had been moved, recently demolished and no one knew its original location.  Eventually, I discovered the location on Prospect St. and Fred found the picture in time to insert it in my book.

The old Elwell house moved from 96 Prospect Street to Fair Street in the 1890s and demolished circa 1990.

Fred and Willie Alexander were great friends.  Willie lived on School St. in a Victorian house.  There was something odd about the foundation in the basement.  It didn’t quite match the house.  What was going on?

Fred went with me to the home of Willie and his wife, Annie Rearick.  We went down into the cellar and I quickly recognized the problem.

The house moved from Mason St. to the site of the Proprietor’s School House on School Street to make way for Central Grammar.

In the early 19th century the elite of Gloucester sought a better school for their children and built what was called the Proprietor’s School House for which the street is still named.  After a number of years, it was no longer needed.  It was converted to tenements and its condition and reputation went downhill until it was an eyesore and a public nuisance. Eventually, to everyone’s relief, it was demolished.

Meanwhile, Gloucester High School nearby on Mason St. burned.  Plans to build Central Grammar on the site required the acquisition of more property.  One these properties consisted of land with a house.  In order to get the house out of the way for the school construction it was moved to School Street by house mover, John S. Parsons, and with adjustments was relocated on the old foundation of the Proprietors School House, now home to the Alexanders.  Thus, one more quirky story in Gloucester’s long history of Yankee ingenuity and house moving was explained.

I had long been looking for information about an ancient gambrel-roofed house that had stood with its gable end on Washington St. facing the train track.  I remembered it from my youth but it was gone.  It had belonged in the Center family. Not so long ago in an early morning email came a photo with the query from Fred, “Is this the one you’re looking for.”  Yes!  It was!

Circa 1880

 

Circa 1960

Deviating from old photos and glass plate negatives, one morning Fred sent a scan of a 19th century watercolor of a gambrel-roofed “Cape Ann Cottage.” The ancient house was on its last legs even in the 19th century.  A label stated that it was Mr. Griffin’s house near Plum Cove.  I had no idea where this house was but I sure wanted to know!  It couldn’t possibly be still standing.  There were outcroppings of rocks in the yard of the house and I searched trying to pin down a location with similar outcroppings.

Right out of the blue one day when I was on duty at the White-Ellery house a homeowner struck up a conversation with me and told me where she lived near Plum Cove.  She then went on to tell me that Barbara Erkkila had talked about an Englishman named William Northway who had built her house in the 1870s, reporting that there was evidence of an old foundation, chimney base and a possible threshold in the cellar of the Victorian house.  This homeowner will never forget the look on my face and my excitement at this scrap of information.  She couldn’t understand why I was so elated.

I couldn’t wait to get to my computer to research the deeds. I was not disappointed.  The deeds went straight back to Austin Griffin of Lanesville.  Ultimately the deeds took me back to the mid-18th century and the Sargent family who owned much of the land between Hodgkins Cove and Plum Cove.  The details fleshed out from deeds and probate records portrayed much about the life of the Peter Sargent family and his widow, Lucy Sargent, and how she shared the house with other heirs in a life of hardship but not atypical of 18th-century life of an average family.

The Sargent family built this house near Plum Cove in the 18th century. After more than 100 years, this is how it looked. Goodbye old house!

That mystery solved, Fred then sent me the scan of another Cape Ann Cottage portrayed in a watercolor belonging to Greg Gibson.  This watercolor depicts a charming old cottage larger than most with a central chimney.  Is that an old road sweeping past the house?  And is that a peek at blue water on the left side of the house?

This one, one of about 300 in the 18th century, remains a loose end, a mystery house.  It may never be identified because these small cottages were vulnerable to time or changes making them impossible to find or identify.

Small unidentified Cape Ann Cottage, a left over from the 18th century.

Occasionally, when Fred emailed a 19th-century photo I would be really stumped and would call on my friend, Peggy Flavin for help.  No one is more determined than Peggy to identify or find a gem of a house, shabby but with a story to tell.  She was more than happy to join in the search.  Peggy and I would drive all over town looking for clues to a mystery photo.  More often than not we were successful but not always.  Some are still eluding us.

A few days ago the subject of an old house on Gee Ave was being discussed on Facebook.  It was not the first time on Facebook that readers have submitted house photos that always evoke lively discussion.  The house has been changed dramatically but thanks to Fred I know what it originally looked like and the changes that have taken place.

The Old Castle near the end of Gee Ave. Originally a Cape Ann Cottage in the Bennett family the front was raised to a full two stories. Later the rear was altered until lines of the Cape Ann cottage were no longer visible

I won’t soon forget the last time I saw Fred a few months ago.

Helen McCabe and I had gone to the basement of the museum to work with old assessors’ record stored there.  We were researching records in hopes of dating a house for a historic plaque.

At 1:00 PM we thought we should leave so we climbed the stairs to the lower level of the museum only to find that we were locked in the basement stairwell.  My cell phone was dead and Helen’s phone was at home.

We pounded and yelled.  Then we pounded and yelled some more until our fists and voices were getting tired.  This was getting serious!

Then the door opened and there stood Fred with Stephanie right behind him laughing like crazy.  I will always remember Fred’s amused and smiling expression as we recovered and joined in the laughter.

Fred Buck’s early morning emails have been a very bright spot in the life of this old house preservationist and will be sorely missed.  I like to think that Fred thought it was as much fun for him as it was for me.

 

Prudence Fish, of Lanesville, is a published author and expert on antique New England houses. Read Prudence Fish’s blog, Antique Houses of Gloucester and Beyond.

The Settlement of Cape Ann: What is the Real Story?

by Mary Ellen Lepionka

Collection of the Cape Ann Museum. Scan � Cape Ann Museum Photo Archive 2015.

Unveiling Tablet Commemorating First Settlement of Massachusetts Bay Colony.    1907 Postcard

Quite often the truth is unwelcome. Tablet Rock in Stage Fort Park, for example, bears a plaque commemorating the 1623 landing of the Dorchester Company as the first settlement of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and founding of Cape Ann’s fishing industry. This vertigrised plaque has been at the center of a dispute about whether and how to clean it, but more important to me is that what it says is not true. Neither is the tercentennial marker in Fisherman’s Field that talks about Roger Conant averting a violent confrontation there through diplomacy. Averse to complexity, we oversimplify. Real history is more complicated than we are allowed to know.

Massachusetts Bay Colony did not exist before 1628. Between 1623 and 1628 the Dorchester Company plantation begun by Rev. John White failed; Salem Village was founded in Beverly by its remnants, led by Roger Conant; and the New England Company took over the Dorchester Company’s assets on Cape Ann after debts were paid.

Rev. John White

The New England Company sent John Endicott to govern and subsequently morphed into the Massachusetts Bay Company, which was financed by merchants, including some former Dorchester Company investors. The Massachusetts Bay Company then negotiated a royal charter with Charles I giving them sweeping rights and abrogating all previous claims. (At one time there were as many as 22 claims to all or part of New England.)

Endicott replaced Conant, who since 1625 had acted as governor for the Dorchester Company investors, replacing Thomas Gardner and John Tylly, the original co-leaders of White’s failed fishing plantation of 1623. In 1626, with the aid of an Indian guide, Conant had led the surviving plantation settlers—those who elected to stay rather than be returned to England—and their cattle on the Squam Trail to the Pawtucket village of Nahumkeak (Naumkeag) on the Cape Ann side of the Bass River (Beverly). This small party of English men, women, and children survived through Native agency and planted side by side with the Indians over the next 50 years. They established Salem Village and became known as the Old Planters—but that’s another whole story.

Statue of Roger Conant in Salem MA.

Endicott moved the seat of government across the river to present-day Salem, along with the Dorchester Company settlers’ first meetinghouse, which Conant had transported to Salem Village from Fisherman’s Field. Then in 1630 John Winthrop succeeded Endicott as governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, moved the capital to Dorchester, and established a General Court with a branch at Salem. He sent his son to prospect and protect Agawam, which became Ipswich in 1634. The Mass. Bay Colony expanded to absorb all the earlier settlements, including Plymouth Colony.

John Endicott

So, to say that Rev. John White’s Dorchester Company founded the Mass. Bay Colony (on the plaque) or even “founded the nucleus of the Mass. Bay Colony” (on the marker) is a bit of a stretch. That the fisheries “have been uninterruptedly pursued from this fort” (Stage Fort) since 1623 is essentially true, however. In 1637, before Gloucester was even founded, Endicott sent men from Salem to throw up earthworks at Stage Head to protect the fishing station there from possible Indian attack during the Pequot War.

Stage Fort Commemorative Tablet

However, the fishing industry on Cape Ann was founded by Plymouth, not Gloucester. From 1620 to 1626 fishermen from Plymouth established and operated fishing stations on Gloucester Harbor and at Stage Head; at Whale Cove, Straitsmouth, and Gap Head in Rockport; and at Great Neck, Ipswich, in the vicinity of Jeffrey’s Ledge. It was Plymouth’s stages for drying fish—and those of the Native Americans who also fished and dried fish there—for which Stage Head (aka Stage Point) was named.

Plymouth fishermen bunked in the Indians’ wigwams on Fisherman’s Field during the seasonal occupation of the fishing station. They complained to Governor William Bradford about the fleas. They were prompted to build their own wigwams, modified to have a chimney at one end, versus a smoke hole, and a rectangular door opposite—(until 1639, that is, when the General Court of the Mass. Bay Colony decreed that Englishmen may no longer live in wigwams but must build proper English houses).

In 1623 Governor Bradford resupplied Plymouth’s fishing outposts at Cape Ann and elsewhere. The fishermen included William Jeffreys and others who had sheltered at Plymouth following the failure of Thomas Weston’s colony at Wessagusset (present-day Weymouth), founded as a profit center for London merchants. Wessagusset lasted less than a year. Another refugee was Thomas Morton, who struck out on his own and founded the colony of Merrymount in Quincy. A second colony at Weymouth, founded by Robert Gorges (his father Ferdinando Gorges and John Mason also had a king’s grant to “New England”), also ended after a year. Both Weymouth experiments failed through bad decisions about relations with the Native people. Other fishermen at Cape Ann included free thinkers, outcasts, self-exiles, and DIY families from Plymouth, liberating themselves from what had turned out to be a strictly regulated society.

The earliest histories and accounts—Smith, Bradford, Winslow, Maverick, Hubbard, Phippen, Thornton—refer to Plymouth’s role in the founding of Cape Ann, but later ones—Adams, and especially Babson and Pringle—perhaps out of civic pride—gloss them over or omit them. In 1623 Plymouth bought a “Charter for Cape Anne” from Lord Sheffield, who had just received it from the Council for New England. Anxious to ensure the establishment of a successful Puritan colony in answer to the Pilgrim colony at Plymouth, the Council for New England had double-booked by issuing two “patents” that year—one to Lord Sheffield, and the other to Rev. John White, founder of the Dorchester Company. Without authorization and for unknown reasons, Sheffield promptly sold his charter to Plymouth. Governor Bradford later complained that he had been sold a “useless” (illegal) patent and that his Cape Ann had been “taken over by adventurers”.

Statue of Governor William Bradford in Plymouth MA

The “adventurers” were the 52 investors in the Dorchester Company. The venture capitalists’ plantation on Fisherman’s Field at Stage Head was intended to be a permanent agricultural settlement and fishery but was abandoned after three unprofitable fishing seasons, insufficient salt production, and two crop failures, even after resupplying from England. But theirs also is another whole story.

John White persuaded Roger Conant to lead any settlers who elected to stay at Cape Ann and to protect their cattle and other Dorchester Company assets, including their stages and the trappings of their salt-making operation. (Conant’s uncle was a friend of White’s and an investor.) Conant had left Plymouth to establish a trading post at Nantasket with John Oldham. Some fishermen with their families joined them there, including Conant’s brother, as well as Rev. John Lyford, whom Bradford had cast out of Plymouth for expressing “dangerous ideas”. These people came with Conant on the rescue mission to Cape Ann, except for Oldham, who turned down the offer of a monopoly in the fur trade with the Cape Ann Indians.

Conant found a sorry situation. Most of the survivors were brought back to England in ships the Dorchester Company sent for them, and some of Conant’s company also took advantage of the opportunity to return home, including Christopher Conant and John Lyford. In 1625, declaring Cape Ann unsuitable for anything, Conant made preparations to lead the party overland to another location to start over. This is where the plaque and historic marker come into the story again. They both refer to Roger Conant’s diplomacy that “averted bloodshed between two factions contending for a fishing stage.”

The event this refers to happened in 1625, but early historians got it wrong. Their take on it has been repeated ever since. It actually was a three-way confrontation over possession of the fishing station at Stage Head. It was between 1) Conant’s party, who were preparing to abandon the site; 2) Myles Standish, whom Bradford had sent to claim the area officially for Plymouth under the authority of the Sheffield Charter; and 3) West Countrymen from Plymouth under the leadership of John Hewes, representing disgruntled former Dorchester Company investors in London who had heard (from John Lyford) about the Dorchester Company’s bankruptcy. They were seeking to take possession of its assets to try to recover their losses.

Captain William Peirce, master of the Anne for the Plymouth Company, fishing Cape Ann waters, was anchored in Gloucester Harbor at the time. Peirce sent word to Governor Bradford about Hewes’ imminent takeover, and Bradford sent back Myles Standish to protect Plymouth’s interests. When Hewes’ men occupied the Dorchester Company stages and barricaded themselves behind hogsheads of salt, Standish threatened to open fire on them. At that point, according to Bradford (and to Hubbard who interviewed Conant in 1682), Conant and his men “rushed from their huts” (i.e., wigwams—for Conant had also complained to White about fleas) to intervene. Conant explained that the stages, equipment, salt, and patent for Stage Head were still the legal property of the Dorchester Company until further notice. I suppose you could call this diplomacy.

William Bradford recalled Standish and Peirce to Plymouth. Hewes and the Plymouth fishermen abandoned Cape Ann for the Kennebec River in Maine, where they established a fishing and fur trading post at Cushnoc. And Conant and his party left for Naumkeag. But I guess a historic plaque or marker can’t say all that. What they should say is that Tablet Rock was a sacred place for the Native people who lived on Fisherman’s Field and that the first English who came here would not have survived without their help.

 

Mary Ellen Lepionka lives in East Gloucester and is studying the history of Cape Ann from the Ice Age to around 1700 A.D. for a book on the subject. She is a retired publisher, author, editor, textbook developer, and college instructor with degrees in anthropology. She studied at Boston University and the University of British Columbia and has performed archaeology in Ipswich, MA, Botswana, Africa, and at Pole Hill in Gloucester, MA. Mary Ellen is a trustee of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society and serves on the Gloucester Historical Commission.

The Ghosts of Sacco and Vanzetti, Or Fear of the “Other”

Judith Winslow Walcott

Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco.  Ben Shahn (1898–1969) © MOMA

“Deep in my subconscious the names Sacco and Vanzetti struggle to reach the surface. Their pain and sacrifice are mirrored in the news I see everyday about travel bans, the exclusion of Muslim ‘terrorists’ and Mexican ‘rapists’ from the US, and the push to build a wall along the US-Mexican border to prevent ‘undesirables’ from entering our country.”

I wrote the above in January a year ago, and the fear of immigrants is ever present this year as we watch the painful struggle over the Dreamers. If we look back to Immigration Reform in 1924, the parallels to today are striking.

Vivian Yee, writing in the New York Times on January 13, 2018, sheds light on this:

The argument was genteel, the tone judicious, the meaning plain: America, wrote the senator leading Congress’s push for immigration reform in 1924, was beginning to “smart under the irritation” of immigrants who “speak a foreign language and live a foreign life.”

There were some familiar refrains in the 1924 immigration debate. Cheap immigrant labor had depressed wages, the restrictionists said. Immigrants had seized jobs from Americans, they said. But it was also heavy on racist rhetoric aimed at preserving what eugenicists and social theorists of the time called the “Nordic” race that, in their telling, had originally settled the United States. 

Just a couple of weeks ago “Nordic” appeared in the national conversation between the President and the Prime Minister of Norway. Paul Thornton says this in the New York Times, on January 11, 2018:

By now, we’ve all probably heard that Trump used a scatalogically charged epithet to say what he really thinks of those countries in Latin America and Africa that, contrary to all available evidence, continue to send their wretched refuse to our shores. What the roughly 4 million of us with parents, grandparents or long-ago Viking descendants from the smallest Scandinavian nation also noticed was Trump’s idea of the prototypical non-shithole country: our humble Norway.

The names Sacco and Vanzetti have now been forced into my consciousness as I see and read about the same bigotry, racism, and hate that surrounded their case in the news today.

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, an Italian fishmonger and a shoemaker, were accused and later convicted of murdering a guard and a paymaster during the April 15, 1920, payroll robbery of the Slater and Morrill Shoe Company in Braintree, Massachusetts. The case dragged on for over seven years before they were executed in the electric chair here in Massachusetts at the Charlestown State Prison, on August 23, 1927.

The arguments against them are not very different from what we are hearing today. Sacco and Vanzetti were Italian and Anarchists. The country was stirred up by the Palmer Red Raids of 1919-1920, during which suspected radicals, many of whom were immigrants, were detained and deported from the US. The Establishment in Boston was terrified of these immigrants and what they feared they might do.  But there was a Defense Committee for Sacco and Vanzetti with many supporters here in Boston and around the world.  We thought The Women’s March the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated was enormous; but pictures taken during the seven years the two immigrants suffered in jail show massive crowds also.

Funeral procession for Sacco and Vanzetti in Boston, August 28, 1927.

As a child, there was a strangeness surrounding certain things to do with family—my own family of Republicans, and my paternal aunts and uncles, Democrats. The lightning rod was my paternal grandmother Gertrude L. Winslow, a supporter and defender of the innocence of these two men.

In the last years before they were executed my grandmother was allowed into the jail to visit them. It is from this correspondence that we see their humanity. In August of 1927, my grandmother and a good friend who spoke Italian made the trip to Italy to visit both Sacco and Vanzetti’s families.

Gertrude Winslow (right) leaves the Charlestown State Prison with Mrs. Glendower Evans (left) and Mrs. Rosina Sacco (center) after a visit to Sacco and Vanzetti.

In a letter from the Dedham Jail House June 27, 1927, Bartolomeo Vanzetti writes to my grandmother:

“Dear Friend Mrs. Winslow:

Now, when you will reach my native home-just think to be at your own. You will be tired by the long trip and that is a good place for rest and restor. To went and left in a day, would be a senseless fatigue and there would not be time enough to explain things to my people. Besides that, the interpreter could be out of home or busy-while if you can stay there longer, all of you will have time to understand and explain one another. My sisters will be happy to have you there-they love all who help us and are proud of them. So please, just think to be at home and don’t leave the place until you feel well.”

As a child, I didn’t have these letters as a testament to the defendants’ humanity.  I only had concrete objects like the pink and blue baby blanket knitted by Mrs. Sacco for my brother Nick. He was 14 years older than me, born in 1927, the year they were executed. That blanket wrapped me as a baby many years later.  It was a blanket that fascinated me because it had blue yarn on one side and pink on the other, possibly knitted that way before we were able to determine the sex of the unborn baby, so it was a true gender-neutral gift. The importance was the new life, not the gender.

I also had other experiences.  It was the innuendos and comments that were difficult for me to understand.  I was being taught something, but I was not sure what.

Mary Martin, stirring up controversy in racist America of the 1950’s, sang loud and clear in the musical “South Pacific,”

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

The insidious thing is that the teaching is not overt and a child is left to figure out the subtext often denying their own humanity.

When my grandmother called “Nana” by our family and “Windblow” by all the cousins because, as children, they could not pronounce “Winslow,” would be coming to dinner, my parents would say, “We will not talk politics”.

Then there is a very clear image of meeting Mrs. Sacco on Mt. Vernon Street in Boston. I think I was with my mother; but there was a strangeness to the encounter and somehow it is intermingled with the Hurdy Gurdy man I was fascinated with, who was always near that spot and also happened to be Italian.

Looking back now, I see the tensions that must have existed between my father, an investment banker, and my mother’s father, a successful electrical engineer, and my paternal grandmother— this radical feminist, who was also one of the founders of the ecumenical Community Church of Boston.   Fear of difference and loss and “other” was at the root of it all, then as it is now.

I see this mirrored so clearly today as the Republicans and the corporate world they represent are so terrified that their vast wealth will somehow be diminished by opening our country to immigrants that they are blind to the rest of the world, a world that is already diminished by poverty, bad health care, racism, horrific natural disasters, and so much more.

The poet Emma Lazarus understood the vision that this country was founded upon.  In 1883 she wrote these lines, which appear on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The power and vision of that lamp is what we must never let be extinguished.

So once again the brave and courageous among us outraged by this inhumanity must speak up. More importantly, the Congress of the United States must speak out.

A thread that runs through the letters of both Niccola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti to my grandmother is the need to be brave, and so I leave you with the words of Bartolomeo Vanzetti, written four months before he was executed:

“April 19, 1927, Dedham Jail

Dear Mrs. Winslow:

Oh! Your mayflowers are dear and sweet and most heartly accepted. They remember me of Plymouth and of the woods: the woods which I love so much. They are the flowers of the woods. I thank you very much.

Was not that foolish and unjust to deny you admission? It seems impossible. I was sorry for me and for you. Let’s hope that I may see you again before to die.

Meanwhile keep up a brave heart, dear Mrs.  Winslow.”

My grandmother was never to see him again, as she writes in her memoir:

“…when we reached Rome having successfully concluded our visits to the homes of both Italians, we sent a cable to them in the Death House in Charlestown, telling them that we had seen their families and delivered their messages. I have always hoped that this may have brought them a ray of comfort in their last hours.

“Mrs. Ratcliffe and I read of their execution on August 23rd in an Italian newspaper as we sat on a bench in the little village of Argentiere in the French Alps.”

 

Judy Walcott retired in 2014 after over 20 years of teaching at the Adult Learning Center at North Shore Community College. She also taught reading in the Gloucester Public Schools and is a Certified Dyslexia Therapist. Before becoming involved in education focused on reading, she worked at Facing History and Ourselves, an education project dedicated to the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide. It was here that the parallels concerning racism and bigotry and the work of her grandmother began to germinate.

EZRA PHILLIPS: AN ARCHITECT FOR GLOUCESTER 1870-1937

Prudence Fish

One man, Ezra Lunt Phillips, changed the face of Gloucester. There is no doubt about it.

My acquaintance with the legacy of Ezra Phillips began about 1987.  At a yard sale, I discovered a photograph reprinted from a glass plate negative.  It was labeled “Ezra Phillips in his new car”.

Ezra Phillips in His New Car

My friend was curious and said, “Who do you suppose that is?” to which I replied that I knew exactly who he was …the architect of the very house on Edgemore Rd that was built at the turn of the 20th century and in 1987 being restored.  It was called Balmaha.  Then I realized what Ezra Phillips was looking at.  It was Balmaha under construction. This is the very same beautiful house that in 1987 was in the midst of being restored by Susan and Rick Richter.  I had seen the original plans with his name on them. In this photo he is visiting the work site, surveying the progress. Copies of the photo were given to the Richters, their brokers, the new owners and others.

Balmaha, Edgemoor Rd.

Ezra’s father was a flour dealer.  His business was on the right-hand corner of what is now Main St. and Duncan St.

By the early 1890s, Ezra had opened an architecture office at 4 Pleasant St. and was still boarding at home but by 1896 he owned the property on Gloucester Avenue that was to be his home for the rest of his life. The address changed several times but it was always the same house.

His wife’s name was Grace and they had two children, Elizabeth and Nathan.

Ezra Phillips, throughout his life, contributed more than his architecture to the community.  He was very active at Trinity Congregational Church and the YMCA.

In addition to volunteer organizations he was an officer or board member of many institutions including vice president of the Gloucester Safe Deposit and Trust Co., the Cape Ann Savings Bank, treasurer of the Cape Ann Anchor Works, the Russia Cement Co., the Gloucester Coal and Lumber Co. the Rockport Granite Co. and a charter member of the Rotary.  Where did he find the time to design all the beautiful buildings?

By 1902, after living for many years on Washington Square, his father, Nathan, and mother, Maria, moved to 159 Washington St. at the corner of Derby.  This is a lovely house but it is not known if their son had a hand in renovations.  They also had a summer home at Agamenticus Heights (Wolf Hill area) overlooking the Russia Cement Company. (LePage’s) with which the family was involved.

4 Nathan Phillips House, 159 Washington St.

Nathan Phillips passed away in 1905 but his widow continued on living in the large house on the corner of Derby St.

By 1926 Timothy Holloran had joined the architectural firm which then became known as Phillips and Holloran.  They continued as partners at least through 1935.  Ezra Phillips died in 1937. Timothy Holloran continued on alone.

Timothy Holloran’s son, Robert Holloran, joined his father after graduating from Wentworth Institute.  Eventually, Robert went to work in Boston at Shepley Bullfinch, the prestigious firm founded by Henry Hobson Richardson.

But during all these years there was a miracle in the making.  Ezra Phillips had never thrown away a set of plans and neither had his partner Timothy Holloran.  They were carefully kept and after the death of Timothy this treasure trove, like a big pot of gold, descended to Robert Holloran who thoughtfully preserved them.

Robert Holloran died at a very old age in 2008 and in 2011 the plans were given to the Cape Ann Museum.  Here is what is so astonishing.  There were more than 300 plans mostly for local buildings! Is it hard to get your head around this?  There are existing plans for 300 of some of the best and most beautiful and important buildings on Cape Ann. These plans span the period from about 1890 until the middle of the 20th century.

Municipal buildings include renovations to the former town-house, now known as the American Legion building in preparation for the returning veterans of WW1.

There were renovations to Central Grammar by Phillips, originally designed by another architect and native son, Tristram Griffin of Riverdale whose practice was in Malden.

Phillips designed at least one hotel, the Tavern, located on the Boulevard, replacing the Surfside.

In short, any building of any consequence renovated or built during that more than half a century can often be credited to Phillips or to Phillips & Holloran after they became partners.

But how about the countless houses for which they were responsible? Do you recognize these landmark houses?

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When all is said and done we now have concrete evidence of the magnitude of the work of Ezra Phillips and continuing with the firm of Phillips & Holloran.  Imagine three hundred plus sets of drawings documenting the development of this city for more than half a century.  What a wealth of information is stored in those tightly rolled-up sets of plans; plans that thankfully have found a permanent home at the Museum.  What a legacy for Gloucester!

Ezra Phillips’ funeral took place at Trinity Church on Middle Street.  Rev. Dwight Cart conducted the service in the place where Phillips had long been a deacon. He was assisted by the former pastor, Rev. Dr. Albert A. Madsen and Rev. Edmund A. Burnham, pastor of the Essex Congregational Church.

It is fitting that Rev. Cart quoted from Oliver Wendall Holmes, Sr., “The Chambered Nautilus” beginning with “Build thee more stately mansions.  O my Soul”.

He went on to describe the life of Ezra Phillips as “well designed with nothing cheap and shoddy in its building.  A life founded upon faith, built upon quiet service enhanced by joy and humor, active, alert, community-minded, true to friendship, honest and sincere.  One who loved many things, and served many interests tirelessly, but whose first love was still his last…his home, and those who have made these walls live by the constancy of their service and affection.

His was a life well lived.

But that’s not all.  Here is an example of how he is still contributing eighty years after his death.

The  Sawyer Free Library is in the midst of discussions concerning the expansion of the library or complete replacement.  One of the sections of the library, the stacks section, was built in 1913.  Its future is up in the air.  The building committee turned to the Cape Ann Museum, and of course, it was almost predictable that they would have the plans for the “fireproof” building.  In ascertaining its value this new information about its fireproof construction adds another element in the evaluation and worth of the building.  Fireproof!  Who knew?

After the plans arrived in Gloucester at the museum, I had the pleasure of trying to track down his descendants, none of whom were here in Gloucester.  After making calls to places and people in Vermont and in New York I finally found his grandson in Northbridge, MA.  Although in his eighties, William Christopherson was still very active.

When I reached him I asked him if he had any heirlooms, keepsakes or trinkets that had come down to him from his grandfather.  He told me that he had one thing that belonged to Ezra.  I should have been sitting down when he said, “I have his last automobile”.  One could predict after looking at the early photo of Ezra in front of Balmaha that he would have a special car.  It had a name of which I had never heard.  It was from the late 1920s and a rare and expensive automobile. His grandson was perhaps seven or eight years old when Ezra died but he begged his mother to keep the car.  She did keep the car and can you believe that it is in perfect condition and still on the road!  I don’t think it gets driven much but the fact that he still has it makes me smile.  I can picture it in the driveway on Gloucester Ave. Now if I could only remember the name.

We must remember Ezra Phillips for his contributions to his hometown and for all he accomplished in and for the City of Gloucester.  We must also pay attention to endangered buildings that with a little research might prove to be attributed to the firm of Phillips or Phillips and Holloran and reconsider their worth.

Few of us have realized that in almost any neighborhood in the City of Gloucester one could look around and see the fruit of the three hundred sets of plans designed by him and his partner if only we knew which ones they are.  But thanks to the museum, there is now a master list and they can be identified.

Ezra Phillips changed the face of this City, one building at a time.

 

 

Prudence Fish, of Lanesville, is a published author and expert on antique New England houses. Read Prudence Fish’s blog, Antique Houses of Gloucester and Beyond.