Dogtown Headed for National Register

Public meeting on November 29 in Kyrouz Auditorium in Gloucester City Hall, 7pm

Dogtown. 1934           Marsden Hartley (1877-1943)

By Mary Ellen Lepionka

During the week of November 13 a team of archaeologists from the Public Archaeology Laboratory (PAL) in Providence will be conducting fieldwork in Dogtown. They will begin mapping and describing an area to be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, a National Park Service program to honor historically significant buildings and landscapes. National Register listing confers special status on a property or area as a cultural heritage to be proud of and to preserve.

As an honorary designation, National Register status carries no restrictions on the use of property, which is entirely up to the owners and communities to decide. The only condition is that state or federally funded projects will be subject to review by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, which will issue a statement on whether or not a given project will be harmful to any historical and cultural resources identified in the listing.

The PAL archaeologists will identify and scientifically map all the historical and cultural features in Dogtown, including trails, stone walls and bridges, cellar holes and mill sites, quarries and motions, boulders with names and stories, and rock piles and scenes that inspired artists and writers. As a result of National Register status, Dogtown will become more eligible for grants for rehabilitation projects and educational programs. The hope is that our communities will be inspired to undertake landscape restoration and maintenance for public safety and public access and for the protection of Dogtown as a cultural as well as a natural resource. The hope is also that Dogtown will be preserved as the “wilderness” everyone loves for everyone’s recreational enjoyment. National Register status will lay a new groundwork—a first step—for the future of Dogtown.

A public informational meeting about the Dogtown project will be held on November 29 in Kyrouz Auditorium in Gloucester City Hall, 9 Dale Ave., starting at 7pm. Presenters will include Betsy Friedberg from the Massachusetts Historical Commission, who will explain how the National Register program works and what it does and does not do, and Kristen Heitert, the lead archaeological on the PAL team, who will present an initial plan for defining the boundaries of Dogtown as a National Register District. People attending the meeting will be asked to respond to that plan and to express their views about what makes Dogtown special. What should be the boundaries of the proposed National Register District? What cultural features should be described as part of it?

The Dogtown archaeological survey is funded through a matching grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the Dusky Foundation and is financed by the City of Gloucester. The Gloucester Historical Commission (GHC) applied for the grant and is coordinating the project in collaboration with the Rockport Historical Commission (RHC). The local project coordinator is Bill Remsen, and the committee includes GHC co-chairs Mary Ellen Lepionka and Bob Whitmarsh, Jude Seminara, RHC chair Jim Ugone, and Tom Mikus of the Rockport Rights of Way Committee. The PAL team will also have the assistance of members of the Dogtown Advisory Committee, the Cape Ann Trail Stewards, the Gloucester Archives, and the Friends of Dogtown, who will be serving as information sources and trail guides.

We hope everyone with an interest in Dogtown will come to the informational meeting on November 29, but anyone who cannot may also send their comments to Bill at and/or Mary Ellen at

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.

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