Captain Karma

On our way down the dock to practice for the upcoming International Dory Race, I noticed two of the dories were half sunk with about 100 gallons of rain water from the last two days of heavy rain. I commented to my dorymate, Capt. Rick Miles, “Somebody should bail those boats”, knowing that if they remained that way, they would absorb more seawater and be heavier for whichever unlucky competitor drew them next week.

“Let’s do it!” he replied, even though we were laden with thwarts, tholepins and oars.

I thought, “Damn! Shoulda kept my mouth shut!” We were on our way to do wind sprints, where we row so hard in bursts it induces nausea. So I tried to get out of it, “Let’s do it after practice.”

“Come on!” he says, “I’ll take this one, you take that one”, and he jumps in one of the dories and starts bailing. I had no choice. Being the competitive fool I am, I start bailing for all I’m worth, so I can finish faster and gloat about how good I am. Just as my back was stiffening, when I had about another 25 gallons still to bail, my dorymate says, “coming in.”, and jumps in my boat to help. I couldn’t help the overwhelming feeling that my dorymate had just taught me ANOTHER very important lesson.

Fifteen minutes later, as we turned North in our dory, ‘rounding the Coast Guard Station to head up into the North Channel to do our wind sprints, there was a fishing boat coming in, way out in the Outer Harbor with its long outriggers up. “Is that the ‘Midnight Sun’?” Rick asked. We could tell it was blue but couldn’t read the name yet.

“Can’t tell yet”

Well, we did our wind sprints and on our way back toward Harbor Cove I looked over my shoulder and there, dead ahead and directly in our course, was the boat that was coming in, and I could clearly read the name now, in bold capital letters: “KARMA”

One minute later as we were coming by the Maritime Heritage Center, here was good friend, Capt. Tom Jarvis, just pulling away from the dock in his beautiful Friendship Sloop, “Resolute”, and he hailed us, “wanna go sailing? I’ll pick you up at the Town Landing!”

Resolute

One hour later we were completely engaged in idle talk of boats and weather. Totally present. Three Gloucestermen. Our ears filled with every sound: the surf pounding the Magnolia coast, the waves lapping Resolute’s hull, the occasional luff of a sail, the Groaner. The setting Sun illuminating everything: Sails, Spars, Ten Pound Island, us in particular. Our nostrils full with sweet, salty sea mist with just a hint of seagull guano from Norman’s Woe. Our very skin and hair telling us the wind is out of the Southwest. The temperature had already dropped 10 degrees, even though the Sun hadn’t quite set, and the three-quarter moon had risen a half hour ago.

We were one with everything around us, in our element, fully aware we are blessed to be part of this special place and time.

 

James Tarantino (Jimmy T.) is an exemplary outdoor enthusiast who heralds his love of family, friends, and his passion for all things Gloucester.

Wingawecheek: The Story of a Name

Mary Ellen Lepionka  5/25/17

Wingaersheek                      Wayne Morrell (1923-2013)

In my studies of Native American history in coastal Essex County, I discovered that most translations of Native place names we have today are wrong! One reason is that early linguists referred to the wrong languages: those of southern New England. They consulted William Bradford’s notes on Pokanoket, for example, or Roger Williams’ dictionary of Narraganset, or John Eliot’s translation of the Bible into Massachuset.

But the Algonquians who lived on Cape Ann were not Pokanoket, Narraganset, or Massachuset. They were Pawtucket, relatives of the Pennacook, originally from New Hampshire and southern Maine. They spoke a dialect of Western Abenaki. According to early European explorers, except for a patois used in trading, the Pawtucket needed interpreters to speak to their neighbors to the south!

The French were the chroniclers of Abenaki and Micmac and other Algonquian languages of northern New England. But the early English linguists and historians did not consult French sources. If they had, we might have known all along what our local Native place names really mean. How hard it is to change them now! For generations, we have taken the early local scholars at their word.

Curious, I decided to use present-day reconstructions of Abenaki dialects to analyze surviving Pawtucket place names and try to determine how they really sounded and what they really mean. I started with Wingaersheek, my favorite childhood beach. I had a strong hunch that Wingaersheek was a corruption of a Native New England Algonquian word.

In his 1860 history of Gloucester John Babson claims that in 1638 when John Endicott’s surveyors asked the Indians living at the end of Atlantic Street on the Jones River Saltmarsh the name of Cape Ann, the Indians replied, “Wingaersheek”. This story has been repeated ever since. Robert Pringle, journalist and publicist, repeated it in his 1890 history. Pringle also wrote that Wingaersheek means “beautiful breaking water beach,” based on the ethnographer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft’s faulty attempts at ethnolinguistics.

Wingaersheek would not have been the name for Cape Ann, however. It would have named the Pawtucket village there and its river and beach. (John Mason’s 1831 map of Cape Ann shows the site as Old Coffin Farm.) Algonquian place names are always about geographic features. They describe a landscape or a resource it contains, and settlements and villages associated with that landscape or resource went by the same name.

The Pawtucket also would have had a different word than Wingaersheek, which had to be an English corruption. For one thing, in the old Algonquian dialects of northern New England, the /r/ and /l/ phones were not used in speech, as noted by Europeans. Explorers at Sagadahoc on the Kennebec River noted in 1622, for example, that nobsten was the closest pronunciation for lobster that the Native Americans there seemed capable of saying.

In 1654, 1674, and 1721, Indians—undoubtedly Abenaki speakers—were reported as referring to the Merrimack River as the Monumach (or Monomack) River. Likewise, the Pawtucket name for their site near the mouth of the Annisquam River would not have included the /r/ sound at the center of Wingaersheek. The English one might, though.

Elizabethan and Tudor English speakers often added an /r/ sound to syllables ending in /a/.  Listening to Yankee grandparents, for example, you may still hear that Cousin Anner had a good idear. Thus the middle syllable in Wingaersheek must have been an Englishism or an error in transcription, making it a corruption of a Pawtucket word. This gave me Wingaesheek, but that couldn’t be right either. And there was another barrier besides to understanding.

In 1895 Boston historian E. N. Horsford claimed that the name is a corruption of a seventeenth-century loan word from German Low Dutch: Wyngaerts Hoeck for “wine (or grape) garden peninsula (or land)”.  The Dutch left that name on a map, in the sea off the Massachusetts coast, but I knew it could have had nothing to do with the Indians. There are too many sound shifts between Wyngaerts Hoeck and Wingaersheek, and besides, the Dutch had little or nothing to do with Cape Ann. If they had, more than one place name here would be attributable to them today.

I learned that Horsford based his claim on a 1671 map of “New Belgium” by the Dutch explorer, Arnoldus Montanus, in an etching by John Ogilby published in 1673. Montanus, in turn, based his map largely on Capt. John Smith’s 1624 map of New England, and Smith, in turn, got some of his place names from an Abenaki sachem at Saco, Maine. Wingaersheek was not among them.

Dutch Map – Montanus

I consulted all the sources from ethnolinguists who wrote about Native place names in New England and all the accounts of explorers and colonists who commented on Native language—all too numerous to list here. I also saw French sources, such as Joseph Laurent’s 1884 New familiar Abenakis and English dialogues and Jesuit missionary texts collected by Eugene Vetromille, published in 1857 as the Indian Good Book.

My proposed reconstruction of Wingaersheek as Wingawecheek is based specifically on the discovery of wechee as an Abenaki word for “ocean, sea”, found in an old lexicon, and a meaning for winka- (singular)/winga- (plural) as “a kind of sea snail or whelk,” proposed by Carol Dana of the Department of Cultural and Historic Preservation of the Penobscot (Penawahpskewi) Indian Nation, on Indian Island, Maine, in 2011, based on her participation in a Western Abenaki language revival program. I learned further that the /k/ at the end of Algonquian place names is a locative suffix, denoting place, and translates as “on”, “at”, “here” or “there” depending on context.

So now I had Winga wechee k, “Here be sea whelks,” or the like. My research suggested that the whelks in question may have been the type used to make white wampum beads. Shells certainly would have been a geographic resource worthy of an Algonquian place name. They were an important cultural and economic commodity. The coastal Algonquians used whelk shells to make white wampum beads and quahog shells to make the purple ones. Wampum was central to many social and political practices and was traded from the coast as far inland as Lake Michigan. So:

Wingaersheek = Wingawecheek

          Winga = “snails, whelks

wechee = “ocean, sea”

            -k = (locative suffix)

= “Here are sea whelks (of the kind used to make white wampum)”

Aerial of Wingawecheek

Now I’m on the bridge at Goose Cove, looking across the Annisquam at the fringes of white sand and grassy dunes. Are the whelk shells I gathered in my red pail as a child still there? Now I’m on Long Wharf, looking out at the Jones River Saltmarsh. Behind me is the site of a Contact Period Native settlement. Its excavated archaeological remains lie in storage in the Harvard Peabody Museum in Cambridge. Were they the people who told Endicott’s men the name of their place? Wingawecheek must have been that name, but I’m the first to say so. And that’s the challenge of doing history, it seems: to give up what we think we know and open ourselves to new information and new interpretations, to look beyond our spatial and temporal borders—go over the bridges—to understand what’s in a name, and in the end to embrace who we really are.

PS:

  • Quascacunquen (Wessacucon) = Kwaskwaikikwen: Newbury/Rowley) = “Ideal place for planting (corn)”
  • Agawam (Castle Neck, Ipswich) = “Other side of the marsh”
  • Chebacco (Essex) = “Separate area in between (the Ipswich and Annisquam rivers)”
  • Annisquam = Wanaskwiwam (Wenesquawam/Wonasquam) = Cape Ann) = “End of the marsh”
  • Winniahdin (West Parish) = “In the vicinity of the heights”
  • Wamesit (Lowell, Pawtucket winter village) = “Room for all (the marsh goers)”
  • Naumkeag (Nahumkeak: Beverly/Salem) = “Here are eels (to fish for)”

 

 

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, serves on the Gloucester Historical Commission, and volunteers for Friends of Dogtown, Annisquam Historical Society, and Maud/Olson Library.

 

All from Somewhere Else

Peter Anastas

Old Gloucester           Theresa Bernstein (1890-2002)

In 1908, my father arrived in America wearing his mother’s shoes.  He had come to join his father, who was working at the Massachusetts Cotton Mill in Lowell.

He was wearing his mother’s shoes because he didn’t own any.  When the officials at the port of Piraeus saw that my father was barefoot, they refused to let him on the ship to America.  It was then that his mother took off her own shoes and handed them to her son.  He would never see his mother again.

When my father arrived in Lowell, he discovered that his father had died from consumption, his lungs packed with textile fibers.  Dad was 9 years old.

A year later, my father was hawking newspapers on the corner of State and
Court streets in Boston.  When he had earned enough money, he bought a shoeshine stand.  At night he taught himself English using Webster’s New International Dictionary and the Boston Evening Transcript.   I still have that dictionary.

At the age of eighteen Dad enlisted in the army and was sent to Europe as a medic, where he remained for the duration of the First World War.   After the war, Dad began to pursue his dream of owning his own business.  He entered the wholesale candy business, eventually coming to Gloucester where he and a partner bought Johnny’s Morgan’s Candy Company on the Boulevard.   When the city took the properties to create an esplanade for Gloucester 300th anniversary in 1923, Dad relocated the business to the corner of Western and Centennial avenues, calling it the Boulevard Sweet Shop.   In 1949 he sold that business and we moved to Rocky Neck, where Dad opened a luncheonette and S.S. Pierce gourmet grocery store called Peter’s.  The store, which for many years became the social center for Rocky Neck life, exists today as Sailor Stan’s.

Papou the Elder. Rocky Neck

Years after he had come to Gloucester, Dad continued to speak English with a strong accent.   I remember once when Eddie Bloomberg, whose father owned Bloomberg’s clothing store and the Strand Theater on Main Street, joked that Dad, like his own father, “murdered the English language.”

“I’d like to know what you would do,” Dad shot back. “Alone in a strange country and no one to turn to.”

My father never went beyond fourth grade in school, but he valued learning.  He sent my brother and me to college, not because he wanted us to do better than he did, but because he wanted us to become “educated,” as he often said.  When I was studying Greek in college, Dad and I used to translate The Iliad together.  He hadn’t forgotten the Ancient Greek he learned in grade school and he could still recite from Homer’s great epics.

After Dad sold the store on Rocky Neck in 1964 and retired, he spent most of his free time collecting and reading books about Greece.

I have a photograph of my mother’s family.  It was taken in front of the Fitz Henry Lane house, where they lived.  It is dated April 6, 1914.  The photograph shows the entire household, my maternal grandparents, all my aunts and uncles, except my uncle George Polisson, who wasn’t born yet.  There are other people in the picture, relatives from Boston and a couple of the men who boarded with the family.

Everyone in the picture is Greek.  Two men are seated playing “bouzoukia,” Greek mandolins; another holds a pitcher of wine and a tray with glasses.  Still, another holds a whole leg of lamb on a skewer.  It is Greek Easter.  It says so in the lower corner of the picture.  In the upper left corner it reads, “Christos Anesti,” which means “Christ is Risen.”

Polisson Family – Lane House. 1914.

The people in the photograph are “different,” the men swarthy, the women exotic with long dark hair done up in buns.  They are holding objects from their own culture, the wine and the lamb, the “bouzoukia.”  The writing on the photograph is in Greek.

I didn’t think I was different until once, in Miss Parks’ second-grade class at the Hovey School, we were asked where our parents were born.  When I told the teacher that my mother had been born in Gloucester but that my father came from Sparta, Greece, one of the kids (I’ve never forgotten her name) piped up: “Sounds like a can of grease.”   After that my brother and I were called “Greasy Greeks” or “Greaseballs.”  When I went home crying one day, my father said, “Tell them that you’re proud to be Greek.  Tell them that the democratic system of government they live under was invented in Greece.”   This happened during the Second World War and I cannot help but think that the war had colored people’s attitudes toward immigrant families like my own.

In the Gloucester of my childhood one heard many different languages and smelled many different kinds of cooking on the way home from school:  Italian, Portuguese, Greek, Yiddish, French Canadian, Finnish, Polish and Russian, among others.   Our grandmothers learned enough of each other’s language to converse over the backyard fences.   Growing up down the Cut or at the Fort, we and our friends had a working knowledge of Italian, exchanging some pungent swearwords in Greek and Italian.  The first African-Americans I saw were jazz musicians, who came to perform at the Hawthorne Inn Casino, in East Gloucester, beginning in the early 1950s, when my brother and I sneaked up the back stairs to listen to this wild new music, which we soon began to play ourselves.  It wasn’t long before we heard Spanish on the street and even Vietnamese and Cambodian.  Though it has always been a cosmopolitan city due to its many ethnicities and art culture, Gloucester has continued to change.  Yet the incredible diversity that defines us has remained the same.

We are all superficially different, and we all came from someplace else.  What brings us together are the stories we tell.  The people in those stories may have different names or speak in languages we do not know, but the tales of arrival and loss, of recognition and assimilation, pain and joy, are uncannily alike.  And so are we fundamentally.

 

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.

The Way it Was – May 5, 1851

United States Capitol 19th century before being enlarged after 1850.

In anticipation of the arrival of four sisters, distant cousins brought together by the Internet and convening soon at my house, I began to scramble around looking for family memorabilia to share with them.  In the process, I came across a cherished letter from long ago.  I sat down to reread it and saw the date, May 5, 1851.  After reading it and noticing the coincidence of the dates, I knew I wanted to share it.

These days we are so filled with despair and disappointment. Every day brings another blow to democracy.  Integrity, happiness and a sense of well-being are at an all-time low.  It wasn’t always this way!  Read on!

The writer of the letter was George Bryant from Paris and Oxford, Maine.  He was born in 1830.

George Bryant with his quill pen.

His great-grandparents had settled in Maine, still part of Massachusetts, soon after the Revolution with several families making the trek to the District of Maine from Plymouth County, Massachusetts.  They cleared the fields and built their houses; the hardest days were over and twenty-year-old George was in Virginia, having traveled to Washington by train from Boston.  He had wonderful penmanship; you could call him a calligrapher, and it was said that he wished to write calling cards for the senators.  I have no knowledge that he did.  He called himself a teacher of chirography or penmanship.

This is one of two pages of his handwriting that survive. On one he practiced.

The year was 1851 and he wrote a letter to his grandfather, Arodus Bryant, back home on a hillside in Paris, Maine.  What follows in the letter is his account of the trip.  The excitement and the patriotism he felt as he saw the nation’s Capitol for the first time are almost palpable.  The letter was saved and a copy miraculously came to me from another descendant in New Jersey, also an Internet acquaintance.

 

Dear Grandfather,

   Thinking that a letter from “Old Virginia” might interest you while sunning yourself by those front windows, I have resolved to write you one and give you a short account of my travels thus far and to describe to some extent the manner and customs of these people here.  Yet I hope to give you a more detailed and interesting account when I return home as this must necessarily be very limited and superficial.

    I intend to make you a long visit of one week when I get back in order to make up for what I have lost.  I as much intended to make you a visit while at home, as one could, but the day appointed was stormy and the only day I could before starting if I went at the time agreed upon.

    I will give you a line about my journey. 

    We started from Boston at 1 o’clock in the morning with an excursion party bound or Washington.  The tickets were for the whole trip to Washington and back so I had to buy a ticket for the trip at risk of not being able to sell the back half, which it was my good luck to do before I got to New York.

    We arrived at New York about 1 o’clock in the afternoon and could have gone to Philadelphia that night if our tickets had been on this route so we were obliged to stop until the next day at noon. We then started for Philadelphia and arrived there at 5:00 P.M. and after waiting three or four hours, we took the cars for Baltimore and after riding all night we arrived there about 5 in the morning.  We then took the cars for Washington and in less than 2 hours we were in the City of Washington.

    And according to the nature of all Americans, the first thing to look for was the magnificent building known the world over as the CAPITOL OF THE UNITED STATES.  As we got out of the depot behold, there it stood, a most magnificent edifice upon a rise of ground not more than 40 rods from the depot.

    Without further ceremony and with hurried step we all rushed up the avenue which led to its entrance and, after ascending many stone steps, more noble than I ever before imagined, we came to the long anticipated spot.  And here we beheld architecture approximating as near to perfection, seemingly, as art or science ever can produce.  But with this we were not satisfied.  We longed to see the great men and renowned patriots of the ages, but this session hour being at the late hour of 12, we spent our time exploring the building and examining the (illegible word) connected with it.

   These alone are enough to interest one for days.  At length the session hour drew nigh and we all repaired to the House and Senate galleries.  You can scarcely imagine our feeling of sublimity as we mused upon the scene. 

We were in the far-famed apartment that for many years has thundered with a nation’s eloquence and poured forth a nation’s sentiments: here too the courts transpire which fill the public print throughout the land stimulating every mind from the school-boy to the gray-haired veteran, and here is, where men have gained a distinction that shall render their names immortal and mingle them with a nation’s glory in all coming time: here too, is concentrated the political strife of more than 20 million of the human race.  Here Clay and Webster are wont to raise their voices resounding from Maine to Mexico.

    As we were thus wrapped in sublime meditation, Thomas Benton came in with a lion’s authority stamped upon his countenance.  He took his seat and began looking over some books and papers.  He had come in a little before the rest and we soon learned that he was about to make a speech.  In a short time they all came in and took their seats, many of which we recognized by their likeness in books and frames.

    If you have a picture of Henry Clay you know just how he looks.  I think he has the best shrewd, self-possessing and eloquent expression every beheld.  Cass wears an expression very intelligent and noble in appearance but I suppose you would have one speak about a Whig rather than old Lewis Cass, if he is a much smaller man.  I would gladly go on giving a description of things connected with the Capitol but it is getting near bedtime and the sheet is nearly full.

    I will just say that we heard Benton make a speech followed by one from Clay.  As I had but little time to spend in Washington I made it in my way to visit most of the public buildings but was the most interested in the Patent Office where I saw the old original Constitution, the military coat and equipment worn by the immortal Washington, Franklin’s old printing press, and a thousand other things of interest which have not room here to insert.

    I am now in Virginia enjoying myself pretty well.  It is cold here for the time of year and very changeable.  There is not so much difference between seed time here and in Maine as I supposed.  Many are not half through planting yet.  It was as warm here the last of February as it is now.

Darkies are plenty here, but I shall have to leave that subject until another time.  I will write you another letter by and by, giving you a description of the Virginians and slavery.

    I should be happy to have a letter. I have written this in great haste and you must not take it to be a fair specimen of my writing but excuse it.

Yours ever,

George Bryant

 

Sadly, this young man, born May 9, 1830, educated and with such promise and enthusiasm for life died a year after he wrote the letter, June 17, 1852.  He was barely twenty-two years old but had experienced more that most his age, brought up on rural farms in the District of Maine.  He was buried in the neighborhood cemetery just over the stonewall from the house he called home.

George Bryant celebrated America and rejoiced in being an American.  He was in awe of the leaders in the Senate and thrilled to see them, hear them and witness them in action. Back then there was no hint of division, disorder or protest on the streets of Washington.  Respect for their leaders was the order of the day.

On this May 5, 2017, one hundred and sixty-six years after George expressed himself with such joy, passion, and patriotism Washington has become a different place.

RIP  George Bryant

The old homestead where George Bryant lived and died.

Prudence Fish
May 5, 2017

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Crossing the Bar Again

Lobstering Off Eastern Point                                                    © Jeff Weaver

In the slosh and tumble of waves around ledges,
at the favored lobster spots close to shore, the white working boat
maneuvers about rocks, gear shift growling,
runs down on pots, the men scooping them up,
hauling traps aboard, pulling the writhing bugs out, checking length
sometimes tossing most of them back in
thinking it’s time to shift the pots further offshore.
It seems the hold is never quite full,
when they turn the helm to home.

It’s not all work, for there is a time
for awe and wonder in going
to and fro, in foggy uncertainty, or clear air
when the horizon is crisp and stark,
or when clouds boil, flowering in blue sky,
or when the black of a coming storm menace,
or in the calm of sunrise, waters flat as can be,
never the same from day to day,
but same never-the-less.
You’re on your own out there.

They do not visit this place
as the yachtsmen do, to pleasure the day
they live this world, all of it, its peace and hell alike.

Then back home again and out on the town
into dazzling lights, dark bars, a drink
having fun with women
punk rock songs and randy jokes.

Saint Joseph certainly must be there,
with faith’s wafer and wine certainty and protection
warding off threat of wave and rock
in the heave and thrust of swells
uneven footing, a dangerous winch cable
screaming on its spool.

There is a muscle taut energy
in this small 35-foot lobster boat
heir to the fast Grand Bank fishing schooners,
proud large trawlers, the great hauls.
These rock crawling scavengers
are all that’s left to harvest now,
bend the muscles to.
It’s traps now, was nets then, always the haul,
the heft of the prey on the deck
in the heave and rolling wave of the sea.

The big thing to think about
what many of us do not
is who and where we are in this world.
So few know, but those whose working rhythm
is embedded in it, do.

A Saint Joseph medallion dangles from the rear-view mirror
of their pickup loaded with traps and pots
and its angry foul bumper stickers.
But when some mindless snob on autopilot
with cutters on his flashy yachts’ prop
tears through a line of pots all the day’s money’s gone
What’s Saint Joseph to do then
you have to keep asking.
Oh, they’re not paying what they used to, 3 bucks a pound,
not worth it sometimes when they’re 10 bucks afterward.
Every day, passing by the Dog Bar, offloading the stuff,
tired, returning to the slip, tie up, disembark
and, bone hope weary, might take to drink again.

In the coherence of this life,
(the faith and ceremonies, a Cardinal’s blessing
once a year doesn’t do much)
no matter how small it seems
faith punctuates the daily chores,
but it’s the rhythm of the lobsterman’s life
out and back again, bait and reap
that sustains as it does for all working men,
the doing of it.

Kent Bowker

 

Kent Bowker started with poetry at Berkeley in the Fifties, then became a physicist working mainly in optics.  His new book of poems is Katharsis: Sifting Through a Mormon Past.  He lives in Essex, next to the Great Marshes and is treasurer of the Charles Olson Society.

 

Remembering Charlie Movalli

Dennis Poirier

To celebrate the Cape Ann Museum’s exhibition Charles Movalli: Cape Ann & Beyond,  we asked Dennis Poirier to share some thoughts on his mentor and friend. 

The entrance to the Charles Movalli exhibition              at the Cape Ann Museum

I met Charlie for the first time on the steps of the gallery of Aldro Hibbard, in Rockport.  I was at that time renting the house from Mrs. Hibbard. It was a perfect place to meet him really. I moved to Maine soon after and it was to be many years later, in 2000, that I would see him again.

I was now showing at Bird’s Nest gallery in Bar Harbor, Maine. I had been painting with Mike Graves, and a group from Gloucester came up to paint too. The group included Dale Ratcliff, Carleen Muniz, Ramona Murray and a few others. Charlie came up in the fall of that season, when we all had dinner in October. Dale contacted me that she wanted to buy one of my small paintings of Gloucester that had been at Bird’s Nest gallery because it caught Charlie’s eye. I was thrilled that he wanted to own one of my paintings!  A few months later, I was at a show at the Rockport Art Association and he told me that he loved having it in his “Gloucester” collection. I was so pleased to hear that.

Gloucester Harbor © Dennis Poirier.           Purchased by Charles Movalli in 2000

I invited Dale and Charlie to come up to Maine and visit a local artist named Charles Andres. Dale told me that Charlie really enjoyed that visit since he was such a terrific writer of art history. Mr. Andres was a student of the great Harvey Dunn. He also had helped out on the book about Dean Cornwell. In his home he had original works by Dunn, Von Schmidt, and many beautiful Dean Cornwell paintings and drawings.  Charles Andres work was also on his walls of course.  I loved going to visit him, so I enjoyed sharing this with my art friends too! Don Stone also enjoyed meeting Charles Andres. It was like a museum of Golden age illustration!

Charlie and Dale once took me to breakfast after I had been rejected from the Rockport Art Association, in 2001 or 2002. Charlie predicted that I would win awards at Rockport and he turned out to be right. I have won more times at Rockport than at North Shore Arts in Gloucester where I grew up!

In 2013, I fell and broke my right wrist. I taught myself to paint left handed during my recovery. When Charlie broke his right arm my pal Caleb told him how I had painted lefty. Charlie emailed me and I told him, “Yes, try it!”  Sadly, it was my last email from him.

I was pretty blown away when Dale sent me a Christmas card with that final painting he worked on with his left hand. I enjoyed seeing it in the show at Cape Ann.

Heading for Port © 2016 Charles Movalli.                    This is Charles last painting, done with his left hand.

Just one thing more: Being half Sicilian (my mom was a Scandalito) I have what I like to call my Italian connection of artists, now all passed away— Joseph Santoro , Salvatore Grasso, Rudy Colao, and of course Charlie Movalli. All these men were very supportive, helpful and inspiring to me and all were good friends.  I sure miss them all.

Dennis Poirier

 

Dennis Poirier grew up in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The colors, sights, and sounds of the busy port and fishing fleet inspired Dennis to paint.
Dennis began his studies in high school and then went to Butera School of Art in Boston. He returned to Cape Ann to become the first student studying the Atelier System with John C. Terelak and Ted Goerschner at the newly formed Gloucester Academy of Fine Arts.  Later he moved to New York City to study at the Art Students League, winning the Charles J. Romans Memorial Award at his very first national exhibit at the Allied Artists of America Show. Dennis is a member of the North Shore Arts Association, and Rockport Art Association.

 

At the Cape Ann Museum on Saturday, April 22 at 2 p.m., a panel discussion, moderated by Sinikka Nogelo, artist and former host of the Cape Ann Report, and including friends, students and colleagues of Charles Movalli, will reflect on his amazing life and career. Panelists will include T.M. Nicholas, Mike Graves, Dennis Poirier, Charles Shurcliff, Marilyn Swift and Tom Gill.

Desert Penguin

by  

Eric Schoonover

Gloucester Winter © T. M. Nicholas

Gloucester Winter © T. M. Nicholas

I walk down the street that looks at the sea:
Gorton’s smoke and smells muddle, and I feel like a desert
penguin, scuffing the gaudy snow that falls and falls
and I look at the sea with its own wavy snowspots.

You said I could see over to County Mayo; hardly. But our
cousin’s from there. The harbor-birds hunch aboard housetops,
as I walk down the street that looks at the sea. They think of
a take-off, but then worry a full-flap landing, flashing the snow.

There’s nothing of her distant Ireland in view. Just wind, that’s all
and our cousin slaps the mop at the messy snow that I’ve tracked
on the floor as the window looks at the sea, streaked with its
melting snowdrops. Then she mingles her whiskey with weeping.

I feel that my life must flop in the snow and I borrow from the
colleen’s brew, for my days are like shadows constantly seeking
the white of the snow, of the flecked sea, of purity of thought
. . . as I walk down the street that looks at the sea.

11-13 February 2017

 

eric-schoonoverEric Schoonover, Professor Emeritus of American literature and literature of the sea, lives in a small 1735 Cape Ann cottage with his wife, a writer. His most recent book, Telling Tales, was published in 2016.

 

A NEIGHBORHOOD WIPED OUT

In the year 2000 one particular block in the City of Gloucester, MA had not changed in 100 years with the exception of the Sawyer Free Library onto which had been built a new wing.

Holding down the corner of Middle Street and Dale Avenue stood the Saunders house, built in 1764, converted for library use in 1884 with additions in 1913 and 1976. 

Sawyer Free Library showing 1913 and 1976 additions to 1764 Saunders house.

Sawyer Free Library showing 1913 and 1976 additions to 1764 Saunders house.

In 1800 Capt. Beach owned the old Saunders house with a large piece of land. In 1801 John Mason bought land from Beach and built a house which he then sold to Joseph Henderson and Samuel Gale for $1600 in 1807. Henderson and Gale who were also house wrights next sold the lot with the house for $1215 to Nathaniel and Charles Babson in 1810.  Along with the house, there was also a shop.  It is not clear whether this was a separate structure or was included within the house.

This Federal period house with the gable end on School Street was next owned by John W. Haskell for many years.  The main part of the house that faced Middle Street had replaced 2 over 2 window sash, popular in the Victorian period.  The ell of the house still had small paned 6 over 6 window sash that would have been original to the house.  Although set way back on School Street the house faced Middle Street.  In front of the house is another house that can be seen in the photo.  It was most likely the back of the home of John J. Somes that was later replaced by the Lorraine Apartments built nearly thirty years after this picture was taken in 1882. 

Later in the 19th century, the Lane family lived there.  The house was deeded to Maria Lane, wife of Edwin Lane of the fire department.  At that time the fire station was on Dale Avenue on the site of the Central Grammar Apartments today.  It was just steps from Lane’s house to the station.

This is a Corliss and Ryan photo taken about 1882.  Courtesy of the Cape Ann Museum

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Eventually, another house was built next door at 7 School Street.  This house was occupied by J. Warren Haskell, probably the son of John W. Haskell.  It was larger than the charming but small Federal at 3-5 School Street.

Benjamin F. Somes, bank president, lived on the corner of School and Middle in a Federal period house with a nice fanlight over the door.  John J. Somes, long time city clerk, lived in a modest Victorian house that was next door to Benjamin’s house but newer and closer to Middle Street.   Photo courtesy of Cape Ann Museum.

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The two Somes lots on the corner of Middle Street and School Street became the lot on which the Lorraine Apartments replaced the Somes houses about 1910.  School Street was between the Benjamin Somes house and the Congregational Church.  The Somes houses may have been moved to new locations in the city.

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The block in 1851.  Saunders house was then Dr. Davidson’s

Next door on the right side of the Lorraine Apartments on Middle Street was the former First Parish Church, in recent years the Temple Ahavat Achim. Continuing up School Street it soon intersects with Mason Street.  Mason Street is a sharp right-hand turn facing Central Grammar and the passageway to Dale Avenue next to the Sawyer Free Library.

On this short leg of Mason Street at #3 was the pretty Italianate house that was quite new when Corliss and Ryan photographed it in 1882.  Right behind it is the back of the First Parish Church.  The small chimneys indicate stove heat.  Fireplaces were no longer needed for heat. Through the trees on the left side of the house is the gable end of the old house that originally stood on the corner of Dale Avenue and Warren Street facing City Hall.

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In 1867 this piece of land was sold for $950 with no house on it.  In 1883 it was sold by Horatio Andrews to Emma Perkins with a house for $5000.

This handsome house has pairs of brackets under the eaves, the hallmark of the Italianate period in architecture so popular in Gloucester.  Chances are that it was built in the 1870s.  This photo is courtesy of Cape Ann Museum.

As late as the year 2000 this neighborhood was still as described.  The Saunders house with its library additions was still next door to the old First Parish Church with the Lorraine Apartments on the corner of Middle and School streets.

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Library and First Parish Meeting House as they appeared in the late 19th century.

 

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The Lorraine Apartments built as a hospital circa 1910. Burned 2007.

On School Street, the first house, the old Haskell house, was still standing at 3-5 School Street with the other Haskell house still standing next door at 7 School Street.  Turning the corner onto Mason Street was the Italianate house of the later 19th century.  This completes this block as it was in the year 2000 just before this long-time stable and established block began to change. 

The first house to go was the former pretty Italianate at 3 Mason Street.  The Sawyer Free Library, in anticipation of expanding to meet modern library needs, purchased the house for $229,000 and demolished it.

The library next focused on the two School Street houses.  On June 4, 2003, the library acquired 3-5 School Street for $339,000.  Just about two weeks later 7 School Street was acquired by the library for $350,000.  Both houses were demolished clearing three house lots in preparation for a larger library with some parking.

That ended the planned demolition but unplanned demolition continued to wreak havoc on this city block.

In December of 2007, a devastating fire destroyed the Lorraine Apartments with a loss of one life.  As the apartment house collapsed in flames it took the former First Parish Church, then Temple Ahavat Achim, with it completing the destruction of this block.  Only the old Saunders house with its 1913 and 1976 additions remained.  Now Gloucester was presented with a unique opportunity to redevelop this block and begin renovations to the library.  There was plenty of room for the library to spread out.  Kirk Noyes, representing the Gloucester Development Team who owns Central Grammar organized a charrette hoping for inspiration for exciting redevelopment. 

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The new contemporary Temple Ahavat Achim

Sadly, this opportunity to do something really wonderful slipped away as a poor reproduction of the Lorraine Apartments quickly rose from the ashes and a controversial Temple replaced the old converted first Parish Church, its contemporary design thought to be out of place in a small historic district struggling to survive the loss, recover from this major upheaval, and keep its identity.

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The reproduced Lorraine Apartments.

The money hoped for though an override for the library failed to materialize and the 2007 plans for expansion of the library were shelved.

With a new round of library funding available in 2017, the library has again jumped on board.  Having discarded the 2007 plans the building committee began anew and presented the city with a disappointing set of plans.  Although the interior would provide the much-desired features it was recommended that the 1976 library building be demolished and replaced with a very contemporary and controversial building designed by architects who apparently didn’t look at the surrounding area, consider the Gloucester Historic District or the 250-year-old Saunders house.  The city was shocked! The important Saunders house didn’t work for these architects so that would be put out to pasture unless someone could come up with a sensible idea for an architecturally important but 250-year-old detached piece of the library.  The new plan has yet to be approved and the land on School Street and Mason Street remains vacant but providing some parking for the library.  The newest plan does not call for expanding in the rear of the library where the old houses once stood.

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Nearly $1,000,000 in historic Gloucester houses was lost, a number of affordable rental units lost, nearly $1,000,000 in grounds work, a beautiful amphitheater and landscaping doomed if the plan goes through.  Now there are two sets of architectural drawings costing several hundred thousand dollars wasted if the plan isn’t approved or used.

Why wasn’t the Gloucester Historic District Commission or the Gloucester Historical Commission included in the planning?  There are a lot of unanswered questions.  For the time being, we are left with a decimated neighborhood and an application pending for funding for a new library that will make many people very unhappy if it ever gets approved.

Although it didn’t all come out of one pocket the expenses incurred and the loss of antique houses and rental units in an attempt to renew the library are huge.  I feel sorry those who have contributed so much such as the amphitheater named for the Randos and the new beautiful landscaping by Hillarie Holdsworth that would be destroyed.  I feel sorry for the Monells knowing that the beautiful and appropriate building their father designed would callously be bulldozed.

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The new amphitheater for the library. Dedicated to the parents of John Rando.

When and if a new library gets built, whatever the design, it will represent a very costly trial and error attempt. There has been insufficient regard for the old Saunders house, the Gloucester Historic District, the National Register designation, or the civic-minded individuals who contributed time and money so generously in support of their library to make it better. 

 

Prudence FishPrudence 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 SAUNDERS HOUSE 1764

The Saunders house in October of 1958 before the addition of the Monell building. Harold Dexter photo, courtesy of Dawn Dexter and CAM

The Saunders house in October of 1958 before the addition of the Monell building. Harold Dexter photo, courtesy of Dawn Dexter and CAM

Perhaps no other house in the City of Gloucester has gone through as dramatic a metamorphosis as the mansion built by Thomas Sanders, Jr. in the pre-revolutionary days of 1764.  It was located on a prominent piece of land next door to the First Parish meeting house on Middle Street consisting of 3.5 acres.  The seller was William Ellery, Jr.  The date was May 5, 1764.

In this deed Thomas spelled his name without a “u”; Sanders.  When the Gloucester Preservation Committee provided a historic plaque for the house in the 1980s it was called the Thomas Sanders house.  The Registry of Deeds in Salem refers to Sanders when you look for Saunders.  However, when the house was sold to Capt. Beach in 1784 the name on the deed was Saunders.

Middle Street was laid out in the 1730s.  It was originally called Cornhill Street but by the time Thomas Saunders built his house it was called MiddleStreet.  Middle Street was midway between Fore Street now called Main Street and Back Street or High Streets, the old names for Prospect Street.

Here are more of the Georgians with gambrel roofs like the Saunders house lining Middle Street. Harold Dexter photo, 1958, Courtesy of Dawn Dexter and CAM

Here are more of the Georgians with gambrel roofs like the Saunders house lining Middle Street. Harold Dexter photo, 1958, Courtesy of Dawn Dexter and CAM

Most of the houses on Middle Street were built in the Georgian period, 1730-1790 approximately.  In the Harbor Village, especially on Middle Street, Georgian houses were built with gambrel roofs.  This was not necessarily true elsewhere but on Middle Street gambrel roofs prevailed.  True to form, Thomas Sanders’ house had a gambrel roof looking much like the neighboring houses including the William Dolliver house next door at 90 Middle Street.

This is the William Dolliver house next door to the Saunders house of similar size with a similar gambrel roof. The church is the Baptist Church taken down years ago, Photo by Harold Dexter, Oct. 1958 Courtesy of Dawn Dexter and CAM

This is the William Dolliver house next door to the Saunders house of similar size with a similar gambrel roof. The church is the Baptist Church that was taken down years ago, Photo by Harold Dexter, Oct. 1958 Courtesy of Dawn Dexter and CAM

The interior of the Sanders house was as good as they come. It had a pair of twin chimney which meant that inside the front door was a commodious, front to back center hall not possible in a house with a central chimney. The staircase was a great staircase with three balusters to a stair.  It had a very gradual ascent with wide treads and low risers.  The undercut spiral newel post was very beautiful and of the type only found in the best houses.

The design for the house probably came from an English pattern book.  There were no American pattern books; they would come later.  The colonists still looked to London for style and American housewrights were still using English pattern books when building the finest houses in America.

On the southeast corner opening right off the hall was a formal parlor.  This room was superb.  There had paneling on all four walls with bolection moldings.  It had window seats. The interior chimney was flanked by alcoves.  The paneling in these alcoves has the ability to be opened so that when entertaining these two rooms can be joined and communicate with each other, allowing a free flow between the two rooms.  The room in the rear may have a hidden fireplace but it is covered, most likely allowing the boiler in the cellar to be vented through that flue.

The other side of the house once had a matching chimney but alterations have obliterated most of the features on that side of the house and the chimney has been removed.  There is no sign of the original kitchen or cooking fireplace that was probably part of the missing chimney or perhaps in a kitchen ell off the back of the house.

Thomas died and his administrator sold the house to Capt. John Beach in November of 1784.  John Beach was a very flamboyant individual and under his ownership, the stately Georgian house began to change drastically.

In 1802 Capt. Beach hired Gloucester’s best builder, Jacob Smith, who would soon be building the Universalist Church, to build a major addition to the top of Beach’s house. This addition was like none that we have ever seen on a house, in Gloucester or anywhere in New England or beyond.

Off went the gambrel roof.  A third story was added to the house that had a footprint that was slightly smaller than the footprint of the original house so that the house was now tiered, with more tiers to come.  The house probably acquired a balustrade around the roof at the top of the second floor.

Most dramatic is what Beach did next.  He built an observatory at the fourth-floor level that reached a height of five stories and more.  What follows almost defies credibility.  One story of an unknown source claims that Beach made these changes because of being perturbed that the newer three-story house across the street, built by John Stevens Ellery, circa 1790, was blocking Beach’s view of the harbor.  He overcame that problem in a big way.

This observatory was an octagon 22.5 feet in diameter.  It filled the space between the two twin chimneys.  In the attic, the footings for the observatory can still be seen.  One side still has a threshold indicating that someone in the observatory could go outside onto the roof and probably walk around the observatory protected from falling by a balustrade.

A newspaper clipping from Friday, May 31, 1878, provides a description of this incredible observatory.

“It was an octagon two stories high having five large elliptical windows in the lower story. The second story was circular and had five circular topped windows.  The whole thing was “surmounted by a dome, like the State House in Boston.”  It must have resembled a tiered wedding cake or maybe it resembled a church steeple with a dome instead of a spire.

These new levels added to the house was reached by a beautiful staircase that was the epitome of the new Federal style with slender square balusters and a rather dainty handrail, a big departure from the heaviness of the Georgian period and its grand staircase below.  The lovely staircase is there but now terminates in a windowless attic.  Perhaps Beach was inspired by Jefferson’s Monticello or the more modest but spectacular belvedere atop Lord Timothy Dexter’s house in Newburyport.

The flat roof surrounding the observatory is still covered with roofing material but it wasn’t enough to keep the flat roof from leaking to the extent that in November of 1827 it necessitated removal of this incredible addition.  The description of this addition has survived but there was no photography at that time and no paintings or drawings have yet been found to show what this really looked like.  If not for the octagon footings still present in the attic as evidence of what had been there, the extent of this addition might have been lost for all time.

Capt. Beach left Gloucester for Chillicothe, Ohio.  The estate was sold at auction by Thomas Penhallow of Portsmouth, NH on October 23, 1828, just after the removal of the observatory.  Penhallow was the son in law of John Beach. The new owner was Dr. William Ferson who paid $1,320 for the property.

Now this great house continues on its journey as this story gets stranger!

After the sale to Dr. Ferson, in the summer of 1828, someone placed a document in the top of one of the gate posts revealing the history of the house.  This document was found by Dr. Davidson on June 15, 1850. Dr. Davidson’s mother, Phoebe Davidson, had purchased the house in 1849 for $6,500.

It next became the property of William Pew in 1878.  According to the newspaper, “Pew is making marked improvements on the Davidson property.  The garden spot will be made very attractive, and when the building is moved 13 feet to the westward, it will make one of the most desirable residences in this city.  In order to make this improvement a complete one, it will be necessary to cut down the rise on Dale Avenue, some 18 inches and there will probably be a petition presented to the City Government to make this change of grade.” The newspaper goes on to say that the property is in good condition and will not need many renovations on the interior.

Apparently, its new owner thought that it needed renovation on the outside, if not the inside!  It was William Pew who Victorianized the house, once again taking it to new heights so that even Capt. Beach would not have recognized his former home that he, himself, had transformed into a one-of-a-kind property back in 1802.  Under Pew’s ownership, it became the ultimate Victorian showplace.

Here is the old Georgian house already 100 year old transformed into a high styled Victorian house.

Here is the old Georgian house already 100 years old transformed into a high-styled Victorian house.

As if this house hadn’t gone through enough already in its first one hundred years, now it was going to be picked up and moved thirteen feet and required regarding Dale Avenue!  Will this metamorphosis ever stop?  Now, a tower was added to the front almost reaching the height of the long gone observatory of Capt. Beach.

In 1884 William Pew sold the property to Samuel Sawyer who purchased it for future library use.  The cost was $20,000.

At an unknown date the tower, piazzas, and fancy portico added by Pew were removed and a much more restrained house, the one we are used to seeing, emerged.

This photo shows how close the Saunders house was to the church. The Saunders house itself had a close call when that building, then Temple Ahavat Achim, burned. This is another Harold Dexter photo. Courtesy of Dawn Dexter and CAM.

This photo shows how close the Saunders house was to the church. The Saunders house itself had a close call when that building, then Temple Ahavat Achim, burned. This is another Harold Dexter photo. Courtesy of Dawn Dexter and CAM.

A duplex antique house, which stood across the street from the Saunders house on the corner of Dale Ave and Warren Street, was removed.  Here is a rare photo of that house taken by Harold Dexter in 1958. Several other buildings in the neighborhood have disappeared over the years.

 This small but antique duplex house stood on the corner of Dale Avenue and Warren Street facing City Hall. It was removed at an unknown date but was still there in 1958 when Harold Dexter photographed it. Photo courtesy of Dawn Dexter and CAM.

This small but antique duplex house stood on the corner of Dale Avenue and Warren Street facing City Hall. It was removed at an unknown date but was still there in 1958 when Harold Dexter photographed it. Photo courtesy of Dawn Dexter and CAM.

By the beginning of the 21st century, it was obvious that work needed to be done on the Saunders house.  The old panes of glass were falling out of the window sash of the third floor, and wood used to cover the holes.  The outside was badly in need of paint.

In the early days of the 21 century the Saunders house was looking very shabby and in dire need of help. Much work was done at this time and the interior and exterior stabilized. P. Fish Photo

In the early days of the 21 century, the Saunders house was looking very shabby and in dire need of help. Much work was done at this time and the interior and exterior stabilized.   P. Fish Photo

Now the house built by Thomas Sanders/Saunders is again at a crossroad.  What will happen next?  The library, in its enthusiasm to expand with a completely new facility, finds that the money for which they are seeking comes with strings attached.  The poor old Sanders house that has gone through so much and survived so long, is not handicapped accessible and so cannot be used for library purposes if they are to get the funding needed to carry out their plan.  Therefore, the latest iteration of a plan for expansion completely cuts off the umbilical cord to the house, leaving it an orphan, standing by itself, detached from the library with no purpose on the horizon.

Sawyer endowed the library with $20,000 in addition to previous gifts amounting to more than $15,000.  Sam Sawyer, in giving the property for a library stated the following. “No part of the estate shall be alienated, but they shall be held sacredly in trust and in perpetuity”….”which shall be devoted to the use of the citizens especially, and to strangers so far as may be considered advisable by a majority of the Board of Directors, who shall have power to make by-laws and Rules for the government of the corporation”.

In 1913 the Sawyer Free Library was expanded with a new stacks addition added to the rear of the library.

In 1976 a large up-to-date addition was designed by local architect, Don Monell.  This addition has been the heart and soul of the library for the last forty years.   It is a low-key design, contemporary but reflecting the hipped roof of the Saunders house and with windows that visually link it to City Hall.  A recent improvement has been walkways and gardens designed by Hilarie Holdsworth complimenting the new amphitheater.

This is the most recent addition; an amphitheater dedicated to the parents of John Rando and due to his generosity. P. Fish photo

This is the most recent addition; an amphitheater dedicated to the parents of John Rando and due to his generosity.   P. Fish photo

Don Monell also designed the new Cape Ann Museum building (also attached to an old house) with an eye for having it work well with the library addition and City Hall, the centerpiece between the two newer buildings.  It was a good plan providing our city with a group of attractive buildings forming a Civic Center for Gloucester.

Here is The Saunders house as it stands today with the 1913 stack section bridging the gap between the old Saunders house and the 1976 contemporary wing designed by Don Monell. The roofline of the newest part reflects the hipped roof of the Saunders house. Each section is proportioned not to compete with the Saunders house and not to look like “the tail wagging the dog”. The position of the Saunders house is respected by the Monell building P. Fish photo

Here is The Saunders house as it stands today with the 1913 stack section bridging the gap between the old Saunders house and the 1976 contemporary wing designed by Don Monell. The roofline of the newest part reflects the hipped roof of the Saunders house. Each section is proportioned not to compete with the Saunders house and not to look like “the tail wagging the dog”. The position of the Saunders house is respected by the Monell building P. Fish photo

So where do we go from here?  The next chapter has yet to be written.  It is fervently hoped that this more than 250-year-old house is treated gently and with the respect it has earned as it enters a new and uncertain chapter.

 

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***On Wednesday, January 11 at 6:30 p.m., there will be a public meeting on the main floor of the Sawyer Library to get public input on the library’s proposal to build a new facility.  Those who attend will be able to view the proposed plan, which includes demolishing the current main structure designed by noted architect Don Monnell and eliminating the new garden, as well as isolating the historic Saunders house to a fate unknown.  The library wants those who attend to “ask questions and give their opinions.”  This will be an important meeting and we urge all who have questions and concerns about a project that is destined change the face of Gloucester’s civic center to attend and speak out.***

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Prudence FishPrudence 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 Gloucester Civic and Garden Council

It’s hard to separate the Gloucester Civic and Garden Council from its founder, Betty (Elizabeth G., Mrs. Peter) Smith. They both took public leadership at a time in community history when Urban Renewal was sweeping away the sagging vestiges of the waterfront and environmental activism had not yet stirred the popular mind.

betty-smith

Betty Smith
From the video Gloucester: The Light, The Quality, The Time, The Place
by Henry Ferrini and Martin Ray, 1978

Beginning in the mid-1960s the Gloucester Civic and Garden Council became re-visionists, suppliers of preservation alternatives to decay and disposal. They held up a mirror to local resources and invited – or demanded – positive action. They contributed to a physical and spiritual renaissance on Cape Ann.

It was the Gloucester Civic and Garden Council who advocated for sparing The Stone Jug, Fitz Henry Lane’s studio tucked within the harborside barrios being demolished for new industry.

They fundraised and sponsored fifty street tree plantings on the occasion of Gloucester’s 350th Anniversary. They collaborated with the Department of Public Works to construct raised granite traffic islands. They tended geraniums in Downtown planters.

Flanagan Square at Prospect and Main Streets

Flannagan Square at Prospect and Main Streets Created under the auspices of the Gloucester Civic and Garden Council

The Gloucester Civic and Garden Council articulated our fondness for the entrance to Cape Ann, fought against a proposed motel development alongside Route 128, succeeded in purchasing the land and donating it to the Essex County Greenbelt Association in 1967 as The Window on the Marsh. Ultimately they conserved open space on both sides of the highway giving views to the Annisquam River estuaries. Ten years later Betty Smith could reflect with satisfaction. “We’ve been given something very choice, and I think that most people in Gloucester have this sense of stewardship that this is something that must be maintained, and it’s for everybody, and it’s for now and for the future.”

The Window on the Marsh as seen from Rte 128

The Window on the Marsh as seen from Rte 128

One day, in 1983, Cape Anners woke up to find State engineers installing concrete safety barriers at the gateway to Gloucester, pulling shades down on The Window to the Marsh. The ‘improvements’ were removed when the Civic and Garden Council spearheaded local opposition.

State contractors installing Jersey barriers on Rte 128 Gloucester Daily Times photo, May 21, 1983

State contractors installing Jersey barriers on Rte 128
Gloucester Daily Times photo, May 21, 1983

Nearly adjacent to the Window on the Marsh the DeMoulas Market Basket Company proposed a shopping center on the old drive-in movie site. The Civic and Garden Council reprised its case against commercializing the natural beauty, augmented by concerns about wetlands pollution and multiplying Wingaersheek beach traffic congestion at Concord Street. It attracted substantial allies and funds for a ‘war chest.’

Audience reacts to City Council ruling against the DeMoulas shopping center permit L to r: former Gloucester Mayor Bob French, GCGC President Louise Loud, Betty Smith, GCGC Treasurer Adah Marker, attorney Suzanne Howard Gloucester Daily Times photo, May 14, 1986

Audience reacts to City Council ruling against the DeMoulas shopping center permit
L to r: former Gloucester Mayor Bob French, GCGC President Louise Loud,
Betty Smith, GCGC Treasurer Adah Marker, attorney Suzanne Howard
Gloucester Daily Times photo, May 14, 1986

The shopping center campaign gave evidence that the Civic and Garden Council had matured as a political force. The hands applauding victory at City Hall wore velvet gloves.

Its members helped organize the Downtown Development Commission. Betty Smith framed the core values at stake. “It really is the heart of our city, and it’s been the heart over so many years. It’s a place where people can come together. I think it’s a zestier, gutsier place than a shopping center ever could be. I think it’s terribly important.”

Traffic Island at Main Street and Eastern Avenue Created under the auspices of the Gloucester Civic and Garden Council

Traffic Island at Main Street and Eastern Avenue
Created under the auspices of the Gloucester Civic and Garden Council

Mac Bell, a downtown businessman, and former city councilor recalled Betty Smith’s leadership: “She was an eloquent communicator… .’If you’d like to participate,’ she’d say, ‘we’d love to have you join us.  We’ll introduce you and make you feel a member of the club.’”

“She was irrefutable,” Bell said. “There was nothing coming from Betty that could give you any reason to say ‘No’ to her. It’s kind of like saying ‘No’ to the Fairy Tooth Mother.  What is there not to like about the Fairy Tooth Mother? That’s part of the special – I don’t know if the word ‘beautific’ is right – but she was shining in the light. A little bit of a Mother Theresa of trees. What is there not to appreciate and respect about giving love and support to trees and flowers around this absolute gift of a paradise we live in?”

The Civic and Garden Council determined to honor Betty by creating a sanctuary alongside “The Boulevard” walkway where Gloucester people could enjoy the harbor view. Her friend Walker Hancock contributed his sculpture Triton as a centerpiece to the Elizabeth Gordon Smith Park.

Triton, sculpted by Walker Hancock The Elizabeth Gordon Smith Park

Triton, sculpted by Walker Hancock
The Elizabeth Gordon Smith Park

Triton, sculpted by Walker Hancock The Elizabeth Gordon Smith Park

Triton, sculpted by Walker Hancock
The Elizabeth Gordon Smith Park

Gloucester Tree Warden, John Alto, escorted Betty to the Park dedication ceremony in 1990. Daisy Nell opened the moment with the song “Give Yourself to Love.” Betty’s successor, as President of the Civic and Garden Council, Louise Loud, welcomed guests from across the community spectrum. Adah Marker, the long-time Council Treasurer, reluctantly came to the microphone at Betty’s prompting to acknowledge the hard work, the contributions, and the inspiration. “You don’t say ‘No’ to Betty,” she began.

 


Martin Ray
settled in Gloucester in 1972 due to his maternal grandparents having a summer home on the shore in Lanesville, which became a gathering place for family members.  Before organizing his own landscape gardening company, he worked part-time at Peter Smith’s publishing warehouse in Magnolia. In 1982, Betty Smith invited him to become a Director of the Gloucester Civic and Garden Council. Although currently retired from the profession, he remains a Director of the Council.  For several years Martin has maintained the blog, Notes from Halibut Point, which is dedicated to the preservation of the State Park near his home. Each posting consists of essays that combine social and natural history, as well as, photographs from Martin’s personal collection.