“Gloucester Speaks”

By Shep Abbott

Gloucester View II.           Robert Stephenson (1935-2016)

As a filmmaker, one is always blessed if one’s subject allows one to literally roll out of bed, grab one’s camera and make a beautiful sequence literally from one’s deck, or at worst, from the dock adjacent to one’s domicile.

I now reside in a large multi-room studio at the venerable Beacon Marine Basin (c. 1865) with a stupendous view of the inner harbor. As it happens, on my walk across the wharf last night as the sun was firing on all cylinders across the harbor, bathing the waters in an incandescent glow, a school of mackerel hatchlings were, as my landlord Jack Alexander says, “conducting a circus”, gleefully smashing around in one ring, disappearing, then hitting another on a distant stage—all within that setting sun’s brilliant circus lighting. I “ran” (at age 74, the quotation marks are advised) up a flight to grab my camera and down to capture this exuberant sunlit display for my documentary “Gloucester Speaks”.

Later, I met friends at another venerable Gloucester institution, The Rhumb Line eatery and stellar music venue, to catch Willie Alexander on keyboards with Sag on bass and full band. As I thrilled to Willie’s remarkable fingerplay on the keys, I was reminded of the mackerel circus of that afternoon and I knew what part Willie’s frolicsome fingering and the infant mackerel circus would play together in my film. That’s called “Blessed!”

Since I returned to Gloucester from New York City in 1990, I’ve delighted to ply my trade here as opportunities presented themselves to my camera. With Joe Palmisano, I produced a documentary on the Fiesta of St. Peter in 1997, a lasting tribute to our Sicilian Community. The following year, I was fortunate to document the dismantling on Pavilion Beach of the last wooden fishing vessel (St. Rosalie) built in Essex—a sad and poignant affair made all the more poignant when I discovered a fine film had been produced in the late 1940’s of the very same vessel being built—rib and plank by keel and rudder.

Later, I was fortunate to be awarded national grants to complete “More Precious Than Gold,” a one-hour documentary covering the discovery, founding and first 200 years of this City, which won an award from the Gloucester Historical Commission. That film is available at the Cape Ann Museum and Maritime Gloucester.

Today, and for the past two years, I’ve been at work on “Gloucester Speaks,” a documentary whose theme is change, covering the past, present and unknown future of America’s first, iconic seaport. With our 400th Anniversary fast approaching, it seems appropriate that we both celebrate and question where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going.

To this end, I’ve conducted over 60 interviews with some of Gloucester’s most opinionated and eloquent talkers, as well as delighted in capturing fish, fishing, fish processing, fish fertilizer making, building demolition, hotel building, festivals, concerts, City Council debates, Mayoral debates, expert appearances by scientists, artists, poets, historians and more. The film, literally, is speaking for itself with no “all knowing” narrator guiding us to a typically sensible and safe conclusion. In the end, it is the “baby” we are presenting here, but without neglecting the bath water.

For me, “Gloucester Speaks” is a love song to the City that I spent my developing years working and playing in, and the one I returned to, finally, to find a home.

“Gloucester Speaks” is being financed by myself with additional local donations through our non-profit fiscal agent, The Center for Independent Documentary at 1300 Soldiers Field Road, #4, Boston, MA 02135. Donations are certainly welcome, and if you so choose, you may visit the film’s information and donation page at https://www.documentaries.org/gloucester-speaks.  But it is Gloucester, herself, I must thank for her innumerable private and public expressions of trust and camaraderie in welcoming my camera.

 

Shep Abbott has been an award-winning filmmaker since 1970 and served as principal cameraman on the Academy Award Winning documentary “Broken Rainbow.” Shep spent his formative years working and playing on the Gloucester waterfront. Returning from New York City in 1990, he formed and ran Fishtown Artspace for youth and adults, while continuing to produce documentaries.

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.

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.

Pole Hill: A Ceremonial Landscape

Mary Ellen Lepionka,  July 10, 2017

Underground Landscape. 1989.                                                     Albert Alcalay (1917-2008)

Pole Hill in Riverview, some say Poles Hill, was the place where shamans went to read the sky for the people living at Wanaskwiwam in Riverview, Gloucester. Algonquians sited their villages near landscapes that could serve as astronomical observatories—hilltops shaped like shallow bowls with false horizons where watchers at the center could see the slow dance between earth and sky—hilltops with boulders to align, marking sightlines to celestial objects and events on those horizons—the rise and fall of the Pleiades; the cycles of the sun and moon; the warriors hunting and wounding the great bear; the bear’s hibernation and recovery; and special times—first planting of seeds, initiation of the youth, green corn harvest, ascension of the spirits of the dead on the trail of bright stars to the sky world under Draco’s fearsome protection.

According to geologists, Native skywatchers used fire and percussion to shape glacial erratics on Pole Hill and reduced their bases to a layer of gravel on which the positions of the heavy stones could be adjusted to match observations. Alignments show that the sky was different then, because of Earth’s wobbly progress, charted by astronomers. The North Star was not Polaris but a bright star in Draco called Thuban. That was between 2,500 and 4,000 years ago. As a consequence, today’s summer and winter solstice sunrises and sunsets are slightly askew (about 10 degrees west) of their ancient sightlines.

Pole Hill was a glacial heath then, treeless. It was a ceremonial landscape as well as an astronomical observatory. Some modified boulders can still be seen as effigy stones if you know what to look for: representations of the snake, a powerful underworld spirit; spirit animals—turtle, mountain lion, whale; abstract symbols—triangle of healing, numerical tally, standing stones, stone circles, wedged-open portals to the spirit world. And Manitou perhaps—a large leaning spall of granite shaped with the stylized head and shoulders of the Great Spirit. According to archaeologists, other Native sites in New England feature stones like these.

Awesome discoveries, but we cannot pretend to share the Algonquians’ spiritual experience. Their world and daily life were suffused with dangerous spirits and the need to predict, propitiate, mitigate, attract, distract, appease, repel, or exclude them. The Native culture of respect for all things was based on fear—fear that a particular person or tree or animal was not that person or tree or animal at all, but really a demon, or a witch, an enemy in disguise, a wandering ancestor, a shape changer, spirit guide, omen, warning, messenger from the spirit world, avatar of the culture hero Glooscap, or a random manifestation escaped from somebody’s dream. So romanticists are quite mistaken. I muster mostly scorn for new age spiritualists and cultists who misappropriate Native American religious symbols and practices.

But we can share the awesomeness. Wanaskwiwam villagers came to their sacred place at the north entrance on Riverview Road and from the harbor at the south entrance on Sunset Hill Road, the trail bisecting the hill. According to ethnographers, just inside the entrances in small rock-ringed depressions, the people stopped for ritual purification with water and smoke. The signs are still there. In 2011, I walked into the trail from the north on a hunch. I had identified Riverview as the possible site of an Algonquian village, since proven, and knew that such a village would have needed a hill for the skywatchers to do their work. From the trail I climbed an escarpment that seemed to offer access—perilously, an old lady with camera and cane, losing a sneaker—and came out on a ribbon of bedrock. It led directly to a large standalone granite boulder that clearly had been shaped by human hand. I dubbed it “the gnomon” on sight. I knew I was at the center of a solar array.

Sunset Hill Gnomon C

Sunset Hill Gnomon C

Over the next five years, I and several experts studied the site. I recruited Mark Carlotto to locate the other stones in the solstice and equinox arrays, and he calculated the angles, azimuths, astronomical ages, and probabilities involved. We have given talks and published papers in the Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society and the journal of the New England Antiquities Research Association but have not yet been able to get the state to recognize Pole Hill as an archaeological site. State policy is to deny Native agency in all above-ground stone features, ignoring empirical evidence to the contrary, including even pre-Contact radiocarbon dates in many cases.

Winter Solstice Sunset 2015

Winter Solstice Sunset  2015

Experts in archaeology, archaeoastronomy, and igneous geology from universities near and far have surveyed the site. Allen Stanish and Martin DelVecchio photographed the hill using fixed wing and helicopter drones. Nick Holland, Matt Natti, Sandy Barry, and others of the Cape Ann Trail Stewards cleared the sightlines of trees and brush, marked the trails, and erected signs. They continue to try to maintain the site, which is under constant attack by the ignorant and miscreant—those with beer bottles and graffiti paint, those who destroy signs and commit arson.

My body won’t get me to the gnomon now, but people who know go, along with the neighbors who saved Pole Hill from development in the first place and the huckleberry pickers. Some meet there for the solstices. Members of the Nipmuc Nation from Hassanamesit in Grafton and classes from Glen Urquhart School in Beverly have visited. I hope the work of documenting, authenticating, and interpreting Pole Hill will continue. The history of Native settlements and ceremonial landscapes on Cape Ann is a part of our history as well—something to take pride in now, 400 years after John Endicott divided Riverview into house and thatch lots for the founding families of Gloster Plantation. I believe enough time has passed for all of us to own all our people’s histories in this special place, our enduring Gloucester.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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

2-3-school-st

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.

3-80-middle-st

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.

4-the-block-in-1851-saunders-house-was-then-dr-davidsons

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. 

8-the-new-contemporary-temple-ahavat-achim

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 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.

The Land Within: Further Thoughts about an Ecology of Place

Peter Anastas

Horizon at Gloucester c. 1905 Frank Duveneck (1848-1919) Courtesy Cape Ann Museum

Horizon at Gloucester c. 1905        Frank Duveneck (1848-1919)        Courtesy Cape Ann Museum

When I was living in Maine with the Penobscot Indians during the early 1970s, there was an expression I would hear over and over again.  “You can take an Indian out of the woods,” it went, “but you can’t take the woods out of an Indian.”

The saying fascinated me.  Like any good aphorism it was beguiling, though it wasn’t until later that I began to see it as a really beautiful example of what ecology is all about.

In effect, we do not begin to live in places until they dwell in us, become part of us, as we, in our external lives—our bodies, homes, possessions—make up the sum total of those places along with their own natural attributes: sea, rocks, trees, birds.

So it’s not enough, then, to inhabit the surface of your own life, as on the crust of the earth.  You’ve got to dig in, and at the same time, let the place where you live into yourself, your consciousness.  You’ve got to participate in its rhythms, the fluctuations of the weather, the color of the light, the smell of the air, the taste of it all.  You’ve got to let the land dwell in you, which is how many Penobscots claimed they were able to survive living in cities or working in factories miles from the woods and rivers of their childhood.

When the first English settlers arrived in New England in the 17th century, they started cutting down the trees, clearing the land, buying and selling what did not belong to them to the horror of the natives for whom every tree and clod of earth was sacred.  “The Earth is our Mother.  Would you sell your Mother?” they asked colonists angrily interrupted in their orgies of acquisition.  To no avail, for whites could no more grasp this organic concept of the earth any more than Native Americans could understand what it meant to regard the land as “real estate” or “property,” as a commodity of sale or exchange—something to be owned or used, “developed.”  (Doesn’t this pertain today in the conflict between those who believe that a beautiful meadow or forest should be left alone to be enjoyed by everybody in its naturalness and those who are uneasy unless it is sub-divided, built upon, fenced off—owned?)

What I’m suggesting here is that the ecological movement, as it’s named and practiced in America, is always going to be a one-dimensional process and therefore an incomplete and ultimately abortive effort unless we confront the central issue, which is our relationship to the land and the land’s to us: our inter-relationship—how we live on the land and how the land lives in us; a dwelling-in and an in-dwelling, if you will.

Living here for nearly eighty years, it has been my sense that Gloucester people have an edge when it comes to an intimacy with the place you were born in, or have adopted as your hometown.  Not only are we reluctant to leave; once away, many of us can’t wait to get back.  Or if we’ve moved semi-permanently (no native ever goes away for good), we harbor the hope of returning as soon as we can.

Our nostalgia for the Gloucester we knew or have left isn’t like most of the nostalgia one encounters today, a yearning after something that really never was—lost happiness of childhood, or the places of our carefree years of youth.  It’s a true nostalgia: a desire to come home, home to where our roots are, home to our family and friends, to the streets and neighborhoods that remain in our blood.

Still, I don’t want to paint too rosy a picture.  Let me enter a caveat.   The ecological balance of our life on Cape Ann—our own inner harmony as we attune ourselves to the changing seasons—is going to depend upon the preservation of our forests, wetlands and open spaces, the wisest possible use of the ocean, and the continued vigilance of an absolutely informed citizenry.  An ecological consciousness is not enough.  People have to come together, not only to protect their neighborhoods from encroachments that could destroy their character or make them unsafe for their children, but also the spaces around us from being closed up, our light and air shut off, our daily lives suddenly claustrophobic like the lives of many big city dwellers.

The existence of neighborhood associations is essential, as we have learned from many an attempt to protect our heritage from those who would steal it from us for their own profit.  Who else is going to look out for our rights if we don’t daily?  Politicians have to be held to their campaign promises of wise development and controlled economic growth.  The city needs an up-dated Master Plan.  We cannot develop in a piecemeal fashion—a hotel here, a school there—without a holistic sense of the needs of our entire community.  We can’t even begin to talk of living in harmony with the earth if all we see around us—and allow—is loss and destruction in the name of progress.  Gloucester—all of Cape Ann—belongs to each one of us, and we’re all going to lose something inestimable if we lose our habitation, our own home-place, even by the default of apathy.

All of the people Peter Parsons and I talked with while we were working on an oral history for Gloucester’s 350th anniversary expressed their love for this place.  At the same time, they were very open about their fears for our city’s future, and the feeling of resentment they experienced toward the uncontrolled growth they were beginning to see around them.  “It’s just not going to be the same,” many sighed—and that was nearly 45 years ago!  They were not referring to the good old days.  They were talking about the look and feel of Gloucester as they experienced it in their current lives, and, above all, the natural world that is now more threatened than ever by climate change.

One of the most perfect expressions of feeling rooted to a place came from fisherman Fred Hunte.   In the clearest language, he described the intimate understanding of the natural world, coupled with the practical turn of mind, that’s required to live your life daily in it.

“I don’t go much by the Farmer’s Almanac,” Fred told us, “I look at the skies in the morning or the night, the way the sun goes down.  Watch the gulls what they do in the air.  You see the gulls up in the air?  You see them going round in a circle high in the air?  That’s a sure sign of a change of wind.  Wind coming.  Look at the sun going down in the west nights as you see these streamers going up to it.  These streamers going up from the horizon, up to the sun, used to call ‘em sun dogs.  That’s a sign of wind too.  And if the sun took up bright red in the morning, that’s a sign of rain.  When you been a fisherman all your life, you been out in a dory a lot alone.  You’ve had to learn all that stuff, figure it out.  You gotta watch it yourself.  That’s survival for yourself.”

 

Peter at Museum (1)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.