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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.’
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.”
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.
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.