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Some Gloucester History

The French explorer Samuel de Champlain came ashore here in 1606 to encounter some 200 Native Americans who were settled in the area. On a map that he created, he called it le beauport (beautiful harbor).

In 1623, the British settled here, making a brief attempt at farming this excruciatingly (for a farmer) rocky landscape.

In the 18th Century, farming gave way to ship building, thanks to the area's abundance of large oaks that were the preferred construction material for ships. In fact, the first schooner was reputedly built here in 1713.

By the 19th Century, immigrants from Portugal established fishing as the main industry here. With the arrival of the railroad in 1847, Gloucester grew into one of the world's largest fishing ports. Georges Bank and other fishing banks off the east coast of Nova Scotia have helped support this major fishing port for over two centuries, and today it is America's oldest, continuously working fishing port.

During the 19th Century, immigrants from Finland, Sweden and Ireland also arrived to work in the rock quarrying industry. The special pink granite found in areas such as Halibut Point and Lanesville was in high demand in Europe at the time.

The remarkable beauty of the Gloucester landscape has also attracted artists here for centuries. Fitz Henry Lane, known for his ability to capture the very special light of Cape Ann, lived here in the mid-1800s in a granite house that still stands prominently in the downtown harborfront today. Many other artists have been drawn here, among them Edward Hopper, WIlliam Morris Hunt, Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam, Marsden Hartley, Maurice Prendergast and many more. Rocky Neck Art Colony, located in East Gloucester on Rocky Neck Ave, is the traditional heart of the arts community, though many other galleries exist throughout the city.

About Eastern Point

The history of Eastern Point is one of shipwrecks and of the privileged class that settled and developed the area. Both facets of Eastern Point’s history are covered in detail by Joseph E. Garland’s excellent book, Eastern Point (Beverly, MA: Commonwealth Editions 1999).

In the early 1700s, 15 families lived on Eastern Point. After the Revolution, Daniel Rogers, a forebear of Joseph Garland, owned a large farm that took up most of Eastern Point. In 1844, Thomas Niles acquired this 450-acre farm, and in 1859, the “irascible” Niles, as Garland characterized him, won a state Supreme Court ruling barring the public from access to most of Eastern Point. This helped create a mystique of exclusivity for Eastern Point, which even modern visitors can feel as they drive through two staffed gates to reach the lighthouse.

Development of Eastern Point as a vacation spot for the wealthy began in 1887, with the sale of the Niles farm to the Eastern Point Associates. Several "cottages" were soon built, including “Beauport,” the 40-room house on Eastern Point designed and built by Henry Sleeper. “Beauport” is open to the public and operated by Historic New England, formerly The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities.

In 1892, the Eastern Point Associates went bankrupt, primarily because they could not provide an infrastructure on Eastern Point for the homes they were building. Perhaps the peak of Eastern Point’s caché as a vacation spot came in 1904 with the construction near Niles Beach of the Colonial Arms, a six story 300-room luxury hotel, which unfortunately burned down in 1908.

In 1831, the Eastern Point Lighthouse was built to accommodate the increasing shipping and commercial fishing happening at Gloucester Harbor.

On New Year’s Day 1832, the light was lit for the first time by the light’s first keeper, Samuel Wonson. Over the subsequent century and a half, the lighthouse would be rebuilt several times. In 1987, Eastern Point Lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Natural History, with a focus on geology

The expression, "as above, so below" is perfectly appropriate when considering geologic history, because mineral substances in the planets and stars above are exactly the same as those in our bodies and in the ground below us. Ponder this as you explore the extraordinary geology of Cape Ann.

For starters, consider that two of the minerals found here, Annite and Danalite, were discovered on and exist almost exclusively on Cape Ann. Rather than try and match his excellent account, the following is a description as written by Halibut State Park nature interpreter John Nove:

Annite, named after Cape Ann, was first identified in Rockport. You can learn more about Annite here. Danalite, named after geology professor J.D. Dana, was initially identified at a Rockport Granite Company quarry in the 19th century. This link gives you more information about Danalite and this Wikipedia excerpt will tell you more about Professor Dana, one of the foremost figures in the history of geology.

But that’s far from the end of the surprising facts about the geology of Cape Ann. Here’s something many are astonished to learn: Cape Ann is considered the third most active geological area in the United States. The most active geological area is the San Andreas fault, we all know about that one; the second is the New Madrid fault in Missouri, where the largest known earthquake that has happened since Europeans settled the continent occured in 1800. It was an earthquake so massive that the Mississippi River ran backwards for almost an entire day! After those two areas comes Cape Ann. The largest earthquake known to have taken place in New England happened on Cape Ann in 1755. That large quake, knocking down walls and chimneys of over a hundred buildings in Boston, was felt from Nova Scotia to South Carolina and over five hundred miles east at sea. You can take a look at this document on file at the Massachusetts Historical Society to find out more about an event that profoundly affected the New England populace, as evidenced by the no fewer than twenty-seven sermons, poems, and accounts published in the following months featuring, to quote the Massachusetts Historical Society, “such titles Earthquakes the Works of God and Tokens of his Just Displeasure (by Thomas Prince) and The Duty of a People, Under Dark Providences, or Symptoms of Approaching Evils, to Prepare to Meet their God (by Eliphalet Williams).”

As an aside, I offer an explanation of how Cape Ann granite achieved its unique 160lbs. per cubic foot density. Briefly – at the end of the last great Ice Age, about 15,000 years ago, retreating glacier scraped many millions of years of sedimentary rock off the massive bedrock of granite that today makes up most of Cape Ann. The bedrock granite, under the pressure of sedimentary rock for so long, became evern more compressed than it was, and once the glacier scraped the surface sedimentary rock away, it left the granite close to the surface. There may be granite of similar of greater density elsewhere, but most of it, never having had the benefit of such a staggering force of as a mile high mountain of ice to bring it near the surface, remains far under the ground where it cannot be mined. If you look above at the center photograph under this posting’s heading you can clearly see the striations on the smoothed boulder, tracking north/northwest to south/southwest that was made by the retreating glacier. Such evident examples of the last Ice Age exist all over Halibut Point, especially in the park’s “scablands” – the still existing grassy balds not far from the Babson Farm Quarry.

Upcoming Retreats

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