July 4th in Rockport

Cape Ann’s best kept secret includes a parade and bonfire put on by Rockport's Firemen's Association.

Photo by Joseph Salvatore Prezioso


The bonfire glowed orange and red with the brilliance of daylight as the mountain of pallets at Back Beach burned. It was the annual Fireman's Association's bonfire. It was July 4th in Rockport.

Rockport, a tiny community north of Gloucester could be described in what one local called, a Norman Rockwell painting, with its charm and old New England culture still thriving. 

July 4th in Rockport starts off with the annual Fireman's Association's parade. The parade heads off from Rockport High School and makes it way throughout the streets of town to Back Beach, just past Front Beach where judges sit to rank the floats and entries in the parade. This year close to 40 entries took part including a Viking float, a cup cake made of balloons, the clown band, and many more.

“The Rockport parade is fantastic,” says Dario Pittore, 65, as he sat in his Uncle Sam outfit on a bench on Bearskin Neck with friends. “I used to march and juggle, but now I am too old. The people, the audience, are very excited by what you do. It’s a great parade with the fire engines.”

Throughout the town people held barbecues and get-togethers to celebrate with their friends and family. Beth and Chris Rowen had a backyard barbecue with dozens of guests and even a stage with a band for their 21st annual July 4th party. Parties like this were held all over town. 

“It’s a community getting all back together,” says Fire Department Capt. Stephen Abell.  “We try to liken it to the homecoming of the town with a lot of people coming back for the week. You see a lot of people that you haven’t seen. It’s kind of people just getting back together.”

While some parties around town enjoyed barbecues and bands, others were more for children, like that at the King Estate where the Haight family built a homemade slip and slide with some plastic tarps and a hose. 

“We have been coming here since we were kids,” says Emily Haight, 34, as her children ran back and forth up a hill and down their slide. “We live in Essex now, but my dad’s family comes here every year to see the parade. We come to see our family members, and have a good time watching the parade, keeping cool.”

The parade and bonfire are both put on by the Firemen’s Association. 

“It’s a horribles type parade, but its sponsored by the Rockport’s Firemen Association not the Fire department itself,” says Abell.  “We are a non-profit organization. It’s a charitable event.”

Abell went on to explain that the Association raises throughout the year for the day and tries to give back to the community that it owes so much too.  Rockport is an all-volunteer fire department. 

“It’s challenging every year, it’s a lot of work, but we feel privileged to be able to put it on for the town,” says Abell.

The fire department works hard not only throughout the year but also on July 4th when they have to maintain and keep under control the working fire, the bonfire, on Back Beach.

Hundreds of pallets are piled high with an outhouse sitting atop. Firefighters dowse the bottom pallets with gasoline and then light them on fire with a torch at 9 p.m. just as the sun sets. The flames produced from the blaze light up Beach Street.

The intense heat produced from the blaze pushes many of the spectators back to safety to prevent heat burns.

Firefighters spray water from all around the mountain of pallets to keep the fire from spreading and to prevent other structures and plant life from catching fire.

People in the crowd scream and cheer as the flames get more intense and many complain that their phones are over heating or that they can’t stand the heat anymore. 

For many, like Tyla Tardif, though it’s a tradition. 

“I’m here for the bonfire,” says Tardif, 28. “I come every year. I grew up right here on Granite Street.”

Tardif is not the only one. Countless people come back every year to see the parade and bonfire. People come back from out of town and from other states to take part in a tradition that has been going on for generations. 

As the bonfire lit up the street, fireworks could be seen going off in the sky form celebrations in other towns and in local residents’ backyards.

America was being wished a happy birthday in Rockport.


Photos by Joseph Prezioso.


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