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America’s Oldest Seaport Looks Toward Her Future


IT SEEMS AS IF EVERYWHERE YOU TURN IN GLOUCESTER, there is a reminder of its long history as “America’s Oldest Seaport.” Not just in the buildings, not just in the waterfront, but in the fiber of the town itself. It’s something all residents are aware of, and it’s a big part of why I’ve made Gloucester the place I live for 25 years.

It’s a place where lore and reality collide, but it’s mostly all true. You can’t talk about Gloucester without talking about fishing. How it was then…how it is now. At any moment, you may be transported back in time by reading a headline as recently as March 26, “Dragger sinks, crew is rescued.” I imagine that same headline, written 100 years ago. I hear the city’s collective sigh of relief to know that these descendants of history, those who keep Gloucester’s fishing tradition alive, are safe. Yet the city is in the middle of a major struggle, trying to embrace the new while preserving the past.

Dichotomies are everywhere. A  Hinckley Picnic Boat moored yards from a rusty scalloper in Lobster Cove.  Cocktail party yachts passing “Dirt’s Dogs” floating hotdog stand. Dozens of partiers rafted together off Wingaersheek at 6 p.m. Saturday, and a solitary kayaker paddling quietly past that same beach at 6 a.m. Sunday.

Pick a random street and you’ll be amazed by the diversity of year-round residents: writers, fishermen, software engineers, photographers, politicians, artists, lobstermen, plumbers, lawyers, and doctors.

As I write this, I’m sitting in my car in St. Peter’s square. A truck pulls up, and two young men get out. “Off to a night at Elliott’s Pub.” I think. But they pen the back of the truck, pull out two sets of oars, seats and footrests, and head down to the public landing for an evening row in their dory. I chuckle to myself. These scenes are around me all the time, every day. No wonder Winslow Homer tucked himself into that little island in the middle  of the harbor for a year, watching the  light and the life of this precious jewel  on the coast of Massachusetts.

The mornings by the sea are the best. Before the beachgoers, before the boats. When it’s warm early in the morning, and the sea is glassy pale blue and the waves make almost no sound as they break on the sand. The beach is mine alone, and there is no place quite like it. This is where I live.

Gloucester ID

History of Settlement: Gloucester was settled in 1623 Date of Incorporation: As a town, 1642. As a city, 1873.

County: Essex

Zip Code: 01930

Population: 30,273

Mayor: Carolyn Kirk, Gloucester’s first elected woman Mayor

Median Household Income: $47,722

Median Price Paid in 2008 for a waterfront home: $905,000.

Politics: 60% Unregistered (Independent)

Notable Past Residents

Sterling Hayden, Actor and author Anne Hyatt Huntington, Sculptor, founder Brookgreen Gardens, SC John Singer Sargent, Impressionist portrait and landscape painter Phil Weld, Publisher, Merrils Maurader, OSTAR winner at age 65 Fitz Henry Lane, American Luminist Painter Roger Babson, founder of Babson College Alpheus Hyatt, founder Woods Hole Oceanographic Society Howard Blackburn, fisherman and adventurer  Clarence Birdseye, founder of the modern frozen food industry  Vincent Ferrini, Gloucester’s Poet Laureate, Know Fish Emil Gruppe, Impressionist-style painter  John Hays Hammond, Jr., inventor, “The Father of Radio Control” Walker Hancock, sculptor, including the monumental  Stone Mountain bas-relief Paul Manship, sculptor of the Prometheus statue in New York’s  Rockefeller Plaza Charles Olson, poet, Maximus Poems Herb Pomeroy, jazz musician

Did You Know That:

“Captains Courageous” was written about Gloucester by Rudyard  Kipling in 1897 and was made into a movie staring Spencer Tracy.

In 1883, while rowing in an open dory, Fisherman Howard Blackburn was caught in an offshore winter storm and separated from his mother ship. His dorymate died, but Blackburn curved his freezing hands around the oars and rowed for five days with virtually no food or water, until he landed at Newfoundland. The annual Blackburn Challenge rowing race around Cape Ann is named after him.

The Crow’s Nest bar in “The Perfect Storm” was a replica constructed on a wharf across the street from the actual bar.

Russel Crouse and Howard Lindsay wrote the book for the musical The Sound of Music in Annisquam.