Sunday, March 14, 2010

In My Footsteps: Trip 31: Gloucester, Mass.

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund
Trip 31: Gloucester, Mass.
March 6, 2010

            What the Witch Trials are to Salem that is what fishing is to Gloucester.  It is what defines this incredible North Shore village.  America’s oldest seaport, Gloucester houses many beautiful landscapes along its shore and some memorable statues and of course lighthouses.  Only a forty mile drive north of Boston, this popular tourist destination at times can seem like the perfect painting of what a fishing village should be.
            Following Rt. 127 North from Manchester there is a perfect place to start any journey around Gloucester.  The amazing Stage Fort Park(left) has a Visitor’s Center open during the warmer months and is home to one of the best views in the North Shore area.  The site of the first settlers to the Gloucester area from Dorchester, England, Stage Fort Park has a nearly fifty foot tall boulder containing a gigantic plaque commemorating this fact.  The view from the top of the boulder is breathtaking as you can see all across the wide open park to the east, historic downtown Gloucester to the north, and Ten Pound Island and lighthouse to the west.  This island received its name either from the amount of money paid to the local Indians, or for the number of sheep pens, known as ‘pounds,’ located on the island.
There are two beaches at Stage Fort Park, Cressy’s Beach, a normal, rocky beach and Half Moon Beach which is very small and secluded amongst the rocks, a sort of lagoon.  This is traditionally accepted as the spot where the first settlers made landfall.
            Before heading into the historic downtown area of Gloucester there is a much unexpected site to see, especially for a well known fishing village.  Backtracking a little from Stage Fort Park you will find the Hammond Castle Museum(right).  It is a medieval castle in the middle of the North Shore.  Built by John Hays Hammond Jr. between 1926 and 1929, this authentic castle was created to serve as his home and to house his collection of Roman, medieval, and Renaissance artifacts.  Hammond was also a prolific inventor, second only to Thomas Edison as far as patents.  He is known as the ‘Father of Remote Control’ thanks to his works with remote control via radio waves. 
            The castle itself is brilliant.  It sits on a rocky cliff with the waves battering the shore loudly; from there you can see Eastern Point Lighthouse sitting across the harbor.  Walking through the courtyard of the castle one feels like they have been transported back a thousand years.  There are several gargoyle statues perched precariously overhead, along with stone lions guarding a drawbridge as well as the actual grave of Mr. Hammond.  The castle is opened on weekends starting in May but even on this day when it was closed Hammond Castle is a truly impressive site and needs to be seen.  
            From Hammond Castle the next stop is the historic downtown area of Gloucester.  Rt. 127 is also known as Western Avenue as it crosses over the mouth of the Annisquam River.  Here there are several beautiful statues and sculptures, none as famous as The Man At The Wheel(right).  This beautiful eight-foot tall bronze statue on a granite base of a fisherman at the wheel of a ship faces out over the harbor.  It is symbolic of Gloucester’s connection with fishing and the sea itself.  The statue overlooks the Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial.  On these plaques are listed the names of all of those lost at sea over the past 300 years.  Included among these names are the crew of the Andrea Gail(below, right) who lost their lives during the so-called ‘Perfect Storm’ of October 1991. 
            A great place to stop for lunch on Western Avenue is Roma Pizza & Subs.  It is a small place big on quality.  There may not be room for more than a dozen or so people to sit inside but it is hard to sit inside when facing beautiful Gloucester Harbor.  People must be in and out nonstop during the warmer months picking up hot and cold subs, pizza, and fries before heading back out to watch the fishing boats coming and going.  The food and the views go hand in hand to add to the allure of this North Shore destination.
            On the other side of the harbor, visible from Hammond Castle, is Eastern Point Lighthouse(left).  Located far out at the end of Eastern Point the current lighthouse sits on private property behind a chain link fence, although the fence does not obscure the view at all.  Built in 1890, the lighthouse is on the grounds of a Coast Guard station and still is in use.  Jutting out into the harbor is 2,250 foot long breakwater called Dog Bar Breakwater.  At the end of this breakwater sits Dog Bar Breakwater Light.  It was built as added protection for incoming vessels and can be visited at anytime.  However, with the normal rough seas of the area it is wise to be careful when walking out on the long breakwater as at times rogue waves have been known to come barreling in and hit the rocks, shooting water sometimes ten feet into the air over the breakwater.  I witnessed this myself and thought twice about making a journey all the way out to see Dog Bar Breakwater Light.
            Gloucester, America’s oldest seaport, lives up to its reputation as a beautiful getaway for those in Boston.  It is also well worth the trip from anywhere in the state or New England.  It is so rare to find a place that has held onto its roots as a fishing village.  At times it felt as though I had one foot in the present and one foot in the past.  Lighthouses, medieval castles, spacious parks, great food, historic memorials, Gloucester has everything you could want in a vacation or a day trip.  I suggest taking more than just a day to discover it all though, or you will find you have missed so much.  Have fun and happy traveling!

Check out a short video slideshow of my photos from Gloucester on YouTube here: In My Footsteps - Gloucester, Mass.

Directions: Hammond Castle Museum: From I-95 N take Exit 47A, turn right onto Maple St., continue on to Poplar St.  Slight right at Elliot St., merge onto Rt. 128.  Take Exit 15, follow School St. to Rt. 127.  Follow Rt. 127 5 miles, turn right at Hesperus St., castle is .7 mi on left.
Stage Fort Park: From I-95 N take Exit 47A, turn right onto Maple St., continue on to Poplar St.  Slight right at Elliot St., merge onto Rt. 128.  Take Exit 15, follow School St. to Rt. 127.  Follow Rt. 127 6.5 miles, turn left onto Hough Avenue.
Man At the Wheel Memorial: From I-95 N take Exit 47A, turn right onto Maple St., continue on to Poplar St.  Slight right at Elliot St., merge onto Rt. 128.  Take Exit 15, follow School St. to Rt. 127.  Follow Rt. 127 approx. 7 mi., statue and memorial is on the right.
Eastern Point Light: Follow Western Ave., turn right onto Angle St., left at Rogers St.  Continue onto Main St., slight right at E. Main St.  Follow 1.1 mi. continue onto Eastern Point Rd.  Slight right at Eastern Point Blvd. W., lighthouse will be on left.
 To view video of my North Shore trip visit - North Shore Trip
References:  Hammond Castle Museum
            Eastern Point Lighthouse
            Roma Pizza & Subs
            Cape Ann Historical Museum        

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