Monday, July 26, 2010

In My Footsteps: Trip 58: Rockport, Mass.

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund

Trip 58: Rockport, Mass.
July 1, 2010

            I had originally featured Rockport in an article which included three other North Shore towns.  Looking back on it I realized that there was so much to see in this amazing seaside village that it definitely needed its own article.  This of course meant a second trip to Rockport which I was very happy to do.
The Thacher Island Twin Lights
Located just past Gloucester, at the tip of Cape Ann, Rockport is a well known artist colony.  It also was a ‘dry town,’ meaning no alcohol was to be sold within its borders, until 2005.  This law goes back to the story of Hannah Jumper.  She led a revolt of 200 mothers, wives, and daughters in 1856 to destroy all of the liquor in town.  The reason for this was the fact that although fishing was a tremendous industry for Rockport, the Northeast’s weather only permitted it for nine months out of the year.  The other three months were spent by the men spending much of their hard-earned money on booze.  Ms. Jumper’s rebellion against the ‘demon rum’ led to Rockport being ‘dry’ for 149 years.
The famous Motif #1
The first area I decided to see cannot be accessed except by boat.  I did not have a boat so I had to partake in the view from the shore.  The Thacher Island Twin Lighthouses are both unusual and beautiful.  The pair of smoky-grey granite lighthouses sit on the small Thacher Island about a half mile off of the mainland.  The closest view of the lights comes from taking a drive on Old Penzance Road.  There is a small dirt parking area where you can walk out to the edge of the water and gaze across at the pair of 124-foot tall towers.  The terrain is a bit tricky as the path gives way to an assortment of rock pieces, some large, some smaller.  However as long as you are aware of the surroundings there is no real danger in walking out to the shore.  The lighthouses were built in 1861.  There are summer tours of the island and private boaters are allowed to visit the grounds as well if you have access to a vessel.
The entrance to Bearskin Neck
The next place I visited was one of the most unique of all the spots I have seen thus far: The Paper House.  Originally built in 1922 by Mr. Elis F. Stenman this house is really what it claims to be.  The walls of the house and furniture inside are completely made out of paper.  From a distance it does not look the out of the ordinary; the paper now being nearly ninety years old has a brownish color.  Once you are near enough you can see what makes this place so unique.  There are actually spots on the walls where you can see old newspaper pages that have been included in the lining of the house.
This spot was built as a summer house for Mr. Stenman who built the machines that make paper clips.  His creations inside the house include a piano, desk, and chair, all made from paper that was then varnished to hold it together better.  There is a small admission fee and the house is open every day from the spring through the fall.  Despite being a house in name it is still a bit fragile and visitors are asked to be gentle with this amazing work of art.  It is a bit out of the way but worth the drive to find it.
Paper House
The final area I visited in Rockport probably deserves an article all its own.  Located along the northern coastline of the town Bearskin Neck is an amazing collection of former fishing and lobster shacks that have been gradually transformed into shops and art galleries.  It was named for the bears that were hunted by being chased out onto the narrow strip of land in the early 18th century.  The first dock was built in 1743 and Bearskin Neck was the commercial and shipbuilding center of Rockport for 150 years.
There is much more to see along the narrow streets that make up Bearskin Neck besides just the incredible shops which line it.  At the very end of the paved road, which acts as a sort of center aisle in an outdoor shopping mall, there is a building which stands on the site of the Old Stone Fort.  It was just as its name says, built for the War of 1812 it was routinely fired upon by British naval ships.  However, the most famous location of the Bearskin Neck is a dark red fishing shack on Bradley Wharf known as Motif #1.  It is said to be America’s most painted and photographed building.  The original was built in 1884 but the ravages of Mother Nature have knocked the building down a few times.  It was most recently rebuilt in 1978.  The Motif got its name from art teacher Lester Hornby.
Legend has it that the teacher would send his students out into Rockport to paint scenes of the town.  When student after student chose the venerable shack as a subject for sketches Mr. Hornby was said to have replied ‘What?  Motif #1 again!?.’  After getting a close up view of the shack it is very easy to see why so many of those students, and visitors to this day, flock to it.  The deep red color, the collection of buoys hanging ever so neatly on its fa├žade; this rather unassuming shack just oozes personality.
Rockport has many incredible places to visit.  Bearskin Neck is worthy of its own article but there is so much more.  The outstanding Paper House is a one in a million destination, literally.  Even though you more than likely will not be able to physically touch them, the Thacher Island Twin Lighthouses make for a majestic scene as they stretch toward the sky just offshore.  I highly recommend taking them in, walking along the promenade that is Bearskin Neck, and don’t forget to take a photo of Motif #1.  Have fun and happy traveling!
DirectionsBearskin Neck:  Take Rt. 128 off of I-95.  Stay on Rt. 128 through two rotaries and turn left onto Rt. 127.  Rt. 127 becomes Broadway, turn left at Mt. Pleasant Street. Bearskin Neck is on the right.
            The Paper House:  Follow Rt. 127 north toward Pigeon Cove. After the Yankee Clipper Inn take the second left, which is Curtis Street, then another left on Pigeon Hill Street.  The Paper House is #52, on your right.
            Thacher Island Twin Lights:  From Rt. 128 north turn left on Eastern Ave., then right onto Barn Lane.  Turn left at Rt. 127A north.  Turn right at South St., take 1st left onto Penzance Road.  There is a small dirt parking area with a great view of the lighthouses.   
            Paper House

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