Blue Collar Gloucester and more affluent Rockport are located on Massachusetts’ less well known Cape Ann. They offer fishing, artist shops, beaches, and ocean proximity.
Located on what some call the “other cape” in Massachusetts on the North Shore of Boston, the city of Gloucester and neighboring town of Rockport are varying sides of the same coin. Gloucester is a working-class seaport and Rockport more upscale and trendy.
But the region should not be bypassed as Christopher Reynolds wrote as part of “Travel staff’s underrated places of the world,” in April 14, 2009, Los Angeles Times. Some do, he said,
“[b]ecause, in the book of New England conventional wisdom, Cape Cod is where beautiful people go and Cape Ann is where cod fishermen come from.”
Such a narrow-minded view, Reynolds added, ignores this: “Cape Ann is not only a great stretch of rocky coast about 40 miles north of Boston and it’s not only one of America’s oldest fishing ports (records date to 1623), but a cross-section of Yankee humanity, from blue-collar Gloucester to affluent Rockport.”
Fishing Remains A Revered Way of Life in Gloucester
Where Rockport now is was once an uninhabited portion of Gloucester for over 100 years which supplied much of the timber used for shipbuilding. In Gloucester, the tradition and historic legacy of fishing run deep. Much of its origin as a major fishing center is the relative closeness of Georges Bank and other fishing points off of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
Sebastian Junger’s book “The Perfect Storm,” about the loss at sea of the six-member Gloucester-based fishing crew of the Andrea Gail boat in 1991, was made into a movie released in 2000. Along the Gloucester boardwalk on Stacy Boulevard is the world-famous bronze “Man at the Wheel” statute looking out toward the sea. The citizens of Gloucester commissioned it in 1923 in honor of the seaport’s 300th anniversary and to memorialize the fishermen who perished in the course of their profession.
The statute honors not only fishermen and mariners but their wives and women everywhere for their sacrifice and dedication to their families and communities.
Also nearby is Blynman Bridge, one of the busiest draw bridges on the East Coast of the United States. It goes over the Annisquam River and leads to Gloucester’s downtown area. It is opened numerous times a day for commercial fishing boats, recreational craft, and whale watching and deep-sea fishing party boats moored at the Cape Ann Marina. Further along Main Street are restaurants serving the current day’s catch, shops, old stately homes, and the headquarters of Gorton’s, the producer of frozen fish products known around the globe.
Opportunities for Fishing and Whale Watching Abound in Gloucester
Many who come to Gloucester credit it as having the rustic feel of an old fishing village. The sight of fishermen working onboard their boats or mending their nets is a common one. The vessels heading into and out of Gloucester Harbor usually fish for cod, haddock, halibut, swordfish, or lobster. Also leaving from the harbor are sailboats and morning or afternoon whale watching trips headed off of Gloucester’s coastline often accompanied by an onboard naturalist or marine biologist to identify the whales.
“This entire region of the ocean is dominated by a shallow, underwater plateau surrounded by a mosaic of ridges and troughs carved by glaciers during the last great ice age,” according to the 2009-2010 “Discover Gloucester” visitor guide. “This creates a rich and productive marine habitat that attracts many species of marine wildlife, including whales.”
Over the years Gloucester has drawn many artists and writers, including Edward Hopper, Fitz Henry Lane, Winslow Homer, Milton Avery, Marsden Hartley, Childe Hassam, and Rudyard Kipling, who set his fishing tale, “Captains Courageous,” there. Artist shops are located along with the finger of land known as Rocky Neck Art Colony in East Gloucester.
Rockport Known for Artist Shops, Beaches, Views of Shoreline
Rockport on the tip of Cape Ann, which was established as a separate and smaller town in 1840, has over 30 artists’ galleries in its downtown section. The best-known portion is Bearskin Neck with its multiple shops in a village atmosphere.
Visitors can see the rocky beaches and seaside parks along the Atlantic Ocean, or view the shoreline by kayak or sailboat. Rockport previously was strictly a dry town though in recent years has started permitting restaurants to obtain liquor licenses.
Rockport and part of Bearskin Neck were used for filming scenes to represent Alaska in the movie “The Proposal,” which opened in June 2009 and starred Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds.
More history of the area can be found at the Cape Ann Museum with displays that pay tribute to the maritime heritage of Cape Ann. Additional information is available at the Gloucester Visitor Welcoming Center.
The region is reachable by car, boat, or train. Route 128, veering off Interstate 95 from Boston on the way to Maine, goes into Gloucester. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Commuter Rail Newburyport/Rockport Line stops in Rockport, Gloucester, and West Gloucester as part of serving Boston’s North Station.