Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rockport Part 1: A Seaside Retreat

The List has brought Harold and I to Rockport, MA which has seven sights on the list.  Due to scheduling conflicts/arrangements we were only able to visit six of the seven, hence the "Part 1" in the title.  Visiting this small, quaint oceanside town was very rewarding for lots of reasons.  The town has a long history dating back to the 1600s and was a supplier of granite to the East Coast up until the Industrial Revolution.  Its become an artist's retreat of sorts thanks to Rudyard Kipling's Captains Courageous.  It is home to one of the most painted/photographed sites in the world, which made The List, of course.  Rockport was the site of the revolt against rum.  In 1856, a gang of 200 women led by Hannah Jumper came through town and destroyed anything containing alcohol and banned alcohol from the town.  The town remained one of fifteen dry towns in Massachusetts for years until recently it was voted that alcohol could be served at restaurants, but liquor stores are still illegal.  In a restaurant we ate at it was stated on the menu that you can bring your own beer. 

Motif Number 1 is one of the most popular buildings in America to art students and art historians.  Its a shack that sits on Bradley Wharf and its composition and the lighting of its location, not to mention it being a symbol of New England maritime life, has become a favorite for painters and photographers.  Painter Lester Hornby is believed to have given the shack its name, a reference to its appeal to artists.  It was sold to the town in 1945.  The Blizzard of 1978 destroyed it but an exact duplicate of the shack was built that same year.  The building can be seen in films such as The Proposal and in Finding Nemo.

The Headlands was probably the most peaceful spot to go and look out at the ocean, see a sunrise or just take a walk.  To get to the Headlands, we had to take a a small, public footpath that, at first glance, looked like a space between bushes.  There were two concrete benches placed there with quotes to represent the beauty and serenity of nature. 

Entrance to the footpath that leads to The Headlands

The footpath

The Headlands

The Headlands

The view from The Headlands

When you come across a place that has a unique name you always wonder where it came from.  Bearskin Neck is just the place.  The name came from a bear caught by the tide and killed in 1700.  It was the commercial and shipbuilding center of Rockport for 150 years.  The first dock was bult there in 1743.  It was also the site of Stone Fort and sea fencibles barrack during the War of 1812.  These days its a tiny street lined with shops and opens up at the end to the view also seen at the Headlands, which is directly across the water.

Not bad for a bear that died 300 years ago right?

At the end of Bearskin Neck

Halibut Point State Park used to be the Babson Farm granite quarry, made of sheets of 440 million year old granite.  It was purchased by the Rockport Granite Company in the 1840s.  When the Cape Ann granite industry collapsed in 1929, 17 acres on the eastern side of the quarry were purchased and given to the Trustees of Reservations.  The remainder of the area sat unused until late in World War II when a fire control tower was constructed to provide aiming information for the massive coastal defense guns that guarded Boston and Portsmouth Harbors.  The tower is now the park's Visitor's Center.  The park doesn't have a lot of trees due to the shallow soil, constant exposure to onshore winds and a history of frequent fires.  The vegetation that is there is mostly catbriar, bayberry, blueberry, arrowwood, shadbush and other types of wildflowers.  Looking from the overlook, one can see Crane Beach in Ipswich all the way to Mount Agamenticus in Maine.  One of the more unique things seen in the park is an area which I called Rock City, where people can build things out of stones.

The quarry

The ocean

The overlook

Rock City

Harold trying to construct something in Rock City

In the center of Rockport sits the Rockport Art Association, one of the oldest art associations in the United States.  It started out as an artist's cooperative and became a gathering place of New England artists of the 20th century.  It can always be visited for its variety of exhibitions and is a great place for a wedding, but looking at the prices of the works of art on display, I will never be an art collector.

The Shalin Liu Performance Center is in the building that used to be the Haskins Building, dating back to the 1860s.  The building used to be the gathering place of the "Sociables", holding balls and galas for the Sandy Bay Yacht Club.  It was selected in 2005 to be the site of Rockport Music's new home, the performance center it is now. 

For those keeping track, we have officially been to 49 sites on The List.


Heather Rojo said...

I'm loving your blog. When you're finished with Massachusetts you should come up to New Hampshire for another series of posts. Harold the Moose would love New Hampshire.

Mike said...

If they have a list, I would be up for it. Glad you enjoy the blog! :)

scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.