Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Townsend: Revolutionary Rebels

Townsend is a small town that is just a spot on the map and can be easily overlooked.  However, it does have a bit of history to it.  It was incorporated as a town in 1732 and was named after Viscount Charles Townshend who was a British cabinet minister.    The town was thrusted into history when the British marched on Concord on April 19, 1775 and sent 73 men to join the other towns in fighting the British.  It was around 1780 when residents and town officials stuck it to the British again by spelling the town name by omitting the "H" and it eventually stuck.

As far as The List goes, it makes one appearance.  The town common is very well maintained with a gazebo and a memorial to soldiers serving in the Civil War.  The gazebo serves as the bandstand for town celebrations.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gloucester Part 1: A Fisherman's Mecca

There are fishing towns and then there's Gloucester.  The town's proximity to the Georges Bank and other banks off the coast of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland helped the fishing industry thrive in Gloucester, and soon became the center for Gorton's of Gloucester, a name you can find in your neighborhood grocery store in the frozen food aisle.  Today, it's also the center for fish research.  The town also prominently displays the dangers of seafaring and fishing.  In its 350-year history, Gloucester has lost over 10,000 men to the Atlantic Ocean.  Gloucester makes a prominent appearance on the list, needing to be broken up in different parts.

One cannot visit Gloucester without seeing the famous Fisherman's Memorial.  The memorial can be spotted by the 8 foot tall statue of the "Man at the Wheel", built in 1925.  The statue was modeled after Captain Clayon Morrissey, a prominent Gloucester fisherman and the Captain of the Effie M. Morrissey.  The inscription reads "They That Go Down To The Sea In Ships 1623-1923", taken from the Bible's Psalm 107:23.  It stands looking out over the ocean, facing the Fisherman's Memorial that bears the names and years of the fisherman lost at sea. 

There are other plaques all around the railing that lists the names of those lost at sea

One of the more scenic sites on The List in Gloucester is Hammond Castle.  The castle was built between 1926 and 1929 by John Hays Hammond, Jr. who was an inventor and pioneer in remote control holding over 400 patents.  The building is also a collection of 15th, 16th and 18th century architectural elements.  It also puts on artifacts and exhibits about his own life and work.  The real treasure of the castle lies in its scenic seaside view over the Atlantic.  This site has become a popular setting for weddings and various other functions. 

The view from the castle lawn

Stage Fort Park is the historic site of the first settlers of Gloucester in 1623.  There is a huge rock with a plaque dedicated to the settlers, although it is very hard to read because apparently the designers didnt care too much for appropriate reading angles.  To get a great view of the ocean, you can climb up on top of the rock.  Great place to go for a picnic, sit by the water or play a nice game of softball.

Notice the angle of the sign which makes it hard to read

Gloucester City Hall is the creme de la creme of city halls.  Its exactly how a city hall should look like.  The building was built in 1869-1871 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.  Its quite the imposing structure when looking at it.  The bell tower is being renovated and it is in need of a paint job but it doesn't take away anything from it. 

If Gloucester had a crown jewel it would be its Downtown area.  I've always pictured small towns as if they were out of a movie, busy center of town with a variety of stores and restaurants.  Anything you could ever need in life can be found in the center of town.  But Downtown Gloucester isn't just a center of town where you can get anything you need, it has character.  With Main Street running through it, one could walk up and down on a nice sunny day, window shopping or popping in and out of stores all day.  My favorite part of the stores was how generic some are.  You can walk by a worldwide coffee chain restaurant and on the corner  you see a shoe store that simply says "SHOES!"  What more do you need to know?  For my first visit to Gloucester, the downtown area was very nice and felt tucked away.

Harold made friends

Friday, November 12, 2010

Machester-by-the-Sea: Where the Beaches Sing

Everything you want to know about a town is in it's name, and Manchester-by-the-Sea is just that.  The town was founded as "Jeffrey's Creek" but was changed later on to Manchester.  It was around the mid-1800s when residents took a cue from railroad conductors and began referring to the town as "Manchester-by-the-Sea", since there seemed to be enough towns named Manchester.  The town name was officially changed in 1990 and all town documents and the town seal have the full official name.

The town's uniqueness doesn't stop with it's name.  There are three sites on The List and each one is as different and interesting as the next.

Our first stop was the famous Singing Beach, a place I've heard a lot about but never visited.  I have heard about singing beaches before but have never been to one so I wasn't sure what to expect.  Singing sand is sand that produces sound either by wind or by walking on it.  There are certain conditions that have to come together for sand to "sing": 1) the sand grains have to be round and between 0.1 and 0.5 mm in diameter, 2) the sand has to contain silica, and 3) the sand needs to be at a certain humidity.  The noise my be generated by friction between the grains or by the compression of air between them.  Alright, now with all that scientific aside, let me say that Singing Beach was a beautiful beach and having grown up and lived in Virginia Beach for 20 some odd years, I think I am qualified enough to know a good beach.  I heard it gets crowded in the summer and dogs are not allowed on the beach but since our visit was during the off season, the dogs were out in full force.  And yes, I was like a little kid walking on that sand since it was my first time on singing sand.  :)

Singing Beach at sunset

The Historic District of Manchester was a pretty relaxing walk through the center of town.  The historic district included the Trask House, the 1661 cemetery, the Tappan Cemetery, the First Parish Church and the library.  The Trask House is also the home of the town's historical society.  The two cemeteries were odd because they were directly next to each other, separated by a stone wall.  The Tappan Cemetery is the resting place of the Tappan Family, which I know nothing about.  The 1661 Cemetery is just an old cemetery from 1661.  Walking around and seeing these historic buildings is a break from the hustle and bustle of the city and the highways in the area.  This was a scenic seaside town and as soon as you park your car and take a look around, the relief and serenity seeps in.

Trask House--home to the Historical Society

1661 Cemetery

Tappan Family Cemetery

The two cemeteries right beside each other

First Parish Church

Public Library

Manchester-by-the-Sea Common

World War I Statue on the Common

For nature lovers who enjoy taking a nice walk around a lake and onto field next to the ocean there is Coolidge Reservation.  The reservation is located on Coolidge Point, a peninsula once owned by the Coolidge Family.  It was where the family's "Marble Palace" designed in 1902.  The mansion no longer exists but its foundation is traced by a marble line on the ocean lawn.  Walking the trails around the lake was peaceful and informative.  There are little black boxes with instructions where visitors can log in water level measurements using measuring poles that are placed in the lake.  You place the log sheet back into the block box to allow other visitors to do the same.  This was a great final stop in visiting Manchester-by-the-Sea.  Nice and relaxing.

The Ocean Lawn at Coolidge Point

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.