Gloucester’s deep water harbor attracted a group of Englishmen from the Dorchester Company, who landed here in 1623 to fish and to establish a settlement. This first company of pioneers made landing at Half Moon Beach, and settled nearby, setting up fishing stages in a field in what is now Stage Fort Park. This settlement’s existence is proclaimed today by a memorial tablet, affixed to a 50’ boulder in that park.
This settlement allows Gloucester to boast the first settlement in what would become the Massachusetts Bay Company, as this town’s first settlement predates both Salem in 1626 and Boston in 1630. Life in this first settlement was harsh and it was short-lived. Around 1626 the place was abandoned, and the people removed themselves to Naumkeag (what is now called Salem) , where more fertile soil for planting was to be found. The meetinghouse was even disassembled and relocated to the new place of settlement. At some point in the following years - though no record exists - the area was slowly resettled. The town was formally incorporated in 1642. It is at this time that the name “Gloucester” first appears on tax rolls, although in various spellings. The town took its name from the great Cathedral City in South-West England, where it is assumed many of its new occupants originated.
This new permanent settlement focused on the Town Green area, an inlet in the marshes at a bend in the Annisquam River. This area is now the site of Grant Circle, a large traffic-rotary at which MA 128 mingles with a major city street (Washington Street/MA 127. Here the first permanent settlers built a meeting house and therefore focused the nexus of their settlement on the ‘Island’ for nearly 100 years. Unlike other early coastal towns in New England, development in Gloucester was not focused around the harbor as it is today, rather it was inland that people settled first. This is evidenced by the placement of the Town Green nearly two miles from the harbor-front.
The town was an important shipbuildingcenter, and the first schooner was reputedly built there in 1713. Gloucester thus became the country’s first fishing port. By the late 19th century, Gloucester was a record-setting port for fisheries under sail. Gloucester’s most famous (and nationally recognized) seafood business was founded in 1849 -- John Pew & Sons. It became Gorton-Pew Fisheries in 1906, and in 1957 changed its name to Gorton’s of Gloucester. The iconicimage of the “Gorton’s Fisherman” and the products he represents, are known throughout the country and beyond. Besides catching and processing seafood, Gloucester is also a center for fish research. The city remained a fishing center as waves of immigrants – primarily Nova Scotian, Sicilian and Portuguese – came to fish the waters off Cape Ann. Fishing remains an important part of the local economy.
This walking tour will start on Gloucester’s famous waterfront and work its way up the hillside...
St. Peter’s Square
foot of Washington Street
The Square is a town landing and the central site of the annual St. Peter’s Fiesta, celebrated every June since 1927 to honor the patron saint of fishermen.
WALK NORTH ON WASHINGTON STREET.
American Legion Hall
Washington Street and Middle Street
The first town hall was built in the 1840s on Washington Street and is now the American Legion Hall. It ceased to be the center of Gloucester’s government in 1867 and became the Forbes School. Saving it from demolition, the American Legion took over the building in 1919.
Joan of Arc statue
Washington Street and Middle Street
Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington was an unknown sculptor of animals before earning well-deserved and hard-won renown for her sculpture of Joan of Arc in New York City’s Riverside Park, which was dedicated in 1915. There are several replicas of her statue of Joan of Arc around the world, including this one in her hometown. The success of her Joan of Arc design propelled Huntington to new heights, and she went on to become one of America’s most prolific sculptors: she is credited with more than 400 works in more than 200 museums and parks around the world.
TURN RIGHT ON MIDDLE STREET.
46 Middle Street
Prosperous fish dealer Henry Parmenter purchased this property in 1879. A two-story Federal house from 1807 stood on the land at the time but Parmenter moved it to 12 Proctor Street and erected this stylish Stick-Style Victorian home, although some of its detailed woodwork has been compromised.
St. John’s Episcopal Church
48 Middle Street
St. John’s Church with attached parish house stands today where it has always stood on Middle Street since the Episcopal Society held its first meeting in Magnolia Hall. The church itself was designed by Alexander R Esty of Boston and was completed on September 20, 1864 and cost $4,150. The design of the building includes vaulted ceilings with exposed beams, indicating Anglican traditions coupled with simplicity of furnishings, and while plaster walls typical of the best of New England and its Puritan roots. Part of the intrigue of this type of construction is that the inside of the structure resembles that of an upside-down ship and that the structural members make crosses in various forms and triangles which signify the Holy Trinity. The outside of the building was originally Stick Style with some decorative shingle work. This was modified in the early 1900’s to its present stucco facade to better withstand the weather. The existing Parish Hall was built in 1908 and has been modified and refurbished as the needs of the parish have changed.
The Sargent Murray Gilman Hough House
49 Middle Street
In the 1700s and 1800s the mansions of the Sargent family dominated the Main Street/Middle Street area of Gloucester. Only two remain. The portion of the current Sargent House that is the library started this house in 1764, built by Thomas Saunders. A fine example of high-style Georgian domestic architecture, the house was built in 1782 for Judith Sargent Murray (1751-1820), a philosopher, writer and an early advocate of women’s equality. For over 100 years, the Sargent House Museum was the home of sea merchants, patriots and community leaders. Judith Sargent Murray is noted as one of this country’s earliest feminist writers, a recognition she secured with the 1790 publication of her essay “On the Equality of the Sexes.” Murray was also one of the first women in America to have her own literary column and the first American to have a play produced on the Boston stage. In addition to writing plays, essays, poems and fiction, Murray was an avid writer of letters. Between 1774 and the early 1800s, she penned over 2,000 letters and kept a copy of each and every one. The front entrance is below on Main Street where a semi-circular stone foundation supports a Colonial-style fence and fronts a terraced yard.
Unitarian Universalist Church
10 Church Street, northwest corner of Middle Street and Church Street
The Independent Christian Church was the first Universalist Society in America, organized in 1770. The present building dates to 1806 and is home to a bronze bell cast in Paul Revere’s foundry. Elm trees were planted to frame the Federal-style church with Palladian window and neoclassical features. Ipswich-born housewright Jacob Smith designed the church.
TURN LEFT ON DALE AVENUE.
Sawyer Free Library
2 Dale Avenue at Middle Street
On February 15, 1830 nearly 100 Gloucester residents met and formed the Gloucester Lyceum. The purpose of the organization was to bring community members together to participate in lectures and debates which fostered ideas and information. Among the many intellectual luminaries who appeared were Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. The Lyceum inevitably led to the formation of a library. In 1850, a local businessman and philanthropist, Samuel E. Sawyer, offered the Lyceum $100 if additional funds could be raised to develop a library collection. With additional support from Mr. Sawyer and funds donated by the public, a library collection of 1,400 volumes was established by 1854. When all but 300 of its 3,000 volumes were lost in a major downtown fire in 1864, Mr. Sawyer stepped in and added $500 to the insurance settlement to rebuild the collection. Again, in 1871 he made another gift of $10,000. Membership fees were suspended and the library was officially named The Sawyer Free Library. The library still did not yet have a permanent home. Several different locations and another major fire followed in the course of the next decade. In 1764 Thomas Saunders, a merchant and state representative built a sturdy house on the corner of Dale Avenue and Middle Street. Subsequently, the house passed through several owners and further architectural enhancements. In 1884 Mr. Sawyer purchased this prominent residence and donated it to the library corporation.
TURN RIGHT ON WARREN STREET.
northeast corner of Dale Avenue and Warren Street.
Gloucester built a substantial brick Town Hall with an imposing projecting clock tower on this site in 1868. The next year a disastrous fire leveled the building, taking with it a panorama local artist Fitz Hugh Lane had bequeathed to the town. Built in 1870 on the foundation of the previous structure, this brick-and-stone High Victorian-style building by Bryant & Rogers of Boston features twin towers over the Warren Street entrance. The ornate clock tower rises 194 feet above sea level and is a conspicuous landmark from land or sea. Murals reflecting the city’s history adorn walls in the main lobby and on the third floor.
CONTINUE TO T-INTERSECTION WITH PLEASANT STREET.
Cape Ann Historical Association Building
27 Pleasant Street
Founded in 1873 as the Cape Ann Scientific and Literary Association, this has been the headquarters to the organization since 1923. The house was built in 1804 for Captain Elias Davis house, one of Gloucester’s successful sea captains. Period rooms are maintained in the museum and include fine examples of New England-made furniture and the largest assemblage of marine paintings and drawings by Fitz Henry Lane. Just a narrow street-width away is a virtual twin to the Davis house. It was built by the widow of another prosperous Gloucester businessman, Samuel Somes. The Davis house was designed and constructed by housewright Jacob Smith and copied by his younger brother for the Somes family.
TURN RIGHT (SOUTH) ON PLEASANT STREET.
Captain Harvey Coffin Mackay House
19 Pleasant Street
This Neoclassical house was built in 1842 for a prosperous Gloucester sea captain.
W.G. Brown Building
17 Pleasant Street
This Victorian commercial block was erected in 1882.
TURN LEFT ON MAIN STREET.
180 Main Street
Woolworth’s occupied this art deco building when the great small-town retailer came to Gloucester.
William G. Brown Department Store
186-188 Main Street
William G. Brown arrived from Scotland in New England at the age of 18 in 1872. He worked as a clerk in Providence, Rhode Island for eight years before becoming a partner in a small dry goods store in Milford, Massachusetts. He bought his partner out and moved the stock to a small shop on the south side of Main Street in Gloucester in 1885. In 1890 Brown was successful enough to build this commercial block. The store was expanded several times, evolving into a true department store and Brown became the largest and most successful merchant on Cape Ann.
CROSS MAIN STREET AND WALK THROUGH THE MUNICIPAL PLAZA DOWN TO ROGERS STREET. CROSS ROGERS STREET ONTO THE FOOTPATH UP THE SLIGHT RISE OVERLOOKING THE HARBOR.
Fitz Henry Lane House
Commanding one of the finest panoramic views of Gloucester Harbor, the artist Fitz Henry (Hugh) Lane designed and built this austere but romantic granite house in 1848-49 with Gothic vaulted chambers, stone details, and an almost arbitrary interior room plan set high on a hill with grape arbors, fruit trees, magnolias, and terraces. Lane’s studio was located on the third floor, where the physically challenged artist would hoist himself up steep, narrow stairs to paint Gloucester’s luminescent harbor scenes. Lane died in this building in 1865, and although the City of Gloucester has completely modified its interior over the years (it was called the ”Old Stone Jug” when it was used as a jail), the exterior is unchanged from Lane’s occupancy. The bronze statue of Fitz Hugh Lane seated with his sketch pad was modeled by Alfred M. Duca in 1997.
CONTINUE DOWN THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE HILL.
Gloucester Maritime Heritage Center
23 Harbor Loop
Dedicated to the preservation of Gloucester’s maritime industrial history, the Gloucester Maritime Heritage Center occupies 39,069 square feet overlooking Gloucester Harbor. The Center features the oldest continuously operating marine railway in the country. Originally called the Burnham Brothers Railway, the first rail was built in 1849 by brothers Parker, Joseph and Elias Burnham, who recognized the need for a facility that could haul boats out of the water for repairs. A second rail was added in 1856. Originally powered by steam engine, the single rail still in operation today now runs on electricity. The Gloucester Maritime Heritage Center property also contains a 19th century mill building, which housed the equipment that powers the railway and a former ice house, which has been transformed into a workshop for building wooden boats. The Center’s three wharves are the home of several fishing vessels representing different periods in the evolution of fishing technology. Through the ongoing development of exhibits and a small aquarium, the Center provides insight into the relationship between the health of the city’s maritime industrial history and the health of the New England fisheries.
Solomon Jacobs Park
Solomon Jacobs was born in Twillingate, Newfoundland, in 1847. He had scanty schooling as a youth, but the year after he arrived in Gloucester in 1872 he was given command of a schooner. Tall, strong, intensely competitive, and innovative, he rose rapidly to the top of the mackerel fisheries, made and lost fortunes, and sailed as far as Irish waters in one direction and the North Pacific the other, opening up new grounds. The “King of the Mackerel Killers” died in 1922 at the age of 74. Located next to the Coast Guard Station, still an active United States military base, the small park in his honor offers benches and a place to sit and watch harbor activity.
CONTINUE AROUND HARBOR LOOP TO ROGERS STREET AND TURN LEFT. AFTER PASSING HANCOCK STREET ON THE RIGHT, LOOK FOR A CHAIN LINK FENCE ON THE HARBORSIDE OF THE STREET. TURN LEFT AND WALK DOWN THE DIRT ROAD BEHIND THE FENCE.
This dock area affords a close-up look at lobster boats and the working views of Gloucester harbor.
RETURN TO ROGERS STREET AND TURN LEFT. TURN RIGHT ON HANCOCK STREET. TURN LEFT ON MAIN STREET.
Many of Gloucester’s shops and restaurants are located in the harbor front area, mostly in the Rogers Street and Main Street areas. This entire area is easily walk-able, and you’ll find specialty shops, restaurants and cafes and some authentic Italian bakeries and Pizzerias in the West End of Main Street. Note the mural featuring Gloucester feminist Judith Sargent Murray (1751-1820), surrounded by Gloucester citizens, past and present (on the south side of Main Street, west of Porter Street).
St. Peter’s Social Club
21 Main Street
This local landmark is a social club for fishermen. A statue of St. Peter appears in a building window and the club is the center of activity during the annual Fiesta.
TURN LEFT ON WASHINGTON STREET TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT ST. PETER’S SQUARE.