Massachusetts: Cape Ann

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Rockport: A Brief History and Orientation

You hear the phrase "quaint seacoast village" so often that it becomes a cliché, but this description fits Rockport well. An enjoyable place to spend a day, weekend or vacation, Rockport welcomes tourists from around the world and day trippers from greater Boston for a variety of reasons.


A Brief History

 

Rockport's Motif #1

It was in the late 1600s that fishermen from Ipswich (a small town located just north of Cape Ann) came to Rockport. During the 1700s Rockport was a small fishing village, but Rockport's history took an unusual turn after the turn of the next century. In the 1820s, the need for granite around the country and the world was high, and Rockport had high quality granite. Rockport is also located directly on the ocean, which made the transportation of the granite easier than an inland location. During this time, granite was in high demand and Rockport was furnishing most of the country's granite. As the town's industry boomed, its inhabitant's became known as the "quarry people." The Custom House Tower in Boston, said to be the tallest building in the country without a steel frame, was built with Rockport granite. And granite from Rockport was also used in the locks of the Panama Canal. Rockport was known then (and almost named) Granitetown, but was incorporated as the town of Rockport in 1840. Eventually the increase in use of cement and other building materials spelled the death knell for Rockport's granite industry, but the remnants can be seen at a few locations around Rockport, which are mentioned in the "Things To Do" section.

 

During the mid 1800s, artists and writers came to the area, inspired by the area's rugged scenic beauty. The first art studio was established in 1873, and traveling artists roamed the streets at this time looking for portraits and scenes to paint. For years since, Rockport has been an important contributor to American painting, sculpture and other art forms, and one of the attractions to Rockport are the number of galleries here, some with international reputations.

Bearskin Neck 

Bearskin Neck

A Little Orientation:

The town of Rockport consists of three primary areas: The South End, Downtown and Pigeon Cove.

The South End is mainly made up of residential areas along the rocky coastline, a beautiful area for a drive, walk or bike ride. There are several inns in this area, and this is a nice area to stay if you prefer quiet, out of the way spot. The Downtown is the center of activity, most located along Dock Square, Bearskin Neck and Main Street. Bearskin Neck, named by fishermen who saw the bearskin John Babson had left to dry on the rocks, is known for its artists who have set up their shops in the fishermen's shacks of the past. These art studios are now mixed in with a number of other specialty shops and restaurants, and "walking the neck" can interest you for a few hours or a few days, when combined with the adjacent shops and restaurants on Main Street and throughout Dock Square. It is on Bearskin Neck that the famous "Motif #1", one of the most painted and photographed scenes in America, which has been featured in the "America The Beautiful" exhibit at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando. This lobster shack is no longer in use, but is kept up as a town symbol. The entire downtown area, with its large number of restaurants and small eateries, shops, galleries and other offerings, is an attraction in and of itself, and bustles with activity just about all year. There are also boat tours that leave from the wharves here on whale watch and other excursions. There is also a great beach right in the village, which is Front Beach. It is sandy, flat and offers a great view of Sandy Bay and Bearskin Neck, and there are lifeguards and public bathrooms in season.

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