America's Oldest Seaport
Bass Rocks Ocean Inn is idyllically situated on the rocky coastline of Gloucester, the largest city on Cape Ann, on the north shore of Massachusetts. Just 30 miles north of Boston and four hours from New York, Gloucester has been a favorite summer destination for over 100 years. Beverly Airport is close by for those traveling by private plane or for service by most national carriers, Boston's Logan International Airport, 32 miles south or Manchester, NH International Airport, 67 miles northwest. Centrally located along New England's picturesque coastline, Gloucester makes the perfect home-base for day trips to Boston, historic Lexington and Concord, witchy Salem, the outlet shopping and exploring in Kittery, Ogunquit, Kennebunkport and Portland, Maine.
Gloucester, founded in 1623, was the first settlement in Massachusetts Bay Colony by the Dorchester Company, the first fishing expedition sent from England. Settling near our current downtown, they used the high, clear field of Stage Fort Park to set up fishing 'stages' for drying their catch. Life was very difficult and farming the rocky soil was near impossible. As you make your way around Cape Ann you can see the granite ledge sitting just under the surface and erupting through the soil. Granite quarrying was pursed in earnest in the mid-1800's but had all but disappeared by 1930. Many of the abandoned quarries are now used as water reservoirs and swimming in the summer. A beautiful example of a granite quarry can be found at Halibut State Park on the northern tip of Cape Ann.
visit, Champlain named Gloucester harbor 'Le Beau Port' on a hand drawn map. In 1614, Captain Smith bestowed the name 'Tragabigzanda' to the area. Apparently, Captain Smith was fond of the ladies as this was the name of a Turkish princess. King Charles thought it best to rename the Cape after his mother, Queen Anne. Eventually, the 'e' was dropped and the name stuck.
Officially incorporated in 1642, the town green was located at Grant Circle (the first rotary). You can visit a first period house on Cape Ann right here. The White-Ellery House dates from 1710 and is open for tours the first Saturday of the summer months. While most will agree that 300 years is old, Gloucester's oldest house, a square-log style house that dates from 1645, was built 365 years ago. The Thomas Riggs House, named for the first schoolmaster, is located across from Annisquam and is now a bed and breakfast.
The local economy was comprised of fishing, small farms and logging. The center of the island was cleared and lumber was used for ship building and construction to all the communities south to Boston. In 1693, this area was settled, sparsely farmed and kept clear for 200 years. The area became known as Dogtown, for the widows of fisherman lost at sea kept dogs for protection before they turned to witchcraft. The last inhabitant died in 1830 and the settlement has gone to ruin. Scattered with stone walls, old root cellars and mysterious messages carved into the rocks, Dogtown has become a challenging venue for hikers, mountain bikers, historians and nature lovers.
Gloucester is geographically perfect for fishing. There is a deep and protected harbor. We are close to abundant fishing grounds of Georges Bank, Grand Banks, the Gulf of Maine and more. One of the top ten ports in America, Gloucester fisherman land cod, haddock, halibut, swordfish, flounder, sole, bluefish, bass, scallops, mussels, clams, lobster and more. Different methods of fishing make for a varied scene in our harbor. Some boats go out for a few hours, some for a few days and some for weeks at a time. Two movies filmed in Gloucester show the fishing industry in the 19th century and the 20th century, Captain's Courageous and The Perfect Storm.
They also show the dangers of going out to sea. Over 10,000 Gloucester fishermen have been lost to the sea. Half of these have been immortalized in lists stretching up the stairway of City Hall. Listed by year, it is sobering to see some of the really bad years, the obvious family members and that recent years still must be included. In 1925, 'the Man at the Wheel' Fisherman's Memorial Statue was installed on Stacy Boulevard as a monument to 'They That Go Down To The Sea In Ships'.
The on-shore support for the fishing industry has grown along with the catch. Gorton's of Gloucester was the first processor to 'flash-freeze' fresh fish to sell nationwide. Gloucester Seafood Display Auction conducts live auctions daily to participants that can bid on-line. Cape Pond Ice, established in 1848, still provides the ice that fish are packed in after being caught. There is cold storage, marine railways, bait vendors, boatyards, marine equipment and suppliers, boat surveyors, net makers, processors and seafood brokers and retailers.
Gloucester harbor also provided something besides fish. Artists flocked to our area starting in the mid-1800's. The stunning scenery, mystical light and bustling harbor inspired almost every American artist of note during the next 150 years. Many settled together in a small peninsula of land that jutted out from East Gloucester into the harbor - Rocky Neck. Rocky Neck Art Colony is America's oldest working art colony featuring the galleries of many different artists, shops and restaurants.
Gloucester has had a long love affair with the ocean. From the first fishing schooner launched in 1713 to the inspiration for famous painters throughout the ages, we have lived, worked and breathed the ocean for centuries. We love the crashing waves of a fierce nor'easter, the gentle surf of the summer, the steel gray of an overcast day, the bright blue that is sharp and clear and even the fog banks that slink across the rocks and blanket the houses without warning and then steal away just as silently.
Tourism exploded on Cape Ann in the last century. Trains brought affluent families to East Gloucester, Manchester and Annisquam for the summer months. Large rambling hotels sprung up all along the coastline. Boats hailing from Gloucester Harbor now took out weekend fishermen and touring couples. Watching the whales that congregate off our coast became a popular attraction that has become a multi-million dollar industry and earned Gloucester the name "Whale Watching Capital of the World".
Working artists found a market for their paintings and galleries opened along with many charming shops and gift stores. These have grown today to include many antique stores, especially on Essex's Main St. Exquisite handcrafted furniture, custom printmaking, local seaglass jewelry and more can be found along Gloucester's Main St. Museums celebrating the diverse and colorful history opened in restored houses and buildings of every era. And, of course, the abundance of fresh fish. Clambakes, steamed lobsters, the invention of the 'fried clam', and fillets of haddock prepared fresh and gobbled up by those from far away are favorite memories of generations of visitors. Now Gloucester welcomes returning generations from all over the world for a family vacation, romantic get-a-way, or peaceful retreat from the real world.