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Duncan's Point

West on Rogers Street past Americold the waterfront opens up to view again. This is Duncan's Point. Fitz Hugh Lane built the striking granite house of seven gables that dominates the knoll for his studio more than a year before Hawthorne's work of the same name was published in 1851 (map 9, 2). Some time after Lane's death it was used briefly for a jail, dubbed the "Old Stone Jug." Crowded almost out of sight by tenements for the next ninety years, this was the only home in the first urban renewal project preserved by the Gloucester Housing Authority, which has restored it for civic use and for the view that inspired the handicapped genius to put it all on canvas.

Lane built where a score of years before his birth Gloucester's partiots gathered one night around ancient oak, twenty-three feet in circumference to decorate it with lights and calebrate the end of their Revolution-"and, although no living person could remember the grandeur of its maturity," as Historian Babson wrote, "all agreed that it could not have surpassed the splendor which it now exhibited in its decay."

Embedded at the foot of the Lane house hill and park on the Rogers Street side is the granite doorstep of the First Baptist Church at Middle and Pleasant streets, which was torn down in 1966 and replaced by the modernistis structure with the "sail" east of Grant Circle. The step is eighteen by seven feet and a foot thick, and it took forty-two yoke of oxen to haul it from the quarry to the chuch some a hundred and fifteen years ago.

That clear-toned bell across from the new courthouse police station has been striking the hour and half-hour from the roof of the Gloucester Bank and Trust building, originally the Westerbeke Fishing Gear Company, only since 1972; it summoned the first eager pupils to the Swyer School in 1869. Next door was the ship chandlery of L.D. Lothrop, inventor of the croaking pump foghorn no Gloucester schooner would sail past Eastern Point without.

Before urban renewal cleaned out Duncan's Point, what is now called Harbor Loop began here as the barroom end of "Drunken" Street, swung around the docks as Wharf street from little Park, and returned from Rogers as Water Street, rimming the promontory settled in 1662 by Peter Duncan, a merchant of whom little is known except that the poor fellow was reported thirty years later to be impoverished and unable to work.

The Building Center is the successor to the Gloucester Coal Company, which is what Captain Charles T. Heberle called Bennett's wharf and coal pockets after he bought the firm out in 1903. Cap Heberle's early fame was in towboats that steamed about doing the harbor's close quarter's work-Nellie, Priscilla,Charlie, and Mariner-before auxiliary diesel engines in the schooners put them out of business. The one he built and held closest to his heart (she had steam steering and could turn on a nickel) was the Eveleth. At the end of the Harbor Loop the small Solomon Jacobs park honoring the King of the Mackerelers affords a close-up view of the harbor where the East Gloucester steam ferry used to land. The Gloucester Gas Light Company's wharf and gas works were here, and after the Boston steamers vacated it for Vincent's cove, the towboats tied up along it for a while.

To our right the 1973 Coast Guard base (map 9, 3) is on the site of Parkhurst's marine railway, which hauled and patched and painted the fleet more than a century before time caught up. Between the railway and Empire Fish was the enormous wharf of the Atlantic Halibut Company. Here hefty "Gloucestermen" like Captain Tommie Bohlin's fabled schooner Nannie C. Bohlin eased in from the banks-as she did, for instance, one September day in 1892 with 42,000 pounds of fresh halibut, every one of the four- or five-hundred pound monsters hauled aboard a dory by hand on a trawl line, sixteen days from dock to dock. Ten thousand tons of ice a year from Fernwood Lake cooled five million pounds of Halibut shipped at the peak.

The Gloucester Marine Railway track, one of two built by the brothers Elias and Parker Burnham in 1849, must be among the oldest continually operating in the nation. Fitz Hugh Lane stationed himself on the Rocky Neck shore and sketched two vessels up on Burnham's, a schooner and George Rogers's three-masted Surinam "sugar wagon" California. The charges then were $10 for hauling and laying for one good working day - a "lay day"- and $5 a day for an extra day if under a hundred tons. The artist caught California just in time. Soon after, in 1857, she broke loose from the harbor in a January gale and swept across Boston Bay to her death on the rocks of Cohasset. The huge painting was a sign for a while over Burnham's paint shop and hangs today in the Cape Ann Historical.

Star Fisheries is on the former Walen wharf north of the railway. Next was Fabet Fisheries, razed by urban renewal, on the old John Chisholm wharf. E.L. Rowe's sail loft, one of the big ones in town and makers from scrap canvas of the Gloucester bed hammock which swung from many a summer porch, was at the foot of the northeast slope under the Lane House, facing where the Americold freezer is. In the freezer parking lot were the two conical brick gas holders of the gas company. In the 1960's you'd have followed your ears to the old-time Independent and Gloucester machine shops, their storerooms pied with useless schooner hardware.

Beyond, on Leighton's wharf, was the last authentic sail loft in the city, Thomas's. Urban renewal wiped that out too. Charley Olsen, its president at the time, apprenticed in Ben Colby's loft there when he was sixteen at four dollars a week. In those days a row of sailmakers passed the heavy duck of a big schooner mainsail, stiff as boot leather, along their laps like corn on the cob, and the man or boy who couldn't hand-stitch ten yards an hour could start looking for another line of work.

Back on Rogers Street, the vacant lot west of the Building Center was held down by the strongest building in Gloucester, the reinforced concrete headquarters of the Frank E. Davis Company's world-famous mail order fish house. Frank E. was the smartest fish salesman in the business. "Back in 1885 they laughed at me-and now they call me a crank!" he exuberated in his 1936 catalog and recipe book. "I'm proud to be called a crank!" was his advertising slogan, and he boasted that over 20,000 families bought fish from him by mail. The future of this vacant lot, one of the last remaining windows on the harbor, hung in 1989 on the outcome of a public outcry against its proposed development as a shopping mall to be called the Gloucester Landing.

The Gloucester Guide | The Waterfront | The Fish Pier |
The Ghost of Vincent's Cove | Duncan's Point | Harbor Cove |
The Fort | Stacy Boulevard | Buy this book