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The Fort

Fort Point and Rocky Neck are the gateway to Gloucester's protected Inner Harbor. The "Fort" was called Watch House Neck during the Revolution for earthwork thrown up on its height by the local patriots. The town ceded it to the United States in 1794; it was reactivated during the war of 1812 as Fort Defiance. Then it went to ruins and was brought back to life for the last time in the Civil War with two batteries of naval guns.

Walking down Commercial Street, we find on the right the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce and its information center in the building of the former Cape Ann Manufacturing Company that parlayed fishermen's oilskins into the well-known sportswear label. Mighty Mac.

Cunningham and Thompson dominated the fisheries at the Fort, held out against the big four that coalesced into Gorton-Pew, and built the plant occupied until recently by O'Donnell-Usen fisheries on the right of Commercial Street above the beach about 1916. Then they succumbed, joined up, and failed, and the building was acquired in the 1920's by Clarence Birdseye. Here, with his Birds Eye Division of General Foods, he carried out the quick-freeze experiments that would revolutionize the food industry and Gloucester fishing. Here, on their wooden "flakes" above the beach, the men of Gloucester dried their catch for almost three hundred years before this plant put an end to salt fish. Here on this beach Captain Lindsey's men tried to set fire to those flakes-and the town-that day in August of 1775, and were captured by our minutemen before they could do either.

Counterclockwise around Fort Square we come to the former Cape Ann Fisheries wharf and plant, burned in 1970, where the casual weekend pollockers dropped their hooks for casual pollock. Forty million pounds of fresh fish went through this plant in 1943. Today nothing remains but the view.

From the high ground of the fort we see how it commanded the harbor and still discern the earthwork on the steep side toward the city. Down the slope is 28 Fort Square, home of the late poet Charles Olsen, a bear of a man six feet eight, bard of the beat generation, author of the "Maximus" poems, scholar, passionate lover of Gloucester, who died in 1970 at fifty-nine.

Here at the Fort the Sicilian community planted itself around 1895. Two or three fishermen were the first, by way of Boston. The Fort was all Irish then, and there was hell to pay. It remained hard against resentment and prejudice, but the pioneers were joined by friends and families from Boston, while others arrived directly from the Sicilian fishing villages of Terrasini, Sciacca, Taormina, and others.

In the beginning the latest discoverers rowed their dories outside Eastern Point at dawn, baited their hooks and set their trawls, and returned before sunset, hauling their small craft up on Pavilion Beach. With early profits they acquired sloops and sailed to deeper waters. More fish, more profits, hard work, bigger boats, larger crews, more eager friends and relatives arriving, family boats, draggers, seiners, fleets of them, fish plants, oil dealerships, marine railways.

The uncertainty surrounding the wharves and fishing establishments at the fort that have so long been at Gloucester's heart reflects the pressures on much of the waterfront for more profitable uses in the face of the industry's decline and the clamor of residential and tourist-oriented developers. The city has banned residential development along the Inner Harbor waterfront, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has decreed that only marine-related uses will be allowed. Environmentalists, of which Gloucester has a full share, are the fiercest watchdogs on Cape Ann.

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