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The Ghost of Vincent's Cove

Gloucester claims three major ghosts among a legion of lesser ones: Dogtown Common, Five Pound Island, and Vincent's Cove. Of the last nary a trace, not a teaspoon of salt water, remains. Seventy-five years ago Vincent's Cove was here and very much alive; today its site would make a fascinating archeological dig, if dig we could throught he middle of Rogers street, under which somewhere are buried the bones, for instance, of Jimmy Brennan's and Charley McPhee's friendship sloop.

The older charts show Vincent's Cove lined with wharves (map 9, 1). Before that it was Spring Cove for the brook that flowed in, earlier than that Ellery's for a man who owned part of it, and originally Vinson's after William Vinson, the settler who was granted this land and also Five Pound Island.

Where was it? Imagine the tide lapping at the curb of Main Street from the A&P parking lot east to beyond the Blackburn building! The entrance was between the end of the Electric Company property and Americold and only fifty yards wide. On the map it looked like a clenched and cocked left fist, the wrist making the narrows.Then in the 1870s the length of the dock parallel with Main Street was filled in to a width of around a hunderd and twenty-five feet. So it remains until the time of World War I, when the abutters resumed dumping around the edge of the flats; they were joined by the city, and soon, as these things go, Vincent's Cove was a memory.

One who remembered it vividly was Charles McPhee, a veteran seaman who grew up in his grandmother Joanna Prior's boardinghouse at 301 Main Street, next east to Howard Blackburn's. Charley was a wharf rat then, running errands for Captain Blackburn and every morning, first thing, rowing the dory across Vincent's Cove after wood for his grandmother's stove.

So let's step aboard and oar with boatman McPhee in retrospect around his ghost cove, commencing clockwise at the east pier of the Americold freezer. Americold marks the west side of the entrance to the cove, built on the site of "Burkey's, " the wharf of the later mayor John Burke - ex-Sherman Ruth's - ex-the final wharf of the Boston and Gloucester Steamboat Company - ex-the New England Fresh Fish Company's - Ex-Low's Wharf - ex-Pearce's in the Surinam and West Indies trade. How the summer excursionists streamed down the ramp of the regal white SS Cape Ann! And how the high-pitched blast of the ugly, sturdy old SS City of Gloucester's steam whistle every thirty seconds echoed from shore to shore as she churned out the slip and throbbed through the harbor in the foggy predawn, bound for Boston with a cargo of fish! And the red flag stuck out the steamboat company's office window, signaling the nearest towboat to come in for orders . . . .

The shore of Vincent's Cove ran diagonally from the steamship wharf across Americold's truck lot and under the corner of the office to Lewis Street. Along here were a factory making isinglass from hake sounds, and Dodd's cod liver oil works.

Tom Irving's shipyard is buried under the parking lot at the northeast corner of Rogers and Lewis streets; his dock penetrated almost halfway up the block toward Main Street, so his vessels slid into the cove where Rogers Street is. Irving was a master shipwright and also one of the finest makers of builder's models of schooners anywhere; examples are on display at the Cape Ann Historical Museum and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Now we row with Charley across the parking lots of the old North Shore Theater and Gorton's, visualizing the backlot outhouses of Blackburn and Granny Prior and some long-gone Main Street establishments such as Nelson's oilskin plant, at the northeast end of the cove; from here Skipper McPhee leans on his port oar and rows us back across Rogers Street to John Bishop's shipyard about where the Electric Company's brick building is.

John Bishop and brother Hugh, who built Gloucester's sloop Great Western at his own yard at the head of Walen's wharf next to Burnham's railways next to Duncan's Point, were ship carpenters. One of John's last was the pretty schooner Stiletto, launched in 1910. The cove was narrow at his ways, and he had to let his vessels in easy and brake them with heavy lines and drags from fetching up against the opposite wharf.

On the south side of Rogers Street, across from the theater parking lot, the towboats nudged in the barges from Norfolk, Virginia, alongside Friend's coal company wharf, 1,000 or 1,500 tons to a barge, and all hand-loaded by a roving gang of coal lumpers at five cents a man per ton, as Charley recalled it, pretty good pay eighty years a go for three days' work. We wind up our Stygian cruise with boatman Mcfee, leaving Vincent's Cove on the east shore, rowing right through the Electric Company's bank of generators, drifting by the ghost schooners at the ghost pier of Sam Lane's fish company, and back to reality.

Rest in peace, Will Vinson's cove, and all the life of it for three hundred years-buried.

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