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Stacy Boulevard

Leaving the Fort, we follow Western Avenue to the Tavern (map 9, 5) on the harbor. This landmark was built by the late W.H. Smith in 1917 to replace the Surfside, which had burned three years earlier. The Surfside had originally been the Pavilion Hotel of breezily Victorian, double-tiered verandas and observation tower, caught on canvas in all its gingerbread by Fitz Hugh Lane when it was nearly the first seaside resort hotel on the North Shore.

It occurred to Captain Ignatius Webber, retired from the sea, to build a "double-geered" windmill with "two run of stone" exactly here in 1814, to grind corn at the rate of twenty bushels an hour when the "vains" turned. One day in the winter of 1824 the wind backed around and blew down his "vains." The octagonal tower stood here overlooking the harbor until it was moved to a spot off Commercial Street to make way for the Pavilion in 1849. In 1877 the last remnant of Captain Webber's windmill was destroyed by fire and dismantled.

As early as 1817 there was a ropewalk here between Canal Street, as Western Avenue was then called, and the harbor. From the end of Stacy Boulevard at the public ramp beside the Tavern the building ran six hundred and twenty-five feet above the seawall, the longer the better for the men and boys trudging along twisting the hemp. Its west wall must have been about twenty feet beyond the Man at the Wheel. A shed where they tarred the finished cordage stood on the water side of the ropewalk, and across the road on the side of the Stage Fort apartments was Lem Gilbert's tan yard for curing sails. Years later, sections of the ropewalk were lopped off and rolled up to Lewis court, so they say, for housing that is still there.

The half-mile of clean arc of Stacy Boulevard from the Tavern to Kent Circle along Gloucester Bay has struck travelers as rivalling the Via Caracciolo on the Bay of Naples, and as colorful when it's lined above the tide from one end to the other with the canopied booths of vendors offering their wares during the mid-August Gloucester Waterfront Festival. The esplanade was conceived by George Stacy when that flamboyant hotel man became park commissioner in 1908, brought to reality on the inspiration of the three hundredth anniversary celebration in 1923, and restored in 1988. To make way for it, Gloucester (which has always had a partiality for moving heavy things around) relocated up in the back streets the houses that crowded the harbor side of Western Avenue. Fill was dumped; a new seawall was made; trees were planted; the esplanade was laid out; the benches were bolted down; and three years before his death in 1928, Mr. Stacy saw his boulevard done, his promise kept.

They that Go Down to the Sea in Ships is all Leonard Craske's heroic Man at the Wheel needs for inscription. Stand here on the bastion of the boulevard, for the first time or the hundredth, and gaze up at this immense bronze figure of the Gloucester fisherman. He is braced against the cant of his schooner's deck, gripping her wheel, a weather eye on the set of his jib, shaping his course out this harbor, to come about out there beyond Eastern Point, sails thundering, spray thundering across his bow, sheets hauled, full and by for the fishing banks.

Between the years of 1830 and 1897, a mere fraction of her saga on the sea, six hundred and sixty-eight of Gloucester's vessels never returned around the point, nor 3,755 of her men.

Sang the psalmist:

They that go down the the sea in ships, that do business in great waters:
These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.

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