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The Fish Pier

From the end of Route 128, Parker Street takes us to the State Fish Pier past new wharves, fishing and commercial property built under the aegis of the Gloucester redevelopment Authority on waterfront cleared under urban renewal. Ninety years ago on the right, at the Head of the Harbor, was the large shop and boatyard of Higgins & Gifford, the most prolific builders of small craft in our history, among them Centennial Johnson's dory and two or three other cockleshells that crossed the Atlantic in like foolhardy but watertight fashion. The partners specialized in seineboats, dories, surfboats, whaleboats, and small yachts, and boasted in 1875 that if put bow to stern all the craft they had produced in their first four years alone would stretch two and a half miles. By 1892 they had turned out 3,500 and were just getting their second wind.

The entrance to the Fish Pier marks where until fifty-two years ago Smoky Point (for the number of establishments that smoked halibut and herring, principally) stopped and the harbor began. After great debate, the state put up $660,000, the federal Public Works Administration $540,00, and the city $100,000 (including $12,000 for Five Pound Island), and the project of building a fish pier from Smoky Point to the island to match Boston's was embarked on in the Depression year of 1937. Completed eighteen months later, on September 15, 1938, the project included the freezer, ice-making plants, and stalls for processors.

Conceived in political controversy, the Fish Pier operated under intermittent clouds until it was turned over in 1982 to the Massachusetts land Bank, which is spending $7 million to tear down the obsolete structures and build new wharves for the fleet. The old plant for rendering trash fish and gurry into dehydrated protein - the "DeHyde" - is to be replaced, it's hoped, by a new, high-tech, low-odor rendering operation to take advantage not only of fish by-products but of large underutilized stocks of menhaden, herring, and mackerel. Ample space will be available for lease to private owners to build modern processing plants, all on the assumption that there will be a cyclical resurgence of the fisheries, given effective resource management.

The star boarder at the Pier since August 27, 1988, when she sailed home to a tumultuous welcome in Gloucester, has been the a hundred and twenty-two-foot knockabout schooner, Adventure, built by the James yard in next-door Essex in 1926 for Captain Jeff Thomas. She was the last American dory-trawler when she was retired from commercial fishing under Captain Leo Hynes in 1953 and sold for refit as a Maine passenger windjammer. Adventure was given by Captain Jim Sharp to The Gloucester Adventure, a nonprofit educational corporation, "as a monument to the history of Gloucester and for the education and pleasure of the public."

By walking clear to the end of the Fish Pier we reach the last dirt of Five Pound Island, where farther back than most of us can remember there were some fishing shacks and a wharf or two, and far previous to that probably five sheep pounds to half-match the ten on Ten Pound Island.

Out there between the spindle and the freezer piers to out right, long before the channel was dredged and when there wasn't water to float a deep-draft vessel at low tide, Captain Lindsay and the British Falcon on August 8, 1775 chased a Salem-bound West Indian schooner hard aground on the flats. The First Parish Church bell changed forth the alarm. The patriots dropped everything and mustered around the shore. Lindsay sent thirty-seven men in boats to seize the prize. A smart skirmish followed, during which three Redcoats were killed.

The infuriated captain of the Falcon shelled the town and dispatched a boat around to the Fort beach to set the fish flakes afire and burn this hotbed of rebels to the ground, but our people rushed to the spot and captured them all.

In the meantime, out here before us, the Gloucestermen kept up their fire, and then they waded out, rescued the schooner, and took cutter, barges, and invaders. We lost two of our own, Peter Lurvey and Benjamin Rowe.

Captain Lindsay sailed out the beautiful harbor which spread forth yonder and was never seen in these waters again.

Leaving the Fish Pier, we turn left on Main Street across from Dog Hill of forgotten pedigree and pause in the city park at the Head of the Harbor named in memory of Gordon W. Thomas, the leading modern chronicler of the old-time fishing fleet and the waterfront he loved, who picked Adventure's name for Captain Jeff, his father. From this spot in 1847 Fitz Hugh Lane executed the painting on the cover of this book, looking across to Five Pound Island and on out the harbor he loved.

Everything from the Thomas park to Rowe Square - once the wharves of Jordan, Perkins, Babson, and Sylvanus Smith and home to a hundred schooners - has been cleared out by urban renewal and replaced with modern fish taking-out and processing plants and vessel and yacht servicing facilities.

Going west from Rowe Square along much-widened Rogers Street are Gorton's sprawling Seafood Center and the Americold (formerly Quincy Market) freezers, sandwiching the standby generators of the Massachusetts Electric Company.

Not since the Surinam trade was at its richest in 1857, when ten barks and ten brigs arrived with cargoes worth $400,000 from South America has Gloucester seen such foreign commerce, now ironically in millions of pounds of frozen fish blocks brought in by refrigerated freighters for processing into frozen dinners locally or in similar plants around the country.


The Gloucester Guide | The Waterfront | The Fish Pier |
The Ghost of Vincent's Cove | Duncan's Point | Harbor Cove |
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