Essex Historical Society & Shipbuilding Museum
66 Main Street, Essex
Shipbuilding in Essex began before 1668. More than 4,000 wooden vessels have been launched from the banks of the Essex River. Visit the Essex Shipbuilding Museum to learn the story of how the determination and enterprise of a small village of New Englanders developed the American Fishing Schooner – a vessel that powered the fishing industry and changed maritime history. The Essex Shipbuilding Museum is open April through December. Summer hours: Memorial Day Weekend to October 31, Wednesday to Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm. Off season hours, April to Memorial Day Weekend and November 1 to mid-December: Saturday and Sunday – 10 am to 5 pm. Guided Tours: Adults $10, $8 Seniors, $5 Children, under 5 years old free. Self-Guided Tours: $7.
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Directions: Eastern Point Light is easily reached by following Eastern Point Boulevard to its end.
Eastern Point Lighthouse was erected on Gloucester’s Eastern Point to mark the harbor entrance in 1832. The current brick tower was built in 1890 and is 36 feet tall with a focal plane of 56 feet. In addition to the light, there is a large lighthouse station, which continues to serve as housing for the U.S. Coast Guard. One of the station’s more famous occupants was Winslow Homer. The noted artist spent a year living at the light in 1880.
Checkout some of the different sailing opportunities on Cape Ann! Companies below vary from educational and historic sails to private charters. There’s no better way to take advantage of Cape Ann’s beautiful location than to get out on the water!
Frayed Knot Sailing
Ashland Ave, Manchester
23 Harbor Loop, Gloucester
33 Harbor Loop at Maritime Gloucester
Defiance Sail Charters
211 East Main Street-Beacon Marine Basin, Gloucester
Schooner Thomas E. Lannon
63-R Rogers Street
A National Historic Landmark
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Also known as Cape Ann Light Station, the Twin Lights are the only surviving multiple lights on the coasts of the United States. The original 45-foot towers were constructed and lit in (1771 or 1789), making them among the oldest of America’s lighthouses. The stout 124-foot granite towers (with a focal plane of 166 feet) seen today replaced the original lights in 1861. The two towers, North and South, were constructed and placed so that when a ship puts sights on both towers, they point to true north, allowing sailors to check and adjust their compasses.
The Thacher Island Association provides a free boat service from Rockport Harbor to the island during the summer, with advance reservations. For more information visit thacherisland.org.
Route 127 to Beach Street, Manchester
This immaculate beach will have you singing as you look at the clear blue waters and white sands. Enjoy a thirst quenching Slurpie or Italian ice at the snack bar.
- The parking area is for residents only so you may have to walk from the train station or the center of town to enjoy this beach. Just under a mile, everyone does it!
- $5 walk-on fee.
- Directions: Route 127 to downtown Manchester to Beach Street (near the commuter rail station). Singing Beach is located at the end of Beach Street.
Good Harbor Beach
Route 127A (Thatcher Road)
With shining white sand stretching out into the Atlantic and picturesque views of Thacher Island’s twin lights, beautiful Good Harbor is one of the most popular beaches on Cape Ann. At low tide, one can take a leisurely stroll out to Salt Island while at high tide one can enjoy body surfing or styrofoam boogie boards (all other floatation devices and surf boards are prohibited). Lifeguards are on duty daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.
- Carry In – Carry Out policy for trash, so all visitors should bring
a trash bag with them.
- Alcohol is prohibited. Concession stands are open during the summer so patrons may purchase food, drinks, toys and other items as needed.
- Restrooms and showers are open from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm each day.
- Parking (buses prohibited) is available during the week at a rate of $25 per vehicle, and on the weekends and holidays at $30 per vehicle. Non-resident parking is limited so arrive early in order to get a parking space, especially during the summer months. Gates open at 8:00 am and are locked at 9:00 pm. The beach is handicapped accessible.
- Directions: Take Route 128 North into Gloucester. Follow the signs for East Gloucester/Rockport, and continue on through two rotaries. At the first traffic light take a left onto Eastern Avenue (Route 127 N) and follow for approximately ½ mile to the Shaw’s Plaza on your right. Turn right at the end of the plaza onto Barn Lane. At the end of Barn Lane turn left onto Thatcher Road and the beach lot will be approximately ¼ mile on your right.
#1 WATCH THE BIGGEST MAMMALS ON THE PLANET
Make sure whale watching goes on your bucket list. People say: “It’s a lifelong dream fulfilled,” “It’s the best thing I ever did,” and “It made me cry,” reports Paul Frontierro of Gloucester, who has never tired of running whale watches for almost 30 years. Every single day is different. You might see mothers and calves, or whales breaching, flipper slapping, blowing or tail lobbing. On an extraordinary day, you could see 40 or 50 whales. Seasoned whale watchers go out several times a year.
#2 SOAK UP CULTURE AT THE SHALIN LIU
Like a fairytale palace with perfect acoustics, the Shalin Liu Performance Center rises from the Rockport waterfront. Its huge oceanfront windows let you watch the sun set over the harbor behind the performers while enjoying concerts of all stripes, plays, high def Met simulcasts and film festivals. What’s not to love?
#3 DIG DOGTOWN
A wild, mysterious wood blankets Cape Ann’s vast middle, a place of storied ghosts, pirates and murder. All that’s left are cellar holes and words painted on boulders: “Courage,” “Never try, never win.” So you don’t get lost, join a tour (contact the Chamber), or park on Cherry Street at Dogtown Road in Gloucester and follow the fire roads in and back. Don’t go late in the day. Bring your cell.
#4 VISIT “THE ANTIQUES CAPITAL OF AMERICA”
So many antiques shops crowd Essex’s waterfront on Rt. 133 that you’ll have to pick and choose: Americana, white elephants, fine art, European imports, something for everyone’s collection. When you weary of shopping, sample the seafood establishments also lining Rt. 133.
#5 BEACH IT UP
We have them all: spectacular barrier beaches like Wingaersheek and Good Harbor; shallow, child-friendly beaches like Rockport’s Front Beach; a beach with a dune made entirely of rocks, and even a beach that sings. Take your pick. Just don’t forget your camera.
#6 DINE WITH A VIEW
If you love seafood the way we do, you’ll love it even more with a view. You can have lobster in the rough at a rocky cove, elegant linen service overlooking the ocean, and everything in between. Bon appétit.
#7 COME FOR CHRISTMAS, STAY FOR WINTER
Nothing stops Rockport’s town tree lighting, not even a nor’easter. Santa comes by lobster boat, you can watch candy canes being made by hand, and see a live nativity with real animals, a torchlight procession, and a community carol sing. In Gloucester, Santa parades from the State Fish Pier all the way down Main Street to Stacy Boulevard for their tree lighting, and the Middle Street Walk shows off period houses. A Christmas tree made entirely of lobster traps glows above Main Street.
Essex has a Toy Land Parade, Santa’s arrival at the town landing, and breakfast with Santa.
Christmas by the Sea in Manchester finds open houses in the shops, the Jingle Bell Walk,
and the lighting of the Friendship Tree.
Rockport hosts an alcohol-free New Year’s Eve celebration throughout downtown, with clowns and puppets for children, and every kind of musical concert imaginable, from jazz, rock and roll and country and western to classical, Cajun and sea chanteys.
Between New Year’s and spring, you can enjoy some spectacular winter birding, snowshoeing, and walks in the woods. Others enjoy mountain biking in the snow, surfing the winter waves, or just plain storm watching. The less adventurous might prefer to book an inn and curl up in front of a toasty fire, hot mulled cider in hand.
Author: Patricia Mandell
King Charles I named our Cape about 400 years ago in honor of his Mother, Ann. Today Cape Ann is quickly becoming recognized as a not-so- hidden gem whose qualities and attractions improve every year. Cape Ann uniquely possesses all the best of what New England has to offer, in a compact and easily traversed area. From its expansive green saltmarshes in Essex and Gloucester and incredibly beautiful and historic harbors of Gloucester, Manchester-by-the-Sea and Rockport, to its wide, pristine beaches, and amazing rocky coastline, Cape Ann truly has it all.
Savor a relaxing porch-front view of the Atlantic Ocean at an historic inn or upscale hotel along the Gloucester and Rockport shores, walk along beautiful, wide open beaches, find unique and fun shopping, and experience a vast array of dining experiences in all four Cape Ann communities. Cape Ann is famed for the best fried and steamed clams in the region, and visitors have an array of dining options from eat-in-the rough lobsters and clams to fine dining establishments. Shop at unique boutique stores, cast-off from a dock and sail around spectacular harbors and travel farther out to the famed Stellwagen Bank for incredible whale watching and deep sea fishing. See world class art, dig into history and enjoy the stories of our earliest settlers whose homes remain intact to this day.
(Photo Credit: Arlene Taliadoros)
As the birthplace of the fried clam, this picturesque community yields some of the finest seafood on Cape Ann. Whether you care for a cup of clam chowder or a plate full of steamed clams, you will not be disappointed. But the quiet town of just over 3,000 residents has much more to offer than great seafood. Antiquing, a premier Essex attraction for generations, remains a favorite pastime for the locals as well as visitors. Shipbuilding has been part of Essex’s heritage for more than 400 years, and draws people from far and wide to admire what it takes to build the beautiful watercraft, some still sailing Cape Ann’s harbors and waterways today! The Essex Shipbuilding Museum is one stop that is a must see to truly appreciate the incredible ship building heritage of this small community. Kayaking or taking a cruise down the Essex River will surely give you a unique view of the tidal salt marsh as you meander with the river out toward Conomo Point and Ipswich Bay.
(Photo Credit: Cape Ann Chamber)
America’s oldest Seaport, this city of nearly 30,000 residents has a storied history that in the late 19th Century was the fishing center for North America. . Fishing is still a way of life for many in Gloucester and a majority of the local restaurants relying on the hard work done at sea and the fresh catch that comes in daily. Like its neighbor Essex, many of Cape Ann’s historic fishing vessels and schooners were built in Gloucester, where reputedly the first one was assembled in 1713. Take a stroll along the HarborWalk and Gloucester’s authentic working waterfront, visit the panoramic vistas of Gloucester Harbor at the Fishermen’s Memorial Statue (The Man at the Wheel) on Stacey Boulevard or from Stage Fort Park, tour Rocky Neck and its art colony and cultural district, and take to the water with a fun sail or motor tour around Gloucester’s historic and beautiful Harbor, or venture farther off shore and experience the best whale watching and deep sea fishing in New England, All this and more provide a varied taste of Gloucester’s amazing history, incredible beauty, and abundant attractions.
(Photo Credit: David Stotzer)
Founded as Jeffrey’s Creek in the mid-1800s, this town is located at the southern end of Cape Ann. In 1989 the state legislature made the name official as a means to differentiate the town from its larger neighbor to the North. A trip to Singing Beach, aptly named because of how the sand resonates when you walk on it, or Tuck’s Point is worth your time and then some. Beautiful retail shops, restaurants and galleries fill the town of just over 5,000 residents. The Manchester Historical Museum’s Trask House is a must-see to get the complete story of this town known for its beautiful historic architecture.
This picturesque seaside village, located at the most northeasterly part of Cape Ann, features beautiful beaches, historic lighthouses and galleries galore. Rockport’s downtown area is filled with quaint shops that include bookstores, candy-making, cafés and ice cream shops as well as art galleries, specialty shops, jewelers and many places to dine. A leisurely stroll along the ever-changing Bearskin Neck will give visitors every imaginable opportunity to buy that perfect keepsake to remember and cherish their time on Cape Ann. Visit Halibut Point State Park or walk along Rockport’s scenic shores in the footsteps of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau and be captivated as they were by Rockport’s special places and unique charm.
Many colonial New England towns have their historic claim to fame but for the town of Essex, located on a winding salt marsh tidal estuary, there is no disputing that claim is its shipbuilding legacy. From this unlikely location, the town of about 1,500 souls launched nearly 4,000 vessels over 400 years and set the standard in North America for fishing vessel construction throughout the great age of sail.
In1668, the shipbuilding industry was important enough to the town that an acre of land was set aside “for the men of Essex to build vessels and employ workman to that end,” and that land remains available for the same purpose today. In fact, it was used most recently by Essex-native Harold Burnham for the construction of the schooners Thomas E. Lannon and Lewis H. Story.
After WW II, some historians mistakenly assumed that shipbuilding ended in Essex. True, the industry moved away from the waterfront and into shops that better accommodated the smaller vessels being built at the time. Essex natives Nick Hemeon designed and built more than a score of vessels, and Brad Story built 52 in his shop before he retired. Story, in part, mentored Harold Burnham as a young man.
At 29 years old, Burnham was given the opportunity of a lifetime by neighbor and friend Tom Ellis. He designed and built the 65-foot Thomas E. Lannon owned by Ellis over the winter of 1996/ 1997 and cemented his position among the best traditional wooden boat builders in the country. Although not the first or last vessel built in Essex, the construction of the Lannon created a renaissance in town as she was the first vessel built outside along the waterfront and in view of the general public in nearly fifty years. Because of her size, many long dormant shipbuilding techniques were used including sawn frames and trunnel fastenings. As important as the Lannons’ construction was to the shipbuilding industry, it also reconnected many townspeople to their roots and brought them together around a heritage they all share in a unique way. Some believe that the neighbor helping neighbor atmosphere of Essex today may have begun centuries ago when it was a credit society built between the shipwrights and shipyards, shipyards and boat owners and between the smaller shops that depended on the overall industry.
Today, located between the town’s shipyard of 1668 and the working shipyard Harold Burnham is now operating on the other side of the creek is the Essex Shipbuilding Museum. The museum promotes the methods, craftsmanship and ingenuity that support the industry as well as running tours, educational groups and programs through the shipyards.
“Either the industry is alive and vibrant and is real and people can earn a living at it or the industry is not preserved,” said David Brown, rigger, instructor and a board member of the Essex Shipbuilding Museum. “If the industry is not vibrant, than it is simply remembered and only pieces of it are preserved.”
Burnham still relies on local shipwrights and tradesmen to help build his schooners. Since he finished the Lannon, Burnham has gone on to build the Lewis H. Story, the Fame of Salem, the Isabella and is currently constructing the 50-foot schooner Ardelle. The Ardelle will be owned and operated by Burnham and be available for day and group charters out of the Heritage Center in Gloucester starting this summer.
“It has become something of a mission of many of us to preserve the shipbuilding industry in Essex,” Burnham said. “And, for me personally, I am eternally grateful to all of those whom have been so helpful to this end in so many ways.”
Author: Laurie Fullerton
Cape Ann is filled with fabulous places to go and things to do and see. Made up of the wonderful coastal communities of Essex, Gloucester, Manchester-by-the-Sea and Rockport, Cape Ann certainly offers a variety of fun things to experience both indoors and outside. Though it can be hard to narrow it down, today we have a list of 10 family-friendly things to do in the area.
- Cape Ann Cinema & Stage in Gloucester – A great after dinner or rainy day activity. Families can relax and enjoy a film in a cozy atmosphere with couches and armchairs. You can even bring in food from local restaurants.
- Cape Ann Lanes in Gloucester – This bowling alley is fun for all ages! There is even an option for bumpers for small children and an area with arcade games.
- Coolidge Reservation in Manchester-by-the-Sea – This is a beautiful spot for families who love spending time outdoors. A Gorgeous setting along the water with wide-open stretches for kids to run and play.
- Essex Shipbuilding Museum in Essex – Learn about the history of wooden boat building. Stop in this museum on the Essex River and see how boats are put together piece by piece.
- Maritime Gloucester in Gloucester – Families can spend time indoors and outside at Maritime Gloucester. Families can see local sea critters in the “touch tanks” and experience the interactive exhibits to understand what Gloucester is all about!
- The Get Outside Center in Gloucester – During the Summer months drop-in programs are offered that take kids on adventures throughout Cape Ann.
- Halibut Point State Park & Atlantic Path – If your family enjoys hiking and exploring, this is a wonderful place to visit. Beautiful vista views in every direction and a quarry smack dab in the middle. Pack a lunch for the family and enjoy the day!
- Harbor Tours, Inc. in Gloucester – If you’d prefer to spend the day on the water with your family, this is a great option! There are different options for tours around Cape Ann.
- North Shore Kayak Outdoor Center in Rockport – You can also get out on the water and explore on your own! Families often enjoy renting kayaks for the day.
- Tompson Street Reservation in Gloucester – Another great option for a family hike. Many different paths to explore and quiet areas for picnics. Dogs are even welcome!