A Day in Dogtown

Lisa and I got married in Gloucester, MA, and have been spending part of each summer there for 30 years. Each year I have systematically explored the beauty of the Cape Ann area and have been amazed by how there is always new territory worth investigating. With that said, there was one area in the back of my mind that I had heard about over the years named Dogtown. I knew what it was but had no idea how to get there. I had also heard that if I found it, I could easily get lost, which did not originally interest me, having already experienced this in Miljet, Croatia. Today, I would like to introduce you to this hidden treasure of local historical significance.

Cape Ann is a peninsula that protrudes into the Atlantic Ocean. In 1693, respectable citizens began populating an area that was further inland. While the land was not conducive to growing crops, given its rocky soil, this territory became an attractive location for providing protection against pirates. It was also the only land route that travelers could use between Gloucester and Sandy Bay, later becoming known as Rockport. By the mid-18th century, approximately one hundred families were living here.

Following the War of 1812, Cape Ann continued to develop, with new roads beginning to open up. At the same time, given the threat of coastal bombardment, most farmers migrated to safer surroundings. The inhabitants that were left included itinerants and vagabonds. Many of these people were the widows of sailors who never returned from sea or soldiers who were killed. They kept dogs for protection and company. As they died off, their feral canines roamed the area, hence the name, "Dogtown".

On this day, I hired a guide in an attempt to prevent myself from becoming a missing person. We approached the entrance to Dogtown from the Cherry Street entrance.

What I saw when we entered was a woodland area with numerous trails to trek. In evidence were cellar holes of some of this area's settlers. As it turns out, the history of Gloucester was well chronicled in a book by a man named John Babson. His grandson, Roger Babson, a wealthy and philanthropic man, decided to offer work to stone cutters who were unemployed during the Great Depression. He paid these men to carve inspirational inscriptions on numerous boulders which we passed, one by one, on our hike.

This land is held in trust by Gloucester and Rockport and remains protected for time immemorial. It includes an expanse of land in the northwest corner that covers 121 acres known as the Norton Memorial forest. Frederick Norton, a NASA physicist and MIT professor, owned land on the outskirts of this area. He planted over one hundred thousand trees including numerous different species of ferns that have grown to maturity.

I said goodbye to my guide and made my way back home. I felt convinced that I would have trouble finding the Cherry Street entrance, if I ever decided to visit Dogtown again. Nevertheless, this adventure was well worth the wait after thirty years!