About Me

Growing up in a small New England town with a mother who was an antiquarian it was inevitable that I would be exposed to old things. After graduating from UMass/Amherst I lived in Connecticut, taught school, married, and raised three children in suburbia. A move to Newburyport MA renewed my interest in all things old. This background has now evolved into research, writing, consulting and all the things I love to do.

Prudence Fish

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Gloucester, Massachusetts was first settled in 1623.  The Pilgrims even came here from the Plymouth Colony to establish a fishing stage.

By about 1640 a permanent settlement had taken hold.  Life was hard, winters were harsh and the mortality rate was high necessitating a burial ground.
Just off what we now know as Centennial Avenue a burial ground was established.  Centennial Avenue was then known as Burying Ground Lane.  This ancient cemetery, the First Parish Burial Ground dating to 1644, is one of the oldest in the country.  It has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Entrance gates to the First Parish Burial Ground
Numerous other cemeteries were scattered about this old community.  They are not as old as the First Parish Cemetery but they are very old.  In West Gloucester there is an old cemetery on the Old Thompson Road. In Lanesville under a canopy of old trees is the Lanes Cove Cemetery, and in Bay View another very old cemetery covers a hillside in full view to people driving along Washington St.

Descendants of these early settlers are spread far and wide across this country and beyond and many make the trek to Gloucester hoping to find out about their ancestors and find where they are buried.. They often run into a snag and this is why.

A good place to start the search for ancestors is the Gloucester Archives Committee in City Hall.  This volunteer group has manned this office for more than twenty five years not only to help visitors but to keep the early records in order and moved into archival folders and boxes.  Gloucester’s records have survived intact but that is nothing short of a miracle.

In the early days there was no town hall or city hall.  The records were kept in the homes of the town clerks.  These town officials took their job seriously and guarded the ancient records carefully. They have survived and are amazingly complete.
Gloucester's first town house,  Now the American Legion with
alterations by architect Ezra Phillips after WWI

In the late 1860s a new town hall was built  replacing the 1840s Town House, now the American Legion.

The new large brick edifice with many vaults in the basement housed the precious records that had previously been precariously kept in private homes.

About three years after it was built the new city hall was destroyed by fire.  What about the records?  The vaults held and miraculously the records all survived.

 A new city hall was built on the old foundation and these same vaults are still in use.
Gloucester City Hall

Now visitors armed with documents and family genealogy are ready to seek out the graves of their ancestors in the old cemeteries.

This is when they often run into a problem, especially at the oldest and largest First Parish Burial Ground.

Here the growth, bushes, vines and poison ivy have rendered this cemetery almost inaccessible at times.

The Thompson Road ground is deep in the woods accessed by a path that is all that is left of the Old Thompson Road.

When the old cemeteries reached their capacity newer burial grounds were opened up.  At this point the City would abandon the old cemeteries and neglect to even cut the grass.  As far back as the nineteenth century, over one hundred years ago, concerned residents and visitors bemoaned the awful conditions in our overgrown burial grounds.

One descendant of an old family, the Dollivers, came to Gloucester in his retirement and inventoried the First Parish Cemetery. Until the late 20th century this was the only inventory in existence.

The newest cemetery in Gloucester is the Dolliver Cemetery on Lincoln Street in West Gloucester. The name honors of Mr. Dolliver who gave his time to inventory the old cemetery even though he wasn't a resident.  Born in Gloucester but living in Boston, Dolliver was a descendant who was offended by the lack of respect for his and other forebears.

Nature wanted to take over, Trees and brush sprouted and shortly the unused cemeteries became the target of vandals and repositories for all kinds of trash.  Stones were broken and all were a mess.

The City says it does not have the manpower or the funds to properly care for these final resting places of our ancestors.  Many have attempted through volunteer efforts to correct the problem but are soon overwhelmed.  The condition of the graves of our ancestors has long been a disgrace and an embarrassment.

Nevertheless, over the years good old “Yankee Ingenuity” has come into play several times with hopes of overcoming this huge problem.

In the early 1970 a group of teenagers were brought together by Al Duca, a local sculptor,  With grants and much publicity these kids tackled the Bay View Cemetery. This plan was to give these teenagers a paid job to keep them occupied during summer vacation; to learn and to transform this old cemetery. They de-sodded the ground, they identified flowers and plants, they were introduced to archealogy, they learned about genealogy, they got state permission to remove and repair stones.  The kids even built a small building to house and display their findings and learned about construction as they worked on the building. 

Hillside cemetery at Bay View

This project seemed to be  successful but after it was completed there was no money for ongoing upkeep and in a very short time it slid back into a neglected state.  The “kids” who worked so hard are now middle aged and beyond. Neighbors have pitched in at various time to lend a hand. (I am pleased to report that this cemetery has recently been cleaned up and is looking great.  I don’t know who is responsible.)

Meanwhile, in Lanesville, a couple who live near the ancient Lane’s Cove Cemetery, took on the responsibility for its upkeep but that cemetery is much smaller than the First Parish Burial Ground and more manageable.  That is not to say that it isn't hard work.

Old cemetery at Lane's Cove
In the nineties my friend, Edie, known around town as the “Cemetery Lady” stepped up to the plate and along with another couple spent years inventorying the abandoned cemeteries, especially First Parish.  Edie is the most elegant, refined lady that I know.  That is why the following incident was unforgettable as she used her Yankee Ingenuity in an effort to clean up the cemetery.

One nice summer day I drove to the First Parish Burial Ground looking for  Edie knowing I would most likely find her there. 

As I approached the cemetery gates I saw a large, drab, sinister looking van parked there.  On the side of the van it said "Massachusetts Correctional Department"  or something similar.  And there in the middle of the cemetery stood Edie wearing a picture hat, the very picture of a genteel lady, surrounded  by an armed guard and a crew of prisoners from the Salem Jail hard at work clearing the cemetery!  What a great idea!  It was a scene I will not soon forget.

Unfortunately, other department heads saw this creative source of manpower and the prisoners were diverted to other work sites, 

So you ask yourself how in the world the early colonists maintained these plots of land.  They had no spare time and no power equipment to make the job easier.  But they did have sheep and goats!  These animals can and do eat all sorts of weeds, brush and even poison ivy.

Sheep doing their job in unknown cemetery

Another friend, Helen, recently read a story about goats being used to clean up a park so she made an inquiry to a company who rents out goats!

This week, Monday, October 20th, goats arrived at the old First Parish Burial Ground!  They are enclosed with electric fencing to protect them and are already hard at work.

Goats perched on broken grave stone at First Parish Burying 
Ground, Gloucester, MA taking a break from their work (Gloucester Times photo)
Credit must be given to the many volunteers who over the years have made valiant and creative attempts to tame the growth in the old cemeteries including some new volunteers who are right now serious about helping.

If the history of the past is the forecast of the future, perhaps goats (or sheep) are the answer. 

Time will tell!

Post Script, October 24th


When the dates for the visiting goats were agreed upon no one anticipated that a wild northeaster would strike the area with ferocious winds and heavy rain.  The roof blew off their shelter and Helen found them cold and wet, huddled together.  It was decided that the little goats should return to their permanent home.  They will be back next year.

Even so, it was clear that they were indeed making a difference.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Years ago in the 1980s a friend discovered a little antique house that he coveted and longed to restore.  The lines were great but the house was fire damaged and boarded up.  The property was in the estate of a man who had owned many properties.  Dealing with this house at that time was not a priority in the settling of the estate.

Bob persevered and eventually acquired the house and carefully restored it.  He even won an award from the state for his restoration efforts.

The 18th century gambrel roofed cottage is what we fondly call a "Cape Ann Cottage".  This dwelling style was typical of what the Gloucester fishermen lived in through much of the 18th century. (See my post from last March, "The 18th Century Cottages of the Cape Ann Fishermen and Farmers").

Sadly, Bob passed away. The house was rented for years and then sold. Another family took ownership of the house.

At this time I was a Realtor specializing in antique and historic properties. I was working with perspective buyers, Susan and Eric.  Susan was a writer. Eric was a college professor and boat builder.  They were committed to living in Gloucester, America's oldest seaport.

One day Bob's little house came on the market for sale.  I wasted no time in calling Susan and Eric.  This was not the Victorian house they envisioned but I urged them to take a look; it was a very special house.  They hurried to Gloucester and without hestation purchased the house.

They have now lived there for a number of year.  Perhaps the house is a little small for them but they are perfect for the house!  They have treated it with sensitivity and care. They are a model of responsible custodians. They have become dear friends and a wonderful addition to our community.

Recently I was very touched by a piece written by Susan and published online in Boston's WBUR "Cognoscenti".  With her permission I am sharing her beautiful words with you.

This Old House: Fisherman Brown's Cottage


Susan Pollack  

Susan Pollack: "When you buy a house, do you inherit a responsibility to its history, as well?" Pictured: The author's home in Gloucester, Mass. (E. Schoonover/Courtesy)
The day my husband and I bought our house, the real estate agent gave us a loose-leaf binder with copies of maps and deeds dating back to 1735, when a fisherman named Joseph Brown built the Cape Ann Cottage.
For years we had looked at houses. We’d hoped to find a roomy, if neglected, Victorian that, with our efforts, might one day resemble one of the Gloucester houses celebrated by Edward Hopper. But “an antique?” That’s how our agent described the tiny gambrel-roofed cottage. Seeing its exposed adze-hewn beams, wide pine floorboards and fireplace, we said yes immediately.
I had lived in other people’s homes all of my adult life. Suddenly, I was not only a homeowner, but a steward of Cape Ann history. What does it mean to acquire a building with an historic marker posted on its clapboards? Does one’s responsibility go beyond keeping cedar shingles on the roof and a satellite dish off it? When you buy a house, do you inherit a responsibility to its history, as well?
The documents compiled by the agent, Prudence Fish, an architectural historian and the author of “Antique Houses of Gloucester,” made me curious about the dozen families who had owned the house before us.
Fisherman Brown was likely shorter than my five-foot eight-inch husband, or he, too, would have struck his head on the beams in my attic-like office. He and Mrs. Brown must have been agile, for the stairs are narrow and steep as a ship’s companionway. The house itself is like a ship, snug and tight. Now six rooms (it was originally four) and 1,000  square feet, it may be one of the smallest homes in town, as well as one of the oldest. It is not a good place to spread out, gather or entertain, except in the most intimate circumstances.
As writers, my husband and I tend to accrue books, papers and ephemera, a habit possibly shared by John S. Rogers, a 19th century glue manufacturer. He bought the house in 1858 and moved it several hundred feet in order to build a larger structure, which now looms over us like a cruise ship over a dory. We share our house with the presences of, among other owners, Rogers, Brown, and Zachariah Dalton, “a free black man and native of Gloucester,” and his son, Thomas. Also Israel Trask, a butcher, who may be responsible for the Federal period woodwork, and Bob Molinski, who, in the 1980s, rescued and restored the building following a fire and years of neglect. Molinski received a Massachusetts Historical Commission award for his work.
We’ve done what we can on a more limited budget. Before moving in, we hired a contractor to pour a cellar floor and structurally reinforce the wood-frame building with new Lally columns. Since then, we’ve stripped the floors, replaced rotting sills, re-pointed brickwork, and planted a traditional New England flower garden of lilacs, daylilies and hollyhocks. Soon, we will replace the kitchen’s weakened floorboards. As stewards, we’ve learned quickly: maintaining our historic cottage requires constant vigilance.
We’ve also tried to keep the prior inhabitants alive in our imaginations. Yet, sometimes I feel crowded out by their presences: I imagine Brown’s footfall on the creaky stairs, the aroma of his wife’s codfish stew brewing in a large iron kettle in the fireplace. (I do not know her Christian name, as the deeds don’t mention wives, but I think of her as Patience Brown.) Meanwhile, I picture Butcher Trask driving through the neighborhood, his cart filled with sausages, pigs’ feet and freshly-killed chickens and rabbits.
We chose to live in Gloucester because it is still a city of working people, like those who owned our house. Although the portraits of Brown, Trask, Rogers, the Daltons and Molinski do not hang in City Hall, these residents are as essential to Cape Ann’s history as the mayors in the hall’s portrait gallery.
On warm summer evenings, when we walk to the end of our street and down the 57 steps to the harbor, I think about Fisherman Brown plying these waters in a small boat with a makeshift sail. At the time, wolves still roamed this hill, and water lapped at wharves just below us. Brown lived a generation before the American Revolution and a century prior to the era of the famed Grand Banks schooners, but even then, life in Gloucester was shaped by the sea, and those who work upon it. It is a legacy we now share as the latest inhabitants of Fisherman Brown’s cottage. 

Susan Pollack
Susan Pollack is an award-winning journalist and author of the “Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Cookbook: Stories and Recipes.”


Ideas and opinions presented by WBUR, Boston’s NPR® News Station.
cognoscenti /kɒgnəˈʃɛnti/ pl. noun/ people who are especially well informed about a particular subject. Origin: late 18th century: Italian, literally ‘people who know,’ from Latin cognoscent-, ‘getting to know’


Those of you who have been to Gloucester, MA,  America’s oldest seaport, (1623) know that Gloucester has a beautiful harbor.  Champlain named it Le Beau Port as he explored up and down the coast in 1606.  The Pilgrims landed in Plymouth in 1620 and soon came to Gloucester for summer fishing.   Along this waterfront land was a narrow isthmus of  connecting Cape Ann to the mainland.  But for his tiny piece of land Gloucester would have been an island.

At an early date a canal was excavated  by Rev. Blynman across this piece of land allowing fishing vessels to pass from the harbor into Ipswich Bay.  A bridge was built and today there is a very active draw bridge facilitating the passage of boats.  Named after this early minister, the formal names are the Blynman Bridge and the Blynman Canal.
Edward Hopper's painting of the Blynman Bridge and the
Blynman Canal with George O. Stacy's house in the background.
The road along the harbor leads to the bridge over the canal has long been called  “the cut”; the only link to the mainland until Route 128 and a large bridge built in the late 1940s provided a major access to this island city.

A few houses were built along the road to the bridge, formerly called Canal Street and later Western Avenue, now called the Boulevard.

On the opposite side of the road, on the water side, was a long rope walk.

Eventually a summer hotel was built and gradually houses replaced the rope walk along the edge of the water.  These houses stood shoulder to shoulder about half way toward the Blynman bridge.

Very fanciful summer hotel, one of the first.  Burned.
George O. Stacy was a hotel man and park commissioner.  He envisioned a beautiful esplanade to be completed for the City’s three hundredth birthday celebration in 1923.  So beginning around 1920 occupants of the houses along the waterside agreed to vacate their houses most of which were moved to surrounding streets and available lots.  With little resistance the owners complied.  All, that is, except for Lucy Low living in the home of her recently deceased parents.

Lucy's mother, whose name was Lucy Clark Low born in 1838  acquired the land from her parents in 1865.  Her husband, William Low, was a carpenter and perhaps he built the house about that time.
Lucy's name on her birth certificate was Lucy but later in life she called herself Lue E. Low on legal documents.  What is more confusing is that there are two birth certificates for her.  The first name is Lucy S. Taylor Low born Oct. 23, 1861.  The second is for Lucy Estella Low born Oct. 24, 1861 one day later.  

Lucy’s Victorian cottage house was not far from where Gloucester’s famous  “Man at the Wheel” statue now stands looking out to sea.  Lucy refused to move but more particularly refused the low price she was offered for her house.  Soon Lucy’s house was the only one that was left standing and remained there all by itself.

Devastation surrounds Lucy's house.  (Cape Ann Museum Photo)

Lucy did agree to move but she wanted to be paid $13,000 dollars.  She had the City over a barrel.  Finally Lucy was paid the exorbitant sum of $8000 and she left.

But that was not the end of the story!  Lucy went to the auction and bought back her house for $800 and moved it to a piece of land a short distance away.  She then took up residence in her old home with a new address.
This may be Lucy's house minus the porch and rear
 addition and a lower foundation..
With the last house gone work proceeded on the new sea wall and sculptor Leonard Craske completed the iconic statue that graces this beautiful piece of land near where Lucy’s house once stood.  It represents a Gloucester fisherman at the wheel looking out over the beautiful harbor with the inscription, “They that go down to the see in ships”

Gloucester's Fisherman's memorial with  old house that remained on the other side of the street.

George O. Stacy’s dream had come to fruition and that stretch of Western Ave. is now called Stacy Boulevard in his honor.
The above photo is from an old postcard.

Lucy Low was a seamstress.  She apparently lived in her little house, the homestead of her parents and the only house she had ever lived in until her death which probably took place after 1940.