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

Friday, September 22, 2017



Rockport's Hannah Jumper house dooryard with its
famous blue gate.

If a tourist or resident of the quaint New England Town of Rockport at the very tip of historic Cape Ann happens to peek between the row of three nice old houses located between the old Blacksmith Shop and Atlantic Ave. on Mt Pleasant St. they will be looking at an old red fish shack called Motif #1.

Motif 1, when I was young was called “Motive Number One” a typical idiosyncrasy as often found in an old New England town.  Motif 1 is familiar to people around the world.  It has been called the most frequently painted and photographed building in the world and it is a rare person who hasn’t seen its picture on a calendar or in a TV or Internet ad.  It has almost been forgotten that the original iconic building at the end of Bradley Wharf fell into the harbor during the blizzard of 1978.  It was quickly reproduced and life went on.
Motif #1 in Rockport.  Often called the most photographed
building in the world.
Conversely, if one were to go out on Bradley Wharf for a closer look at the red fish shack and looked back toward the town and Mt Pleasant Street they would be looking back at the row of houses mentioned above.  And looking to the left at this row of houses they would be looking at the back of Rockport's number two icon, the former 19th century home of Rockport folk hero, Hannah Jumper.

These two iconic buildings have drawn the attention of residents, tourists, artists and photographers since the 19th century and are familiar to people around the world but the attention these days is drawn to the Hannah Jumper house.

The perfect old apple tree in the front yard of this snug house on the harbor adds the perfect touch. But beyond the quaint scene admired by passersby, the Hannah Jumper house has a story to tell.  It was made famous not only for it charm but for the lady that lived there in the 1850s; Hannah Parsons Jumper, seamstress and house cleaner who moved into town in the early 19th century from the "Farms"  on Witham Street, an outlying area of Gloucester near Good Harbor Beach.
Here is the Hannah Jumper house in the spring, probably April with the forsythia in
bloom.  The apple tree is not leafed out yet

At this time Rockport was called Sandy Bay, the fifth parish of Gloucester.  Its independence  and the name Rockport didn't occur until around 1840.

Here is the story of Hannah and her rise to fame as reported by the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce in their Rockport USA blog.

July 8, 1856, is an important date in the history of Rockport. On that summer morning, 200 wives, mothers, daughters and assorted supporters gathered in Dock Square to take part in an event that would have repercussions to this very day.
Hannah Jumper looking like a proper lady but with
a determined look on her face!
Brandishing hatchets, led by Hannah Jumper, they began their raid. In the words of Ebenezer Pool. an eyewitness. “…On finding any keg, jug, or cask having spirituous liquor in it…with their hatchets broke or other ways destroyed it…” Who was Hannah Jumper? How did so many law abiding. homemakers find the courage to follow her’?
Hannah Jumper, a tall, redheaded, 31 year old seamstress, left her family’s farm in Joppa and came to Rockport in 1812. Her talent with a needle and thread, along with her abilities to grow herbs and make medicinal brews from them, helped her to build a pleasant life in the small fishing community. Thus established, Hannah began to form lasting friendships with many of the women who would later join her in the rebellion against “demon rum”.
Fishing was the mainstay of Rockport. However, the weather only permitted this activity for nine months of the year. Instead of finding other employment during their enforced three month “vacation.” the men idled away their time and consumed enormous amounts of liquor.
Year after year, the economic deprivation caused by those periods of inactivity was worsened by the money spent on spirits. The women of the town grew increasingly frustrated and their patience wore thin. Hannah Jumper not only shared their feeling and their concerns, but she also became very outspoken on the subject.
Finally, in 1856 with the rise of the temperance movement and the early rumblings of women’s rights being heard, the women of Rockport met secretly to plot their historic raid. Only three men were considered trustworthy enough to be taken into their confidence.
On the morning of July 8, 1856 women from every corner of Rockport rallied around Hannah and five other women who had assumed leadership roles. Even at age 75, Hannah Jumper was still a formidable figure!
Secreting their weapons beneath lacy shawls, the protesters set out to destroy every drop of alcohol located in places they had marked (under cover of darkness) with a small white cross. Howls of outrage and threats of recriminations followed the progress of the “hatchet gang”.
Five hours later the weary but victorious women ended their revolt and went home to fix supper for their families.
One disgruntled target of the raid, Jim Brown, took the matter to court. The verdict, in favor of the women, was appealed time and time again. In the end, the original verdict was upheld and Brown was ordered to pay the court costs of $346.25 to the defendants.
Subsequently, Rockport became a ‘dry’ town, and remained so until 2005, when voters approved the sale of  alcoholic beverages in local restaurants.

Hannah Jumper’s house in Rockport.
This photo, shot in 2005, shows the sign promoting a vote to restore sales of liquor in Rockport—right in Hannah’s front yard! She actually launched her raid while living in this house, right down next to the harbor on Mount Pleasant St.    From "The Personal Navigator" blog.

Several years ago Hannah Jumper’s house came on the market for sale.  I went through it more than once.  The tiny crooked staircase, the paneling in the parlor around the fireplace contrasted with the view of Motif 1 from the large picture window in the rear of an added on living room.  The house was furnished with traditional furniture and antiques that invited you to sit down and linger for a while.  I was thrilled and considered it a great treat to have had the opportunity to cross its timeworn threshold.

Four or five years have passed and I have not paid attention or noticed any particular activity there until this week.  I live in Lanesville (a village in Gloucester) about four miles away so don’t often have reasons that would take me into this neighborhood until recently.  A Rockport friend alerted me that the old clapboards on the house were removed and she wondered about the necessity of doing this.  I went to take a look at what she was talking about and my heart almost stopped.  Every clapboard was gone revealing the wide sheathing boards of the house.   But that is not all. The fairly wide cracks between the sheathing boards revealed an interior completely stripped of all woodwork, plaster, paneling, mantels and doors.  It was an empty shell.  Even the ancient chimney with its fireplaces including the original cooking fireplace with bake oven was gone.
The Hannah Jumper house as it looks today, only a shell
with no chimneys or fireplaces.
My reaction was first of sorrow turning to anger that this could happen right under our noses just about obliterating Rockport’s (in my opinion)  icon number two. Even worse it is located in the Rockport Historic District. (In defense of the Historical Commission it has to be understood that they only have jurisdiction over the front fa├žade of the house or any part seen from a public way.)

They had no authority over the interior.  With the main chimney, the heart and soul of an old house, also removed should that not have been under their jurisdiction?  It could certainly be seen from the public way, Mt Pleasant St. and also from Motif 1 out on the wharf and from Bearskin Neck. Was there a permit and approval from the Rockport Historical Commission for that demolition?

By happenstance several months ago in another ancient Gloucester house I met a man who told me he was working at the Hannah Jumper house painting and stripping the wood around the fireplace.  At that time I gave him the name of a restoration mason to give to the owners and stressed how important it was to have the chimney evaluated and restored by a restoration mason.  The message was delivered to the owners but as far as I know was not acted upon.

I really don’t know what has transpired since the day I visited the house other than painting and normal maintenance .  Apparently, there were some structural problems to the underpinning which are always repairable even if difficult in that waterfront location.  I want to know why the paneling wasn’t saved (if it wasn't) or the bricks from the chimney or the old doors.  I want to know how such an important antique house came into the possession of an owner with so little sensitivity to the house for which he had paid $750,000 dollars.  Maybe the problem was not lack of sensitivity but simply bad advice of from workmen, neighbors or tight lipped townspeople who like to mind their own business by not saying anything or getting involved.
Demolition uncovered a section of early skived
clapboards with rose head nails.  Jim Laverdiere photo

Back in Gloucester my friend, Peggy Flavin, went to work researching the deed.  It appears that the house dates to about 1738.  It is of an unusual form.  After 1730 or so all of the cottage houses on Cape Ann had the newer style gambrel roof.  Hannah Jumper's house has a steep pitched roof, the only one from that period that anyone remembers seeing on Cape Ann where the gambrel roof style prevailed.

The house was a hall and parlor house which means a chimney and front door in the middle and a room on each side, one a hall (kitchen) and the other a parlor.  There were two chambers (bedrooms) above, one over the hall and one over the parlor.  The house was only one room deep and probably four room in all.  At the right hand end of the house a small barn was added or moved there at an early date.  Other additions were added onto the rear of the house.

The house was carved up from time to time as portions of the house were sold.  It would be expected that the apartments would be side by side as they were in recent years.  Surprisingly, in this case it was the little second floor rooms with slant ceilings that were sold off from time to time with the right to pass through other parts of the house.  One deed even suggested that the front door had been moved but might be moved back to its original position.  So architecturally it is a cape style house with a pitched roof and a chimney in the middle; a real hall and parlor house of the early second period.
Here it is as it looks today, Sept. 2017.  The apple tree is
thriving but not much else.

It is too late to put Hannah's house back together.  Too much of the original fabric, actually every inch of it, is gone.  But the interior could be reproduced.  According to the Gloucester Times a demolition crew from out of town was hired to complete the destruction of the house, an endeavor which took three weeks to complete according to the newspaper. I would hate to think what that cost the owner but is probably why he can no longer afford to restore the interior and is planning a free-flowing, contemporary interior.

Rockport has been plagued with other demolitions in recent years.  Will this deed be the event that will galvanize the town to put the brakes on this heavy handed, inappropriate approach to so-called “restoration"?  

It would appear that there is little regard for preservation here or anywhere and yet I know that this is not true.  Almost one year ago I wrote a post in this blog about the gutting of houses.  In the first twenty four hours after the posting 1,000 readers had viewed the blog so I know it hit a nerve.  People from all over the country were responding.

As I wrote this story I received an email from a Rockport resident who said, “I can't stand the decimation of the Hannah Jumper House - - just awful!

So I ask, when will this demolition stop and what will you do in your community to prevent a scenario as upsetting as the demolition that has taken place at Hannah Jumper’s house?

Maybe the spirit of Hannah Jumper will once again galvanize the community to act and defend preservation in Rockport.

The response to this post has been HUGE.  I think the destruction of landmarks is really beginning to hit a nerve and elicit strong reactions.  People just don't like it and resent seeing familiar icons disappear or be irrevocably altered in the name of progress or improvement.  Don't hesitate to add your voice when you see bad things happening to places you love and respect.

This charming painting of the Hannah Jumper house was posted today (9/24) by Bing McGilvray.  It was painted by Roger Elliot Gilson, 1960s.