Welcome

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Halibut Point State Park sits on the northeast tip of Cape Ann in Rockport, Massachusetts.  Originally termed “Haul-about” Point in the 17th Century due to its location, a spot where the prevailing wind currents, northeast and southwest, tend to shift, indicating mariners should “haul-about” their sails, this uniquely beautiful coastal landscape of fifty-five acres is managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation with twelve abutting acres belonging to The Trustees of Reservations.  Halibut Point is open year-round for you to explore its trails and tidepools, picnic on its rocky ledges, enjoy its sweeping views, and learn about the nature and history of Cape Ann.  From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the park is open from 8:00am to 8:00pm daily with a $2.00 parking fee per vehicle; the rest of the year the park is open from sunrise to sunset.  Site of the former Babson Farm Quarry and with a Visitors Center and museum in a former World War Two artillery fire control tower, Halibut Point features an onsite park interpreter and free educational/entertainment/nature programs for the public from April thru October.  Click here to download a park brochure. Directions: Halibut Point State Park is located approximately forty miles north of Boston.  The best approach is to take Rt. 128 north toward Gloucester and Rockport.  After crossing the Annisquam River bridge, go three-quarters way around the first rotary, following signs for Rt. 127 north (Annisquam and Pigeon Cove).  After approximately six miles, turn left at the park sign by the Old Farm Inn onto Gott Ave.  From downtown Rockport, drive north on Rt. 127 for three miles, turning right onto Gott Ave.  The phone number at Halibut Point State Park is 978-546-2997. This is the blog of park interpreter John Ratti (johnrai@aol.com) and will be used to inform the public about Halibut Point State Park events and programs, answer questions and field comments, and to provide historical, cultural and environmental information about the park and its programs. 

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Interpreter’s Notes – Stonebuilding in America

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The Quarry Tour has been a core program at Halibut Point for nearly as long as the site has been a state park.  The tour is an excellent opportunity to learn about the history of building with stone in America, a subject still in need of its defintive study.  Today, one still needs to “cobble” together a history from a number of written sources and one of the best is Brabara Erkkila’s book, Hammers on Stone: The History of Cape Ann Granite.  Long out of print, Erkkila’s book does an excellent job of relating much of the subject’s history, especially the founding role two Massachusetts cities – Quincy and Rockport – played in an industry that in many ways, even some surprising ones, helped define a young America. 

Early European settlers in North America seldom used stone for building.  When they arrived on the continent they usually didn’t have to look far to find substantial old-growth timber sufficent for their construction needs.  An equally significant reason why they didn’t build with stone was because they had no idea how to quarry and cut it.  When settlers in early America did use stone, usually uncut boulders and surface rock, it was for structural foundations that was in most cases fitted together and bound by a horse-hair plaster, which is why many very old buildings still smell like a barn.  The fieldstone walls you see in the woods today usually originate from a time later than most believe and can be generally clumped into two categories: The less often seen fieldstone walls constructed from pebbly or fist-sized rocks indicates a previous farm area and came from planters picking up and tossing aside rocks that the winter freeze brought to the surface prior to the initial spring plough while the fieldstone walls constructed of larger boulders indicates pasture and the walls served as livestock pens.  These walls are almost always four-feet to four and one-half feet tall and for the most part were built from 1800 – 1820.  But elaborating on the subject and timeline of fieldstone walls is for some other time … suffice to sat it’s relatively rare to encounter pre-19th Century stone structures, particularily residences, in America.

On the north shore of Massachusetts two significant examples of pre-Revolution stone structures are the Choate Bridge in Ipswich (1774), said to be the oldest stone arch bridge in the United States, and the Babson Cooperage (1658) on Rt. 127 in Gloucester.  The Choate Bridge, spanning the Ipswich River, is of no architectural design and comprised mainly of fieldstones.  The Babson Cooperage, built as the workshop of a barrel-maker and today a museum, is made of fitted stone.  The most noteworthy stone building in pre-Revolution America is without a doubt King’s Chapel in Boston.  Constructed of Quincy granite beginning in 1749, the church took five years to complete, mainly due to the challenges of quarrying and cutting the granite.  Until about 1800 the main methods of stone-cutting was to set a fire on top of a rock to heat it up and expand the mineral’s molecules, and then drop an iron ball from some distance above it.  The other way they attempted to split stone was to set some gunpowder under a slab and ignite it.  Needless to say, neither method was an efficent way to fashion good building stone. 

The golden era of stonebuilding in America was ushered in approximately two decades after the American Revolution, initiated by two factors: the desire to create a young country’s first grand monument and the message, the semiotics, (study of sign-systems by which meaningful communication occurs) of stone imagery.

Notice the buildings around you today that are constructed of stone (not brick, which is a manufactured stone material, but natural stone) and you’ll see that many natural stone buildings are banks, municipal structures and jails, most of them dating to pre-1900.  Banks and financial institutions constructed of natural stone like granite send the semiotic message that your money is safe from those whom might want to steal it and that the business won’t fold, that it’s here to stay.  “Granite Savings Bank” – that’s where you want to put your money, isn’t it?  Another message imparted from creating structures like municipal buildings with natural stone was that though America was a young country, it was here to stay.  Constructing jails from natural stone, well, the message in that image is pretty clear, that the populace needn’t worry about the convicts breaking out.  “Security,” “permanence,” “strength,” – those are words that one tends to, at least subconsciously, associate with structures built of natural stone.  And when it became time for America to build it’s first national monument, one to commemorate its fight for Independence, it had to be from the most noteworthy ceremonial building material known – natural stone.  And it was the connection between the building of a jail and a monument that began America’s first great domestic industry.

In 1803, Governor Robbins of Massachusetts desired to construct a jail from granite in Charlestown.  Around that time, a talented young architect and builder named Solomon Willard moved from the western part of the state to Boston.  The two met, discovered a mutual enthusiasm for the endeavor and set out to identify an appropriate load of granite for the project.  Walking, yes walking hundreds of miles across the state, they found two suitable sites, one in Quincy, a few miles south of Charlestown and another on Cape Ann nearly forty miles away.  They chose the Quincy site due to its proximity, but one big problem loomed – how were they going to cut and transport such an enormous amount of stone? 

Here we come to the closest Eureka! moment in the history of building with natural stone in America -

Passing through Salem one day, Governor Robbins noticed the foundations of many buildings, some fashioned from very large cut blocks of stone, exhibiting unique tool markings every six inches or so.  He inquired to one landlord and was put in touch with a contractor from Danvers who did the work.  The gentleman demonstrated to the governor his method of hand-drilling holes few inches apart in a straight row before inserting metal components called “wedges” and “half-rounds.”  Once they were set into the stone, the contractor tapped on them with a twelve-pound hammer and eventually the rock would break evenly along the drilled line.  Governor Robbins hired the man and sent him to Quincy  to teach officials of the nascent jail quarrying project this stone-breaking method and it’s said that Quincy was the first “experiment”  in splitting stone using widgets and half-rounds.   

Until recent years a number of historians credited workers in Quincy as the first to cut stone that way, but the latest and most detailed research, mainly by Barbara Erkkila and a few others has uncovered the Robbins-Willard-Salem connection.  In Hammers on Stone, Erkkila maintains that there’s a connection between the contractor Governor Robbins met in Salem and Cape Ann.  Subsequent research has revealed an earlier version of stone-cutting via widgets and half-rounds on Cape Ann since at least 1766.  Today on Cape Ann one can see numerous examples of pre-19th Century stone-cutting, usually along specific shorelines where mooring stones were cut.  They exist from the adjacent north of Halibut Point at Folly Cove, along the Halibut shore and southwards along the Atlantic Path all the way to Back Beach in Rockport.  You can find out more by attending our Quarry Tour or one of our geology programs that we feature at times during our programming season.      

Though there’s excellent evidence of stone-cutting by widgets and half-rounds on Cape Ann before 1800, it shouldn’t detract from the glory of the Quincy Quarries.  The granite being cut there for the Charlestown jail came at a time when sentiment for a national monument reached a crescendo.  Those two factors, along with the technological innovations at the Quincy Quarries such as invention of the “derrick” and pulley systems to hoist and move stone and the “two-gauge” railroad (rails two feet across) pulled by ox (an invention that paved the way for the steam locomotive) as well as Boston’s role in the Revolution and the fact that the jail was being built very close to where the most famous battle of the Revolutionary War occured, all coalesced into what became the project leading to the construction of the Bunker Hill Monument.

The attention surrounding the building of America’s first national monument, the semiotics of stone imparting a message of strength and permanence for a young nation and the technological innovations developed at the Quincy quarries led to the country’s great era of building with stone beginning around 1830 and lasting approximately for a century.  When that era began, the granite in Quincy was being used primarilty for public projects; those in the know were aware that the next great near-surface bedrock of granite existed on Cape Ann, and it was in Rockport where the age of commercial stonebuilding in America began.  During the next hundred years many of the most significant stonebuilding projects in America were constructed of Cape Ann granite.  The Longfellow Bridge in Cambridge, MA, Fort Independence in Boston, MA, The Holland Tunnel and Woolworth Building in NY, the base of the Statue of Liberty and steps of the Washington Capitol, the Carnegie-Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh, PA and Custom House in Boston, (the tallest non-reinforced stone structure in America at over 400′) are just a few examples of Cape Ann granite construction.  Not to mention the decades it was transported on massive stone-carrying sloops for use as paving stones for parts of New York City … New Orleans … Havanna, Cuba … Seville, Spain and Paris, France, to again cite only a few examples, making stone quarrying the first great domestic and international industry in America. 

There’s another very significant reason why Cape Ann granite became America’s featured stonebuilding material for a century: it’s unique density of 160lbs. per cubic foot, making it among the toughest stone in the world ever used for building.  That story, encompassing the unique geological history of Cape Ann, will be the subject of the next interpreter’s notes.  If you want to know more about quarrying on Cape Ann, go to www.sandybayhistorical.org and www.capeannhistoricalmuseum.org   or check out this excerpt from an 1884 edition of Harper’s Magazine.  And if you want to know even more about this too infrequently related aspect of American history or would like to see some Cape Ann granite being split using widgets and half-rounds, just come to our Quarry Tour on Saturdays at 10:00am.

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Interpreter’s Notes – Geology Rocks!

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Psychologist C.K. Jung said, “A man is not a thing, but a drama.”  Well, a rock is not a thing, but a drama – only existing on the vast scale of geological time.  Pick one up sometime, any rock, and you’ll be holding something that contains the entire periodic table, every known element in the universe.  Is it a metamorphic or sedimentary rock in an igneous environment?  How did it get there?  What’s its story?  They all have a story, the rocks under our feet and all around us, made up of the 5,000 or so substances of the mineral world that make up 90% of the mass and volume of the Earth. 

Geology, simplified, is the study of the Earth’s inorganic substances, its processes and the planet’s history.  But that definition does no justice to this elegant, almost metaphysical science.  Geology reflects the universal axiom of Hermetic philosophy: As above, so below, as displayed by the fact that the mineral substances in the planets and stars above are exactly the same ones inside our bodies and in the ground beneath us (and they are formed in exactly the same way).  One of geology’s major concepts, fromulated by James Hutton in the 18th Century, is called Uniformitarianism, the stipulation that all the laws of the universe have been the same since the beginning of the universe.  To put it spiritually and more poetically, “There is nothing new under the Sun.”  This idea begat today’s science, influencing everything from Darwin’s thinking to modern physics, prodding the concept of the universe as a “closed” system – all the matter and energy in the universe has existed since the beginning of the universe, and there is only a transfer from one state to another.  In other words, matter cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed.  Geology is the great unifying science of the world, the eye of the needle all other sciences do, at some point and in some way, pass thru – astronomy, art, linguistics, paleontology, physics, biology, philosophy, medicine, chemistry, religion, agriculture, anthropology, sociology, meterology, geography, mathematics, climatology, economics … on and on goes the list.

Cape Ann is an extraordinary geological area and Halibut Point State Park is a great place to see that for yourself.  Here are some surprising facts about the geology of Cape Ann: Of the 5000 or so mineral substances that make up the vast majority of the mass and volume of the Earth, two, Annite and Danalite, were discovered on and primarily exist around Cape Ann.  Annite, named after Cape Ann, was first identified in Rockport.  You can learn more about Annite here.  Danalite, named after geology professor J.D. Dana, was initially identified at a Rockport Granite Company quarry in the 19th century.  This link gives you more information about Danalite and this Wikipedia excerpt will tell you more about Professor Dana, one of the foremost figures in the history of geology.

But that’s far from the end of the surprising facts about the geology of Cape Ann.  Here’s something many are astonished to learn:  Cape Ann is considered the third most active geological area in the United States.  The most active geological area is the San Andreas fault, we all know about that one; the second is the New Madrid fault in Missouri, where the largest known earthquake that has happened since Europeans settled the continent occured in 1800.  It was an earthquake so massive that the Mississippi River ran backwards for almost an entire day!  After those two areas comes Cape Ann.  The largest earthquake known to have taken place in New England  happened on Cape Ann in 1755.  That large quake, knocking down walls and chimneys of over a hundred buildings in Boston, was felt from Nova Scotia to South Carolina and over five hundred miles east at sea.  You can take a look at this document on file at the Massachusetts Historical Society to find out more about an event that profoundly affected the New England populace, as evidenced by the no fewer than twenty-seven sermons, poems, and accounts published in the following months featuring, to quote the Massachusetts Historical Society, “such titles Earthquakes the Works of God and Tokens of his Just Displeasure (by Thomas Prince) and The Duty of a People, Under Dark Providences, or Symptoms of Approaching Evils, to Prepare to Meet their God (by Eliphalet Williams).” 

If you’d like even more evidence of how geologically active Cape Ann is, check out this story from USA Weekend magazine, or this one from the Boston Globe, or have a look at this article in American Heritage.  If you want to see a charting of some of the long list of earthquakes that have happened on and around Cape Ann, just go here.  Better yet, click on this extraordinary map, “Earthquakes In and Near the Northeastern United States, 1638-1998″ from the US Geological Survey.  If you go to websites such as Microsoft TerraServer or Google Earth you can see some of the unique features of Cape Ann’s geology.  One of them you’ll notice is that the land beneath the region’s feet is so riddled with faults that it looks like a cracked windshield!  Just what exactly makes Cape Ann’s geology so active and so noteworthy?  That’s a longer story than a version of Notes should detail, but some clues are contained in the photographs published below this posting’s heading.  Geology is a science best savored in the field, away from the classroom and all that Godwana-Laurentia-Pangaea/continental rifting/plate tectonics talk we initially experience in school when exposed to the subject.  Yes, there’s a place for all that, but there’s so much to see around us to spur curiosity in this profound, graceful science and Halibut Point is a spectacular place to experience it.

The last version of Interpreter’s Notes promised an explanation of how Cape Ann granite achieved its unique 160lbs. per cubic foot density.  Briefly – at the end of the last great Ice Age, about 15,000 years ago, retreating glacier scraped many millions of years of sedimentary rock off the massive bedrock of granite that today makes up most of Cape Ann.  The bedrock granite, under the pressure of sedimentary rock for so long, became evern more compressed than it was, and once the glacier scraped the surface sedimentary rock away, it left the granite close to the surface.  There may be granite of similar of greater density elsewhere, but most of it, never having had the benefit of such a staggering force of as a mile high mountain of ice to bring it near the surface, remains far under the ground where it cannot be mined.  If you look above at the center photograph under this posting’s heading you can clearly see the striations on the smoothed boulder, tracking north/northwest to south/southwest that was made by the retreating glacier.  Such evident examples of the last Ice Age exist all over Halibut Point, especially in the park’s “scablands” – the still existing grassy balds not far from the Babson Farm Quarry.        

In Herman and Nina Schneider’s classic, Rocks, Rivers, and the Changing Earth: A First Book About Geology the author’s do a remarkable job of connecting the subject to their reader: “The fresh, crisp apple that you may eat today is as old as the hills.  And when you eat it, a tiny bit of those hills become you … Just think of what that apple may have been before it became part of you!  Once it may have been in the autumn leaves that fell and crumbled into the soil near the sprout of an apple tree.  Years before it may have been in the shell of a robin’s egg.  And once it may have been a part of a stalactite in some dark underground cavern.  Perhaps for a short while it flew high above the earth in a butterfly’s wing.  Long ago it may have been in a kernel of corn planted by some ancient people.  Today, when you eat that apple, these parts of the earth become part of you who are part of the world.”    

How wonderfully they state it!

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Interpreter’s Notes – Cape Ann and the War of 1812

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The War of 1812 is one of America’s least understood military conflicts.  Though it was ignited by a number of ostensible causes, at its core that war was about eradicating British influence in North America.  For decades after the American revolution Canada remained a British colony, allowing England to contend for settlement of the upper-Midwest of America.  By the early 19th Century Britain still remained the world’s greatest colonial power, but its military might was being stretched thin.  The war started over the issue of the British Navy’s “impressment” of personnel on American merchant vessels.  On the high seas, Britain would not hesitate to stop and search American ships in hopes of recovering sailors they viewed as deserters, which included many naturalized American citizens.  Britain, long at war with Napoleon’s France, was in desperate need of sailors for their fleet to the degree of even “press-ganging” native-born Americans.  Due to the conflict in Europe, the United States Congress cut-off all trade with European nations, a move very unpopular in New England.  In an attempt to further foment dissention, the British Navy didn’t interfere with New England merchant vessels violating the trade ban, a policy that lasted until New England trade was seen as benefiting France as much as or even more than Britain.

By 1813, frigates of the British Navy were patrolling outside harbors along Massachusetts Bay.  Henry Edward Napier, a lieutenant on the H.M.S. Nymphe, wrote in his diary segment called Prizes at Halibut Point of “laying in wait, like a spider for flies, for coasters from northward and southward.”  The citizens of Sandy Bay (now Rockport) finally extracted a measure of revenge on the Nymphe in the battle of “Sea Fencibles,” leading to an eventual negotiated stand-off  where the captain of the Nymphe agreed to vacate the waters off Cape Ann. 

 

The War of 1812 is most remembered for the burning of the White House, the writing of The Star Spangled Banner and the concluding Battle of New Orleans.  It brought Andrew Jackson into the national spotlight, made heroes of “Tippecanoe” Harrison and Oliver Hazard Perry, and gave us some well-remembered slogans such as, “We have met the enemy and he is ours.”  The War of 1812, fought mainly on the sea and in the Great Lakes, is said to have “made” the American Navy.  One of the pivotal naval battles from the War of 1812, the encounter of the U.S. frigate Chesapeake and its British counterpart the H.M.S. Shannon, took place in the waters off Cape Ann.  The Chesapeake left Boston Harbor on June 1, 1813 flying a special flag proclaiming “Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights” in recognition of America’s grievances against British policies.  Before the end that day, the Chesapeake found itself in one of the most famous battles in the history of the US Navy.  Though James Lawrence, captain of the Chesapeake, had a brief opportunity to rake the Shannon, he did not do so, instead boldly placing his port broadside against the Shannon’s starboard battery.  Both ships opened fire, but the British guns did more damage, producing crippling casualties on the Chesapeake’s quarterdeck.  Captain Lawrence, mortally wounded by small arms fire, gave his final order, uttering the immortal words, “Don’t give up the ship!”   Here are the later words of one witness to the encounter:
 

“At 0.55 p.m. Cape Ann bearing N.N.E½E distant 10 to 12 miles Shannon filled, and stood out from the land under easy sail. At 1 p.m. Chesapeake rounded the lighthouse under all sail, and at 3.40 hauled up and fired a gun. Presently Shannon hauled up and reefed topsails. At 4.50 Chesapeake took in her stunsails, topgallant sails and got her royal yards on deck. At 5.30 to be under command, and ready to wear if necessary, thinking it not unlikely that the Chesapeake would pass under Shannon’s stern, Captain Broke divided his men, and to be prepared to lie down as the enemy’s ship passed. But Captain Lawrence, at 5.40 gallantly luffed up, within about 50 yards, and squaring his main yard, gave three cheers. The captain of Shannon’s 14th gun (William Mindt ?) and was fired, in a second or so the 13th gun was fired, then the Chesapeake’s bow gun went off, and then the remaining guns on the broadside of each ship as fast as they could be discharged. At 5.56, her helm, probably from the death of the man stationed at it, being for the moment unattended to, Chesapeake came so sharp to the wind as completely to deaden her way, with her stern and quarters exposed to her enemy’s broadside. The Shannon’s aftermost guns now took a diagonal directon along the decks of the Chesapeake, beating in her stern ports, and sweeping the men from their quarters. At 6.p.m. Chesapeake fell on board the Shannon, with her quarter pressing upon the latter’s side, and hooking with her port quarter the fluke of Shannon’s anchor stowed over the chess-tree. Captain Broke ordered the ships to be lashed together, the maindeck boarders and the quarter deck men, under Lieut. G.T.L. Watt to be called away. Mr. Stevens the boatswain, and Mr. Samnell, midshipman, were mortally wounded. At 6.2 Captain Broke stepped from Shannon’s gangway rail on to the muzzle of Chesapeake’s aftermost carronade, and over the bulwark, upon the quarterdeck. Here not an officer or man was to be seen. Upon Chesapeake’s gangway made slight resistance 25 or 30 Americans but the remainder laid down their arms and submitted. The act of changing Chesapeake’s colours proved fatal to a gallant British officer, as owing to the halliards being entangled he commenced to hoist with the American Ensign above instead of below the British ensign. Observing the American stripes going up first the Shannon’s people re-opened their fire, and killed their own first-lieut and four-five of their comrades. Between the discharge of the first gun and the period of Captain Broke’s boarding (9 ?) minutes only elapsed, and in 4 minutes afterwards the Chesapeake was completely his. Captain Lawrence was killed in the action, and buried at Halifax with military honours such as a post-captain in the British Navy would be entitled to.”

The battle between the Chesapeake and the Shannon, lasting about fifteen minutes, had total casualties of nearly one hundred dead and one hundred and fifty wounded.  Details of this incredibly dramatic encounter and the events leading up to it are best detailed in Kenneth Poolman’s book, Guns off Cape Ann.  The other significant source material for information about the events off Cape Ann and Halibut Point in the War of 1812 is The Journal of Henry Edward Napier, Lieutenant in the H.M.S. Nymphe, published by the Peabody Essex Museum of Salem, MA in 1939.  Some great resources for information about the War of 1812 are this Wikipedia article, the US Naval Historical Center site and Benson J. Lossing’s 1869’s Book of the War of 1812, which you can view here.   

This is but the latest information we at Halibut Point have gathered in research of our site’s military history.  You will be able to learn much more in the new exhibit debuting inside our Visitors Center on Saturday, September 29, 2007.  This permanent installation, titled, The Military History of Halibut Point, is the result of efforts by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, its Bureau of Ranger Services Park Interpretation and Environmental Education Program and the Friends of Halibut Point State Park.  The Military History of Halibut Point, with information and artifacts ranging from the War of 1812 through the early 1960’s, is dedicated to all the men and women who have served in the United States armed forces.  Everyone is invited to this unveiling.  More details will be posted in August.  We hope you all will consider attending.

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Interpreter’s Notes: Haul-about Point

Perhaps the most popular visual feature of Halibut Point State Park is the Overlook in its northeastern corner.  Standing above a 50′+ granite grout pile over the rocky shore, the Overlook is the site of several weddings a year and even more marriage proposals.  Perhaps that’s why Outdoor Recreation has named Halibut Point one of the top ten romantic spots in America.  From the Overlook, one can see Ipswich Bay, the mouth of the Merrimac River, the miles of sandy shore at Salisbury Beach Reservation, the Isle of Shoals in New Hampshire, Mt. Agamenticus and Boon Island in Maine, and even more on the right day.

When you stand at the tip of the Overlook at Halibut Point, you are on the closest spot in the continental United States to the continent of Europe – (that’s continent-to-continent) – the next stop is Cape Finisterre, Spain.

Staring down from the Overlook, the significant mountain of granite beneath you (known in quarry slang as a “grout pile”) represents the unused remants of the long abandoned Sandy Bay Breakwater project.  As far back as 1830 there was advocacy to make Rockport a national harbor of refuge, one reason being the lack of a large harbor between Portland and Boston.  It was over fifty years later before the idea took steps toward rock-solid reality, finally commencing in 1885.  Yet by thirty years later and after nearly two million tons of cut stone, from Babson Farm Quarry and other Rockport quarries, was placed onto sloops and scows and set beneath almost a thousand acres of sea bottom, the project remained barely one-quarter complete.  Perpetually behind schedule and over budget, the federal government declined to continue financing the project, leaving  what was intended as a refuge of safety to become the manmade hazard many see it as even today.  From the top of the Overlook you can see the unfinished breakwater as the long line of stone offshore to the far right.  You can find a detailed story about the early history of the Sandy Bay Breakwater in this 19th Century archival issue of Harper’s Bazaar.

After gazing to the far right at the Sandy Bay Breakwater, gently swing your  eyes slightly left at the gull-bleached mound warting up from the sea:  It’s the Dry Salvages -  a bare knuckle of granite with a name controversy too convoluted to detail in a few words, this slab above the spit is best known as the title of the third segment of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.  Eliot, born in Missouri, spent many summers of his youth on Cape Ann and  The Dry Salvages  is the only one of Eliot’s Four Quartets with an American setting.

(The Dry Salvages—presumably les trois sauvages—is a small group of rocks, with a beacon, off the N.E. coast of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. Salvages is pronounced to rhyme with assuages.  Groaner: a whistling buoy.)

That’s how Eliot described them in this work.  Four Quartets, each one written between a span of years, was published in 1943 and many view it as Eliot’s masterpiece, even going so far as to say it’s the work most responsible for his 1948 Nobel Prize award.  The work draws upon Eliot’s lifelong reflections upon symbolism, philosophy, mysticism and Christianity. 

“I do not know much about gods;” …

is the famous beginning to The Dry Salvages.  Eliot starts by writing about the river but soon alters focus: 

“The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation:
The starfish, the horseshoe crab, the whale’s backbone;
The pools where it offers to our curiosity
The more delicate algae and the sea anemone.
It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,
The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar
And the gear of foreign dead men. The sea has many voices,
Many gods and many voices.”

It’s quite an experience, bringing a copy of the text out to the Overlook and reading it while pondering the Salvages and the stoney shore below.  Eliot, some say, is “out of favor” today, but that’s hard to truly believe – type in T.S. Eliot on Google and you’ll come up with nearly two million hits!  Granted, Eliot as a writer does make you “do your homework,” but he’s well worth it.  For more about T.S. Eliot, Wikipedia’s article about him is a good information source, as is this one about Four Quartets.  For the entire text of The Dry Salvages, go here.

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Interpreter’s Notes – An Elegant Science

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Psychologist C.K. Jung said, “A man is not a thing, but a drama.”  Well, a rock is not a thing, but a drama – only existing on the vast scale of geological time.  Pick one up sometime, any rock, and you’ll be holding something that contains the entire periodic table, every known element in the universe.  Is it a metamorphic or sedimentary rock in an igneous environment?  How did it get there?  What’s its story?  They all have a story, the rocks under our feet and all around us, made up of the 5,000 or so substances of the mineral world that make up 90% of the mass and volume of the Earth. 

Geology, simplified, is the study of the Earth’s inorganic substances, its processes and the planet’s history.  But that definition does no justice to this elegant, almost metaphysical science.  Geology reflects the universal axiom of Hermetic philosophy: As above, so below, as displayed by the fact that the mineral substances in the planets and stars above are exactly the same ones inside our bodies and in the ground beneath us (and they are formed in exactly the same way).  One of geology’s major concepts, fromulated by James Hutton in the 18th Century, is called Uniformitarianism, the stipulation that all the laws of the universe have been the same since the beginning of the universe.  To put it spiritually and more poetically, “There is nothing new under the Sun.”  This idea begat today’s science, influencing everything from Darwin’s thinking to modern physics, prodding the concept of the universe as a “closed” system – all the matter and energy in the universe has existed since the beginning of the universe, and there is only a transfer from one state to another.  In other words, matter cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed.  Geology is the great unifying science of the world, the eye of the needle all other sciences do, at some point and in some way, pass thru – astronomy, art, linguistics, paleontology, physics, biology, philosophy, medicine, chemistry, religion, agriculture, anthropology, sociology, meterology, geography, mathematics, climatology, economics … on and on goes the list.

Cape Ann is an extraordinary geological area and Halibut Point State Park is a great place to see that for yourself.  Here are some surprising facts about the geology of Cape Ann: Of the 5000 or so mineral substances that make up the vast majority of the mass and volume of the Earth, two, Annite and Danalite, were discovered on and primarily exist around Cape Ann.  Annite, named after Cape Ann, was first identified in Rockport.  You can learn more about Annite here.  Danalite, named after geology professor J.D. Dana, was initially identified at a Rockport Granite Company quarry in the 19th century.  This link gives you more information about Danalite and this Wikipedia excerpt will tell you more about Professor Dana, one of the foremost figures in the history of geology.

But that’s far from the end of the surprising facts about the geology of Cape Ann.  Here’s something many are astonished to learn:  Cape Ann is considered the third most active geological area in the United States.  The most active geological area is the San Andreas fault, we all know about that one; the second is the New Madrid fault in Missouri, where the largest known earthquake that has happened since Europeans settled the continent occured in 1800.  It was an earthquake so massive that the Mississippi River ran backwards for almost an entire day!  After those two areas comes Cape Ann.  The largest earthquake known to have taken place in New England  happened on Cape Ann in 1755.  That large quake, knocking down walls and chimneys of over a hundred buildings in Boston, was felt from Nova Scotia to South Carolina and over five hundred miles east at sea.  You can take a look at this document on file at the Massachusetts Historical Society to find out more about an event that profoundly affected the New England populace, as evidenced by the no fewer than twenty-seven sermons, poems, and accounts published in the following months featuring, to quote the Massachusetts Historical Society, “such titles Earthquakes the Works of God and Tokens of his Just Displeasure (by Thomas Prince) and The Duty of a People, Under Dark Providences, or Symptoms of Approaching Evils, to Prepare to Meet their God (by Eliphalet Williams).” 

If you’d like even more evidence of how geologically active Cape Ann is, check out this story from USA Weekend magazine, or this one from the Boston Globe, or have a look at this article in American Heritage.  If you want to see a charting of some of the long list of earthquakes that have happened on and around Cape Ann, just go here.  Better yet, click on this extraordinary map, “Earthquakes In and Near the Northeastern United States, 1638-1998″ from the US Geological Survey.  If you go to websites such as Microsoft TerraServer or Google Earth you can see some of the unique features of Cape Ann’s geology.  One of them you’ll notice is that the land beneath the region’s feet is so riddled with faults that it looks like a cracked windshield!  Just what exactly makes Cape Ann’s geology so active and so noteworthy?  That’s a longer story than a version of Notes should detail, but some clues are contained in the photographs published below this posting’s heading.  Geology is a science best savored in the field, away from the classroom and all that Godwana-Laurentia-Pangaea/continental rifting/plate tectonics talk we initially experience in school when exposed to the subject.  Yes, there’s a place for all that, but there’s so much to see around us to spur curiosity in this profound, graceful science and Halibut Point is a spectacular place to experience it.

An earlier version of Interpreter’s Notes promised an explanation of how Cape Ann granite achieved its unique 160lbs. per cubic foot density.  Briefly – at the end of the last great Ice Age, about 15,000 years ago, retreating glacier scraped many millions of years of sedimentary rock off the massive bedrock of granite that today makes up most of Cape Ann.  The bedrock granite, under the pressure of sedimentary rock for so long, became even more compressed than it was, and once the glacier scraped the surface sedimentary rock away, it left the granite close to the surface.  There may be granite of similar of greater density elsewhere, but most of it, never having had the benefit of such a staggering force of as a mile high mountain of ice to bring it near the surface, remains far under the ground where it cannot be mined.  If you look above at the center photograph under this posting’s heading you can clearly see the striations on the smoothed boulder, tracking north/northwest to south/southwest that was made by the retreating glacier.  Such evident examples of the last Ice Age exist all over Halibut Point, especially in the park’s “scablands” – the still existing grassy balds not far from the Babson Farm Quarry.        

In Herman and Nina Schneider’s classic, Rocks, Rivers, and the Changing Earth: A First Book About Geology the author’s do a remarkable job of connecting the subject to their reader: ”The fresh, crisp apple that you may eat today is as old as the hills.  And when you eat it, a tiny bit of those hills become you … Just think of what that apple may have been before it became part of you!  Once it may have been in the autumn leaves that fell and crumbled into the soil near the sprout of an apple tree.  Years before it may have been in the shell of a robin’s egg.  And once it may have been a part of a stalactite in some dark underground cavern.  Perhaps for a short while it flew high above the earth in a butterfly’s wing.  Long ago it may have been in a kernel of corn planted by some ancient people.  Today, when you eat that apple, these parts of the earth become part of you who are part of the world.”    

How wonderfully they state it!

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Interpreter’s Notes – The Overlook

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The most popular visual feature of Halibut Point State Park is the Overlook in its northeastern corner.  Standing above a 50′+ granite grout pile over the rocky shore, the Overlook is the site of several weddings a year and even more marriage proposals.  Perhaps that’s why Outdoor Recreation has named Halibut Point one of the top ten romantic spots in America.  From the Overlook, one can see Ipswich Bay, the mouth of the Merrimac River, the miles of sandy shore at Salisbury Beach Reservation, the Isle of Shoals in New Hampshire, Mt. Agamenticus and Boon Island in Maine, and even more on the right day.

When you stand at the tip of the Overlook at Halibut Point, you are on the closest spot in the continental United States to the continent of Europe – (that’s continent-to-continent) – the next stop is Cape Finisterre, Spain.

Staring down from the Overlook, the significant mountain of granite beneath you (known in quarry slang as a “grout pile”) represents the unused remants of the long abandoned Sandy Bay Breakwater project.  As far back as 1830 there was advocacy to make Rockport a national harbor of refuge, one reason being the lack of a large harbor between Portland and Boston.  It was over fifty years later before the idea took steps toward rock-solid reality, finally commencing in 1885.  Yet by thirty years later and after nearly two million tons of cut stone, from Babson Farm Quarry and other Rockport quarries, was placed onto sloops and scows and set beneath almost a thousand acres of sea bottom, the project remained barely one-quarter complete.  Perpetually behind schedule and over budget, the federal government declined to continue financing the project, leaving  what was intended as a refuge of safety to become the manmade hazard many see it as even today.  From the top of the Overlook you can see the unfinished breakwater as the long line of stone offshore to the far right.  You can find a detailed story about the early history of the Sandy Bay Breakwater in this 19th Century archival issue of Harper’s Bazaar.

After gazing to the far right at the Sandy Bay Breakwater, gently swing your  eyes slightly left at the gull-bleached mound warting up from the sea:  It’s the Dry Salvages - the-dry-salvages1-200-x-146.jpg a bare knuckle of granite with a name controversy too convoluted to detail in a few words, this slab above the spit is best known as the title of the third segment of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.  Eliot, born in Missouri, spent many summers of his youth on Cape Ann and  The Dry Salvages  is the only one of Eliot’s Four Quartets with an American setting.

(The Dry Salvages—presumably les trois sauvages—is a small group of rocks, with a beacon, off the N.E. coast of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. Salvages is pronounced to rhyme with assuages.  Groaner: a whistling buoy.)

That’s how Eliot described them in this work.  Four Quartets, each one written between a span of years, was published in 1943 and many view it as Eliot’s masterpiece, even going so far as to say it’s the work most responsible for his 1948 Nobel Prize award.  The work draws upon Eliot’s lifelong reflections upon symbolism, philosophy, mysticism and Christianity. 

“I do not know much about gods;” …

is the famous beginning to The Dry Salvages.  Eliot starts by writing about the river but soon alters focus: 

“The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation:
The starfish, the horseshoe crab, the whale’s backbone;
The pools where it offers to our curiosity
The more delicate algae and the sea anemone.
It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,
The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar
And the gear of foreign dead men. The sea has many voices,
Many gods and many voices.”

It’s quite an experience, bringing a copy of the text out to the Overlook and reading it while pondering the Salvages and the stoney shore below.  Eliot, some say, is “out of favor” today, but that’s hard to truly believe – type in T.S. Eliot on Google and you’ll come up with nearly two million hits!  Granted, Eliot as a writer does make you “do your homework,” but he’s well worth it.  For more about T.S. Eliot, Wikipedia’s article about him is a good information source, as is this one about Four Quartets.  For the entire text of The Dry Salvages, go here.

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