Archive for the 'About Halibut Point' Category



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 $5.00 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 ( 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.


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


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.

Interpreter’s Notes – The Overlook


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.




Interpreter’s Notes – The Atlantic Path


In the early years of European settlement of America residence along the coastline was considered appropriate only for the more economically disadvantaged among the community.  Needless to point out, things have certainly changed.  Today we’re all quite aware of the ever increasing material value of waterfront property.  Hand-in-hand with that truth goes a number of issues relating to public access of the coastal areas that belong to us all.  It’s estimated that in New England the public has easy access only to about half of the coastal topography that belongs to everyone.  In Massachusetts, the laws governing public access to coastal lands is even more restrictive than in other states with shorelines.  In 1647 the Massachusetts Bay Colony Ordinances moved the line between public and private property to the low water mark, a situation which still prevails and is in reverse of what exists in most states today.  In Massachusetts, the intertidal area between the low and high water mark is presumed to belong to the waterfront property owner.  In other words, the coastal property owner is considered the owner of the coastal area to the low tide mark.  The original intent in creating these “private tidelands” during the Colonial era was to facilitate private wharf construction and economic development.  Although the 1647 Colonial Ordinance transferred ownership of intertidal flats from public to private, it did not relinquish all property rights held in trust by the state.  It did not give up public rights to the waters above the land and also preserved the right for the public to continue to use private tidelands for the purposes of fishing, fowling and navigation.  Over time, with many new business and recreational activities the public enjoys, courts have had to step in to interpret the spirit of the initial Colonial Ordinance.  In 1991, Massachusetts passed a special act that requires a public on foot free right-of-passage along the shore between the low and high tide line subject to certain limitations.  Perhaps not surprisingly, waterfront property landowners had a frosty response to this new law, even with being absolved of liability from the results of the public’s access under the Massachusetts Recreational Use Law.  Today, even with this more recent legislation, public access to waterfront areas remains a sometimes contentious issue in the state, with the public unaware of their rights or not aware of how they can gain access to a shoreline that belongs to all. However, due in part to the efforts of the town of Rockport, the public can find almost two miles of unfettered coastal access that is called The Atlantic Path.  The nearly two miles of public coastline is, at its most informal definition, made up of three public resources – The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation at Halibut Point State Park, the abutting acres belonging to Trustees of Reservations, and the town of Rockport’s land next to it.  Although only the Rockport coast section is officially designated as The Atlantic Path and is partly called Sea Rocks, the land belonging to the public stretches from the northwest corner of Halibut Point State Park all the way to Pigeon Cove.  If you consider exploring The Atlantic Path, there are a couple of things you should know – the Path is not really a “path” per se; although some areas of it are a defined path, the route encompasses a bouldery shore, some clambering around jagged rocks by privately owned property as well as traveling through seaside thickets.  However, the reward is great for those embarking upon the trek – hikers will encounter numerous and diverse flora & fauna, wonderful tidepools and some of the most extraordinary geology found on Cape Ann.  (Including a sprawling, stunning pegmatitic formation you can see a bit of in the middle photo prefacing this version of Interpreter’s Notes – for more on pegmatites and their significance go here.)  Another factor to consider if considering an exploration of the path is where and how to access it.  Many points of access are narrow footpaths located on residential streets with limited or no parking for non-residents.  Those whom explore The Atlantic Path often find the best way to gain access to the area is to park at the Halibut Point parking lot and either head into the park and down to the shore from there or walk down to the end of Gott Ave. and onto the Trustees Path.  Several years ago Halibut Point initiated an Atlantic Path program that explores this wonderful shore.  The program, usually featuring a guest educator or two as well as park personnel, is scheduled monthly in June, July and August.  In 2009, Halibut Point’s first Atlantic Path program will be on Saturday, June 6th at 2:00pm.  Please check our monthly program schedules as they are are posted for details and dates for July & August.  If you plan on attending one of the park’s Atlantic Path programs there are some things to consider: remember that the path is sometimes challenging, with it often necessary to climb around boulders; the program is a solid three hours in length with no amenities once we are out there; and frequent bramble, thicket and poison ivy leave us recommending attendees do not wear shorts.  We hope you’ll attend an Atlantic Path program at Halibut Point State Park or find some time to enjoy the path on your own.  If you’d prefer to explore Rockport’s Atlantic Path on your own, you can find a map listing some path access points here.  As a member of  Rockport’s Right-of-Way Committee once said, “The best way to insure the posterity of your public lands is to use them.”

August 2011 Programs & Events

The August 2011 schedule of special events at Halibut Point begins on Saturday, August 6 at 1:00pm with Nature Day – two back-to-back live animal programs featuring creatures seldom seen.  It starts with Nocturnal  Mammals with The Center for Wildlife from Cape Neddick, Maine.  The Center, one of the largest wildlife rehabilitation facilities in New England, is bringing along some of their wildlife ambassadors who will demonstrate the advantages and challenges of nocturnal life and reveal their unique adaptations to life in the dark.   Following Nocturnal Mammals at 3:00pm Richard Wolniewicz of Mass. Audubon is offering Essex County Amphibians and bringing along newts, frogs, toads salamanders and more.  Special events for the weekend of August 6-7 continue on Sunday the 7th at 2:00pm with the Gloucester Area Astronomy Club offering The Sun: Exploring Our Nearest Star, a safe solar viewing program featuring some special activities ans NASA handouts.

The Atlantic Path, a three-hour trek along Rockport’s resplendent public coastline, is being offered on the Sundays of August 14 & 28 from 1-4:00pm.  Please be advised – this hike entails negotiating some challenging terrain.  Also consider not wearing shorts, bringing water and some insect repellent of choice.

On Sunday, August 21 at 8:00am Peter Van Demark is hosting the monthly Birding for Beginners at Halibut Point.  As usual, meet peter in the parking lot.

Shakespeare in the Park with the Rebel Shakespeare Company is returning to Halibut Point on Saturday, August 27 at 5:00pm with The Taming of the Shrew.  Bring a blanket or chair and a picnic for this  production overlooking the former Babson Farm quarry.

Standard programs at Halibut Point in August 2011 is the Quarry Tour on Saturdays at 10:00am.  The Military History of Halibut Point is offered on the Thursdays of August 4 & 18 at 12:00pm and Tidepools will be on Thursday, August 25 at 1:00pm and on Friday the 26th at 2:00pm.  Also in August, Reading the Granite Landscape, a natural history of granite told via geology, plant communities, environmental forces, human use and more is being offered on the Mondays of August 8, 15 & 22 at 10:00am.  For a flyer you can download describing Halibut Point’s Augsut 2011 schedule, click here.

July 2011 Programs & Events

Halibut Point State Park is featuring a large number of special events in July, beginning with The Atlantic Path on Sunday, July 3rd (and also on Sunday the 24th, both dates from 1-4:00pm).  This program, a three-hour trek along Rockport’s resplendent public coastline, entails negotiaiting some challenging terrain, including some bouldering, stretches of significant poison ivy, overgrown thicket and muddy spots but the payoff is great – interesting history, tidepools, a varies shoreline and very interesting geology.  Meet at the park’s Visitors Center, don’t wear shorts, and bring water and sunscreen.  Best for ages twelve and up.  On Friday, July 8th from 7-10pm Halibut Point is offering Stargazing in conjunction with the Gloucester Area Astronomy Club.  Bring your telescope and if you don’t have one there will be plenty on hand.  And on Saturday, July 9 at 2:00pm Terry Dutton of D & D Masonry will be at the park with a Modern Stonecutting program demonstrating today’s methods and equipment used in fashioning stonework.  This program takes place outside Halibut Point’s Visitors Center.  Saturday, July 16th at 2:00pm brings Snakes of Massachusetts and the World with Rick Roth and the Cape Ann Vernal Pond Team.  This very popular program features some thirty live snakes!  Sunday, July 17th at 3:00pm is a Sunday Sounds concert of classic hits with Midlife Crisis.  Both Snakes of Massachusetts and the World and Sunday Sounds are brought to you by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Friends of Halibut Point State Park.  And on Satruday, July 23rd at 5;00pm the third season of Shakespeare in the Park with the Rebel Shakespeare Company gets underway with Macbeth.

Standard park programs at Halibut Point in July are the Quarry Tour on the Saturdays of July 2nd, 9th, 16th and 23rd at 10:00am.  Meeting at the Visitors Center, this program features a video, granite-splitting demonstration and tour of the former Babson Farm Quarry.  The Military History of Halibut Point is offered on Mondays at 12:00pm.  Encompassing almost two centuries of military history at Halibut Point, the program also includes a climb to the top of the five-story artillery fire control tower.   It’ll be down to the rocky shore for some inter-tidal exploration with Tidepools on Thursday, July 7th at 10:00am, Thursday, July 21st at 10:00am, Friday, July 22nd at 10:00am and Thursday, July 28th at 3:00pm.  And July’s Birding for Beginners with Peter Van Demark will be on Sunday, July 17th at 8:00am – meet Peter in the parking lot.   A July schedule you can download is available here.

June 2011 Programs & Events

Special programs at Halibut Point State in June begin on Wednesday, June 1st with Keep Moving! a walking program for seniors sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.  To get your fitness club involved, call 617-624-5972.  On Sunday, June 5th at 1:00pm the park is featuring Reading the Granite LandscapeThis program details the natural history of granite tols via geology, plant communities and succession. environmental forces and human use.  Another special program for June is the latest trek of The Atlantic Path.  A three-hour trek along Rockport’s resplendent public coastline, we advise that this hike entails negotiation some challenging terrain.  The next Birding for Beginners is taking place on Sunday, June 19th at 8:00am.  Meet Peter van Demark in Halibut Point’s parking lot.  Also on Sunday, June 19th at 3:00pm is a Sunday Sounds concert with perennial park favorites Livin’ on Luck providing classic hits unplugged.  And on Monday, June 20th at noon Halibut Point is hosting the DCR Universal Access Team for a quarry ramble for those of all abilities.  To let them know you’ll be attending, give them a call at 413-545-5758.

Standard park programs for June are the Quarry Tour on Saturdays June 4th, 11th and 18th at 10:00am.  This 90 minute tour entails the showing of a video, a granite-splitting demonstration and a walk around the former Babson Farm Quarry.  The Military History of Halibut Point is being offered on the Mondays of June 13th, 20th and 27th at both noon and 6:00pm.  And costal exploration with Tidepools will take place on Thursday, June 2nd at 8:00am and Friday, June 3rd at 9:00am.  For a flyer you can download containing June 2011 Halibut Point State Park programs and events just click here.