Archive for the 'Quarry' Category

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.”


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 and   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.


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.

October 2010 Programs & Events


In October 2010, Halibut Point State Park is featuring two special events:

On Sunday, October 3rd from 1-4:00pm the Center for Wildlife from Cape Neddick, Maine is sponsoring A Wildlife Party!  This afternoon of live-animal presentations is an education opportunity for all to learn about the New England wildlife we share the environment with, the challenges they face, and what we all can do to lessen human impact on these animals.  Come find out more about the Center for Wildlife, one of the largest wildlife rehabilitation facilities in New England – this event is FREE and also offers free food, a granite-splitting demonstration, a look at Halibut Point’s new high-tech NOAA Automatic Ship Identification display and trips up to the top levels of the park’s World War Two artillery fire control tower.  There will be free gifts, live-animal presentations featuring CFW’s wildlife ambassadors at 2:00 & 3:00pm and more.  Come enjoy the fun and find out more about this wonderful organization.

Sunday, October 10th from 1-3:00pm is Military History Day at Halibut Point.  Join us in the Visitors Center for this program detailing the military history of Halibut Point and its artillery fire control tower, the only World War Two structure of its kind in New England open to the public today.  Constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and initially staffed by the Army Coast Artillery Corps, its defense role continued in the 1950’s as a classified radar research facility used by the Air Force in conjunction with MIT’s Lincoln Lab.  This program features Gordon Bliss, Preservation Officer of the Coast Defense Study Group and also entails a tour of the tower and description of Halibut Point’s two centuries of military history.   

Standard programming for October 2010 at Halibut Point State Park includes the Quarry Tour at 10:00am on the Saturdays of October 2nd and 9th and Birding for Beginners with Peter Van Demark on Sunday, October 16th at 8:00am.

September 2010 Programs & Events

September’s programming at Halibut Point State begins with a full schedule on the Labor Day holiday weekend beginning with a Tidepools program on Friday, September 3rd at 11:00am.  On Saturday the 4th at 10:00am and continuing on every Saturday in Spetember is the park’s Quarry Tour featuring a granite-spiltting display, video and walk around the former Babson Farm quarry.  On Sunday the 5th (and also on the 12th & 26th) at 12:00pm Halibut Point is offering its military history tour that includes a climb to the top of the park’s World War Two artillery fire-control tower.  On Labor Day, Monday September 6th the DCR will be sponsoring another Atlantic Path program.   This program is a three-hour trek along Rockport’s resplendent public coastline and participants should be advised that it entails negotiating some challenging terrain. 

On Sunday, September 12th, Halibut Point is offering its final Sunday Sounds concert – a concert of bluegrass renditions of popular oldies with the Squatch Bondo Band.  And a very big thanks to the Friends of Halibut Point State Park for their continued support of the park’s concert series!    On Monday, September 13th at 10:00am Halibut Point is offering another Tideppols progam and on Sunday, September 19th at 8:00am Peter Van Demark is leading another Birding for Beginners – meet Peter in the parking lot.

On the Mondays of September 20 & 27 at 10:00am  the park is offering Geology Rocks! a presentation about this great unifying science and the unique geology of Cape Ann.

Saturday, September 25th at 1:00pm the Friends of Halibut Point State Park are sponsoring another program from the Center of Wildlife, Cape Neddick, Maine.  Birds of Prey will include live hawks, owls and more – come and learn about the raptors of New England   from one of the largest wildlife rehabilitation facilites in our region.  For more about the Center for Wildlife, go to

All programs and events at Halibut Point State Park are FREE and unless otherwise noted meet at the park’s Visitors Center.  For a flyer with the park’s schedule that you can print or download, just click here.

Coming to Halibut Point State Park in October – a wildlife party!