Friday, March 21, 2014

The Saga of Sunset Rock

Even if you don't have time to stop in at Halibut Point for a sunset stroll, the view from the bend in the road across Folly Cove will be spectacular. From how many places on the East Cost can you see the sun set over the ocean?
Stereopticon view near Pigeon Cove, Sandy Bay Historical Society
Back when the attractions of our area were just being discovered by the vacationing public, Henry Leonard recommended that visitors stretch their legs from the resorts on Phillips Avenue.
At the going down of the sun many walk the little distance on the old road of the village to Sunset Rock in the Babson pasture. Here the spectacle of the setting sun, and of the colors that slowly fade while the evening's shades are falling, is the more than reward for strolling a few rods. 
 Pigeon Cove and Vicinity, 1873

The destination was a pastured overlook with a 270° panorama of Massachusetts Bay. That landscape, considerably altered by quarrying, eventually became Halibut Point State Park. Wouldn't it be nice to know what it looked like back then?
"Sunset Rock"
Les Bartlett turned up a slide labeled "Sunset Rock" by Bill Hoyt, former curator of the Sandy Bay Historical Society. Bill had spent youthful summers at nearby Folly Cove. He made slide copies of numerous local interests. Could this photo be showing the crest of Halibut Point prior to demolition by the granite industry?

I made my interest known to local historians, archivists, and recreationists. Cautions of interpretation came in from all directions. Joe Garland had pointed to a Sunset Rock as a hiking destination intriguingly linked to another Babson farm:
        Across from the Babson farm, whose cows not so many years ago supplied Gloucester with milk from the Riverdale meadows....Sunset Rock rises unmistakably on our left front, the granite hump of The Poles on our right.
                                                                The Gloucester Guide, A Retrospective Ramble, 1973.

I climbed the trail through the Poles Hill reservation in Riverdale to take a look. The views are splendid as promised, but I couldn't find a topographic duplicate to my photo. I had to believe that Halibut Point was still in the running.
"Sunset Rock," Riverdale 2014
In The Geology of Cape Ann (1888) Nathaniel Shaler illustrated a local granite formation with this drawing "Annisquam Sunset Rock." I searched the westward-facing slopes of Annisquam without finding a convincing match to my quest.
Shaler's ”Sunset Rock, Annisquam" 1888
There were trails on the ground and in the archives. I checked atlases of the period published by George Walker of Boston. A newspaper of the day reported the mapping activity.
      The quaint-looking wheelbarrow run along our sidewalks the present week [is] an odometer, measuring, as it goes, and used in making an accurate survey of the village....
Cape Ann Advertiser, September 29, 1882
Up in the sky a fantastical invention was making it possible for artists to gain aerial perspectives from hot air balloons.
Folly Point, Halibut Point, Andrews Point,
top to bottom on the right of this view in 1886.
Pigeon Cove Harbor is bottom center.
Of course I couldn't see enough detail to identify Sunset Rock. Then another slide surfaced from Bill Hoyt's collection, a copy of a painting from the late nineteenth century.

"Evening, Pigeon Cove"  
Kruseman Van Elten, 1874
The boulders and cows in this pastoral scene united nicely with the possibilities of Babson Farm on Halibut Point in the 1800s. I made another field trip, finding places where the features of Folly Point and Ipswich Bay line up quite precisely with those in the painting. The artist was taking in a sunset from Halibut Point almost a century and a half ago.

It was an expansive time in America.  Cape Ann was becoming a destination of industry, art and leisure. 'Pigeon Cove' referred to an experience broader than the North Village of Rockport or the fishing and granite-shipping harbor at its center.

1 comment:

  1. I must admit that reading your post and seeing the pictures made me feel nostalgic for a place I lived almost half my in. Thank you for your efforts.