An event coming up Saturday, Nov. 27, to mark the 400-day countdown to Gloucester’s 400th anniversary will explore two centuries of the community’s history — 1723 to 1922 — from a time when fewer than 5,000 settlers scratched out a living farming, cutting wood and fishing close to shore, to a time when the city, with 23,000 residents and famous for its fishing, art scene and tourist attractions, had come to resemble the Gloucester of today.
At “Our Stories Continue: Illuminating Gloucester’s 2nd and 3rd centuries,” two narrators will touch on the highlights of this huge swath of Gloucester history, interspersed with musical interludes, readings and visual elements relating to the two centuries. Sponsored by the Gloucester400 Organizing Committee, the volunteer group pulling together the 2023 quadricentennial, the free event will be held at The Blue Collar Cafe at The Gloucester House on Rogers Street beginning at 3 p.m. Pre-registration is required (see sidebar).
It will, the organizers say, only scratch the surface of the layers of history and culture that make up this old port.
Consider the city’s maritime heritage: In 1723, the schooner — the vessel that defined the city’s fishing heyday — had been invented by Andrew Robinson just 10 years earlier. In 1922, the Gloucester schooner Henry Ford was beating the Canadian Bluenose in a disputed International Schooner Race that was covered by the New York Times and attended by the U.S. Secretary of the Navy.
Or look at the city’s cultural growth over those years: Fitz Henry Lane, born in 1804, would capture the Cape Ann light and in turn attract such artists as John Sloan, Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam and Edward Hopper to establish the place as a summer art colony. An intellectual legacy, from the groundbreaking writings of Judith Sargent Murray (born 1751) to the salons of the Gloucester Lyceum (established 1831), would be established.
The fishing industry would go from sail to power, and from salt cod to the frozen fish being developed in the Fort in 1922 by Clarence Birdseye. The granite industry would bring thousands of Finnish, Swedish and Irish immigrants to the Back of the Cape, just as other opportunities would bring people here from England, the Canadian Maritimes, Portugal, Italy, Brazil, Central America and other points around the globe. The Tappan Hotel, built in 1810 (and still standing today at 2 Main St.) and the massive Pavilion Hotel (1849, at the site of the present Beauport) would create a tourism industry; by 1922, tourists were being delivered by steamship, train and automobile to the magnificent grand hotels of Magnolia and East Gloucester.
Unpacking all those layers of Gloucester — teasing out all the threads that have contributed to the community’s character and vibrancy — is the foundation of what the Gloucester400 organizers hope to put together for 2023.
As Linn Doyle Parisi, who is putting together the Nov. 27 program as chair of the Gloucester400’s Heritage Committee, pointed out, “every day there could be something going on, because everyone who came here contributed, and every one of them has a story.”
After a series of early forums in 2018 aimed at getting ideas for the commemoration, “we were left thinking it’s all about the people, and all of their stories,” Parisi said. “We all came here at a specific point in Gloucester’s timeline, whether it was the indigenous people or the first settlers or someone who moved here last week. and every group, every person, brought their own values, culture, their own food…. and that’s what makes the colorful, beautiful quilt of this place.”
That sentiment led directly to one of the 400th’s signature projects so far, the 400 Stories Project, inviting the community to contribute histories of the people who capture Gloucester’s spirit and heritage. The 400th website, gloucesterma400.org, already includes a number of remembrances, both written and oral, from fishermen such as Al Cottone and quarry workers such as Hjalmer Ray to ballplayers (Stuffy McInnis), musicians (Sylvester Ahola) and community leaders (Lena Novello)
The stories project is being shepherded along with help from several groups, such as the Gloucester Writers Center and the Cape Ann Finns, in the type of partnerships that the 400th organizers hope to recreate with groups around the city. Gloucester has dozens of events that mark its heritage — St. Peter’s Fiesta, the International Dory Races and the Schooner Festival, St. Joseph’s Novena, the annual crownings of Portuguese community — and scores of gatherings and performances that could be tied in with the 400th.
Gloucester400 sees the next two years as “abundant in collaborations throughout the city,” said the 400th’s executive director, Laura Alberghini Ventimiglia. The 400th committee is coordinating with the city’s cultural, heritage, governmental and community organizations; some could offer special versions of their annual events, while others might provide special offerings during 2023.
The upcoming program on Nov. 27 was intended to be the third of four, one for each century. The first event, “Our Stories Begin: 1623-1722” at the Unitarian Universalist Church in November 2019, covered the earliest days, paying homage to both the early inhabitants — the Algonquian people who established settlements around Cape Ann where they raised crops, harvested fish and clams and hunted game — and the first settler families of the 17th century, whose names were read in a roll call by descendants. COVID-19 measures postponed the second talk in 2020, so organizers are doubling up with this year’s program.
Though not an in-depth look at 200 years of Gloucester’s timeline, the two narrators will lead the audience through the historical aspects of the community’s second and third centuries, touching on significant milestones in the New England colony, in the newly formed United States and in the world that impacted Gloucester’s growth, its people and their progress as an evolving and growing community. The many waves of immigration to Gloucester will be a particular focus throughout the program.
Next year, 2022, will bring the 400th’s first major banquet/fundraiser, along with what the organizers hope will be a series of smaller events such a speakers’ series to delve deeper into history, and writing workshops to support the “400 Stories” project, all leading into 2023.
As it’s shaping up, the largest events of 2023 will be held at least once per quarter: A springtime preview to reveal what’s in store for the rest of the year; a summer tribute to Gloucester’s waterfront and fishing history; a fall event to look at the city’s diverse heritage, art and community; and a late-season closing commemoration.
Outside of these major happenings will be medium- to small-sized programs hosted by the 400th’s individual committees — Arts, Athletics, Diversity & Equity, Education, Food, Heritage, Marine and Waterways, Veterans. Ladled onto that will be events put on by partner organizations that commemorate Gloucester’s industries, community, and local talents.
“Gloucester400 is more than a celebration of our 400th anniversary,” observed Bruce Tobey, one of the tri-chairs of the Organizing Committee along with Ruth Pino and Robert Gillis. “It’s also meant to offer times of reflection so we can appreciate where we’ve come from — reaching back beyond 1623 — and be better able to plan where we are going. This illumination is an important part of that effort.”