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From the Neck Up

So I’m (finally) picking up where I left off. We were, you’ll recall, on Bear Skin Neck in the little town of Rockport, MA. We were walking about the little shops and galleries of the Neck, and we were enjoying ourselves exploring a place that was absolutely familiar to us (we’d been there many, many times during our years in Massachussets) and yet also new--so many things had changed.

We entered this shop and that. In one store, Martha bought a sun hat--and just then the sun was shining fiercely. Then we checked out a clothing store or two--Martha didn’t find anything she wanted. Then we visited a shop that, for some reason, specializes in Mexican themed items and and prints of Frida Kahlo’s paintings (Yes. Yes. I know. She was a genius. I just wish that people would pay a little more attention to other Mexican artists as well.)

Then, we went past the fudge shop. Though, we didn’t go in or get any. Sigh. Between Martha’s problems with sugar and mine with fats, the days of wolfing down a quarter pound of Chocolate Chip and/or Maple Walnut are long gone.

Then we drifted past the ice cream shop...ditto (also sigh). Then we went past more clothing and souvenir shops. And, finally, we were at the end of the Neck.

This is an interesting place. You come to a point where the road basically ends. The shops and stores are behind you, now. But there is a round-about for traffic, and some cars do come up that far, though most people try to walk the short distance. It is awfully congested for vehicles.

But drive or walk, if you do make it that far, you find yourself with the sea on three sides. Immediately in front of you, there is a long, slender breakwater built up of huge white rocks, stretching off far into the water, and ending in a little tower. Everyone, particularly young people, head off along those rocks, clambering and scampering to the tower, as a kind of rite of passage. You haven’t visited the Neck unless you’ve done the rocks. And I did it with our son David many times.

At the end of the Neck.

Today, it is a little beyond our balance ability, so we stayed where we were. Which is fine...

Oh, and if you visit, and you stand on the end of the Neck, face the sea, and look to your left (that is, to the North) you’ll see a huge stone platform just under the cold water. It could be a reef, except it is far too regular. Clearly it was man-made. The question is why and what it is doing there.

It can be hard to find an answer to that. But I gather, from much Web-searching, that this was part of a great (failed) effort to make Rockport a major port. Apparently, in 1885, the government decided that the US needed a deep water port on the northern coast of New England where warships and large commercial vessels could seek shelter during storms...and sally forth to do battle with foreign fleets should the British, or the Germans, or whoever decide to bombard Boston.(* See footnote below.)

To this end, and with lots of money from Washington, engineers began work on a 9000 foot long granite breakwater. That, or rather part of it, is what you see in the water just offshore.

A Really Lousy Picture Of The Lost Breakwater

If the project had been completed, Rockport would have been a very different place -- more like Pearl Harbor, perhaps, or San Diego, and the town would be full of sailors and the businesses which cater to them.

But, it was not to be. The Navy shifted its efforts south, to Boston and beyond, and the technology of ships and ship-building also changed. The Rockport that would have been perfect for sail and steam was not well situated for steel and diesel. So, by 1915, the whole project was abandoned, and all that was left was 300 or so feet of the uncompleted breakwater, just under the waves and, I assume, a hazard for pleasure boats and fishermen.

And, thinking of this, and much else,, we stood there for a time and looked out at the sea, where boats, and ships, and birds made their way across the horizon.

Then, suddenly, we realized two things. First, we were hungry. Second, for the first time in days, we were getting cold.

More to come.

Last picture of the day, and again nothing to do with the story, Martha at a little restaurant in Leander, Texas. I just like the photo.


For details of the attempt to turn Rockport into a major base, I rely on this article, “ History resurfaced : New book remembers forgotten project that could have forever changed Rockport,” By Gail McCarthy, Gloucester Daily Times, Jul 11, 2018,


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Copyright©2023 Michael Jay Tucker

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