, Salem, MA


April 16, 2013

Essex County Chronicles: Swan's work offers a look at Rockport's past


While women had made great strides for gender equality in recent decades, the battle was still being fought in 1895. At one “spirited public session” held in the town, Alice York argued that as women shared “a right to the gallows, jail and tax list” with men, they were entitled to many benefits, as well. In his rebuttal to York and her allies, reports Swan, Pastor Dolloff made the point that “women already had more privileges than they could use.” One can easily imagine the reaction of the women present to that statement.

A number of other entries in these chapters of “Town on Sandy Bay” relate to the ongoing development of Rockport’s tourism industry at the turn of the century. New inns and smaller tourist hotels seemed to crop up every season, and each had its own promotional strategy. The female proprietor of the New Oakdene smartly advertised her inn as the “ideal summer home, especially restful for brain workers.” Talk about niche marketing.

The town’s beaches came under great scrutiny during this period, as they were becoming increasingly popular with tourists. Restrictions against dumping in local waters were enacted, and the problem of open drains was tackled by the Board of Health. What apparently was viewed as another source of beach “pollution” was also addressed by the town, which posted signs announcing that “Nude bathers will be prosecuted if detected.”

The Rockport shoreline also attracted entrepreneurs of an unusual stripe in the late 1890s. In the spring and summer of 1898, the Cape Ann Advertiser kept area residents abreast of developments at the Halibut Point operation, which was attempting to “obtain gold from salt-water.” By August, the plan was going full tilt, but apparently little became of it. Swan concludes his coverage of this brief saga by noting that “the only gold that Halibut Point produced was goldenrod and ragweed.”

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