West Gloucester History
In 1623, the Dorchester Company, a group of West County English investors, sponsored a colony of fourteen fishermen at Stage Fort, Gloucester’s first settlement. The colony was to be an eastern terminal for the transatlantic fishing trade. This was one of many such fishing camps that dotted the Atlantic coast from Maryland to Maine. By creating permanent bases near fishing grounds, investors hoped to eliminate the costs of expensive annual voyages to the fishing banks. After three years of financial losses, the Stage Fort settlement was abandoned, and the Dorchester Company, with an influx of families, moved south to found Naumkeag, which later became Salem.
West Gloucester developed as one of Gloucester’s dispersed agricultural areas during the 17th century. By 1650, a number of mills had been built in West Gloucester, including one of America’s first tidal mills—on Walker Creek near Concord Street. In 1700, approximately one-quarter of Gloucester’s population lived in West Gloucester; the earliest houses were located near today’s Stage Fort Park. As the town’s population grew during the 18th century, new parishes were formed, including the Second Parish in West Gloucester in 1713 in West Gloucester. From the 18th through the early 20th centuries, West Gloucester remained agricultural, becoming the community’s principal agricultural area by the late 19th century. The most notable of several family clusters was the Haskell family district around Essex Avenue, with others on Lincoln Street, Sumner Street, and Concord Street along Walker Creek.
During the 19th century farmhouses were built along established roads such as Essex Avenue, Concord Street, and Sumner Street; virtually no new streets were laid out. This was due to the marshy terrain at the shoreline and the rocky interior. A typical single farm at the turn of the 19th century was scattered over a wide area and consisted of mowing land for hay, tillage, or plough land, salt marsh, a wood lot, and cow rights for grazing on common land. West Gloucester saw little new development during the late 19th and 20th centuries. Several large parks were established in the area during the late 19th century, including Ravenswood Park (1889), Mt. Ann Park (1897), and Stage Fort Park (1898). Summer resort development began at Coffin’s Beach and Wingaersheek Beach in the early 20th century, peaking in the mid-20th century.
(Sources: The preceding text is largely quoted from Leslie Donovan and Kim Withers Brengle, “A Preservation Plan for the City of Gloucester, Massachusetts,” 1990. Supplemental information was added from the Gloucester Development Team’s Land Marks; Architecture and Preservation in Gloucester, 1979; an unpublished manuscript, “Artists’ Communities in Gloucester, 1750-1948,” by Wendy Frontiero, 1998; and comments from the Gloucester Archives Committee.)
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