Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A piece of history crumbles

December 28, 2010
A piece of history crumbles


By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer
The Gloucester Daily Times
Tue Dec 28, 2010, 11:19 PM EST

The Lane's Cove seawall, built at a painstaking pace — 14 years from conception to dedication in 1842 — has persevered through a most unstable history for locally cut granite blocks weighing five to eight tons each.

The thematic history of the seawall, to be sure, can be understood to be the Lanesville people's refusal to accept nature's clear conclusion that no permanent impediment to the force of the waters of Ipswich Bay around the natural opening into a harbor small enough to be called quaint can be allowed.

The latest sign of the people's violation of the natural law was a force of water and wind Sunday night and Monday morning — in the harridan of a storm that marked the start of winter and took a couple of big bites out of the wall.

The damage described in Tuesday's Times significantly understated the harm done, according to the first comprehensive report and assessment made by Harbormaster Jim Caulkett, in an e-mail to Mayor Carolyn Kirk.

"Lane's Cove has received severe damage in two locations, standing on land looking out at the entrance (commonly called the 'Hole in the Wall'), Caulkett wrote. "The left hand side (south side) lost several courses of stone for a length of about 100 feet on the outer main wall. The right hand side (north side) has a 20 foot to 30 collapse to the inner wall where the boats actually moor."

Public Works Director Michael Hale said Tuesday he would not be able to even estimate the cost of repair before a firm with expertise in seawall construction does a structural evaluation. Such a firm is Vine Associates, which has consulted to many recent city projects including the Cripple Cove seawall reconstruction in the early years of the last decade and the continuing work on Stacy Boulevard, said Hale.

His "guess" was that repairs would cost at least $1 million, with possible contributions from the federal government or state, which declared a storm emergency on Sunday, opening the door for application.

The last repair/reconstruction of the seawall was carried out in 1994-95, using more than $500,000 in funds provided by the Federal Emergency Management agency for damages done in the storms of 1969, 1973, 1978 (the Blizzard of '78) and 1983, according to the archives of the Times.

As with most things Lanesville, fierce discussion, even argument galvanized the planning for the last rebuild.

Reporting on a community meeting at the Plum Cove School on Sept. 16, 1994, Barbara Erkkila, the author/journalist/historian wrote for the Times that the strong sentiment was reinforced historical accuracy.

Concrete was used to give the wall more strength to resist the fierce combinations, waves of blows blown in by nor'easters, similar to the one that did the recent damage.

"Lanesville people were also reassured that, as original blocks of stone were removed to work the reinforced concrete in place, the stones would be replaced exactly as they were," Erkkila noted,

"It seems," she wrote, "that most villagers are familiar with each stone in the breakwater and they don't want them out of place when it is completed."

From the earliest records, even before the settlement took its name from the settler John Lane in 1700 — when it was called descriptively Flatstone Cove for the remarkably flat granite face that pancakes out into the bay to the south of the Gap — villagers, fishermen first and later quarrymen saw the need for a seawall.

Its history is traceable to members of the original settlement, who ventured north past the mouth of the Annisquam estuary, before "the Cut" was made and found shelter from a surprise nor'easter in the little harbor and saw the obvious clear need for a breakwater.

As Erkkila wrote in her book "Village at Lane's Cove," the construction of the breakwater waited for the arrival of the granite quarrying technology that would be required to bring in and assemble the blocks.

The architect and organizer of the project was Michael Duley, for whom the approach road to the cove is named.

Granite was quarried from the earliest days for moorings and for mill stones — there is "the" millstone for the original Riverdale mill outside the Richdale convenience store on Washington Street.

In their book, "The Saga of Cape Ann," Melvin T. Copeland and Elliot C. Rogers describe how six-foot square stones 10 to 15 inches thick would be bored through to create a doughnut structure into which "the trunk of an oak tree, with the top cut off about 20 feet from the base then was shoved through the hole in the block. The roots were left on the oak truck and kept it from pulling through the hole in the stone."

When a rope was tied to the top of the tree, the tree was dropped at the spot chosen for a mooring, and in such a way, the boats of Lanesville's early years as a fishing and farming village were held secure from tide and storm.

But in 1828, the first industrial quarrying began. The Lanesville Granite Co. was incorporated in 1828, and it constructed the loading pier in the cove for the granite schooners and then came the breakwater and for its first few decades the cove was primarily used for granite loading. As many as 350 people were cutting and hauling granite.

The industry spread to Bay View and Hodgkins Cove was adapted for the freighters, which were loaded with stone cut from the quarries on either side of the railroad that ran along what is now Quarry Street.

In her history of Lane's Cove, Erkkila counted "more than 50 small two-man quarries scattered all the way from Halibut Point to the Bay View line ... There was solid noise every day in the village."

"There was solid noise all day everywhere in the village," she wrote. "Quarry pumps ran all night and there was continual blasting with black powder. Shrill whistles signaled derrick movements, or warned of explosions to come, often followed by a special whistle for doctors to hurry there."

Whatever else they lacked, in their effort to keep nature at bay, the villagers of Lane's Cove and Lanesville had no dearth of granite for their redoubt.

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-07000, x3464, or at


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