Gloucester, Massachusetts

Coordinates: 42°36′57″N 70°39′45″W / 42.61583°N 70.66250°W / 42.61583; -70.66250
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Gloucester, Massachusetts
Man at the Wheel, Fisherman's Memorial Cenotaph
Man at the Wheel, Fisherman's Memorial Cenotaph
Official seal of Gloucester, Massachusetts
"The Place To Be In The Summer"
"America's Oldest Seaport"
Location in Essex County and Massachusetts.
Location in Essex County and Massachusetts.
Gloucester is located in Massachusetts
Location in the United States
Gloucester is located in the United States
Gloucester (the United States)
Coordinates: 42°36′57″N 70°39′45″W / 42.61583°N 70.66250°W / 42.61583; -70.66250
CountryUnited States
Incorporated (town)1642
Incorporated (city)1873
Named forGloucester, England
 • TypeMayor-council city
 • MayorGregory P. Verga
 • Total41.51 sq mi (107.51 km2)
 • Land26.19 sq mi (67.84 km2)
 • Water15.32 sq mi (39.68 km2)
50 ft (15 m)
 • Total29,729
 • Density1,135.00/sq mi (438.23/km2)
Time zoneUTC−5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−4 (Eastern)
ZIP code
Area code351 / 978
FIPS code25-26150
GNIS feature ID0615084

Gloucester (/ˈɡlɒstər/ GLOST-ər) is a city in Essex County, Massachusetts, United States. It sits on Cape Ann and is a part of Massachusetts's North Shore. The population was 29,729 at the 2020 U.S. Census.[2] An important center of the fishing industry and a popular summer destination, Gloucester consists of an urban core on the north side of the harbor and the outlying neighborhoods of Annisquam, Bay View, Lanesville, Folly Cove, Magnolia, Riverdale, East Gloucester, and West Gloucester.


The boundaries of Gloucester originally included the town of Rockport, in an area dubbed "Sandy Bay". The village separated formally from Gloucester on February 27, 1840. In 1873, Gloucester was reincorporated as a city.

Contact period[edit]

Native Americans inhabited what would become northeastern Massachusetts for thousands of years prior to the European colonization of the Americas. At the time of contact, the area was inhabited by Agawam people under sachem Masconomet.[3] Evidence of a village exists on Pole's Hill in the current Riverdale neighborhood.[4]

In 1606 Samuel de Champlain explored the harbor, and produced the first known map of Gloucester harbor titling it le Beau port. This map suggests substantial Native American settlement on the shores of the harbor. In 1614 John Smith again explored the area, identifying the indigenous inhabitants as Aggawom.[5] In 1623 men from the Dorchester Company established a permanent fishing outpost in the area.[6]

At the Cape Ann settlement a legal form of government was established, and from that Massachusetts Bay Colony sprung. Roger Conant was the governor under the Cape Ann patent, and as such, has been called the first governor of Massachusetts.[7][8]

Life in this first settlement was harsh and it was short-lived. Around 1626 the place was abandoned, and the people removed themselves to Naumkeag (in what is now called Salem, Massachusetts), where more fertile soil for planting was to be found. The meetinghouse and governor's house were even disassembled and relocated to the new place of settlement.

Second English Settlement[edit]

At some point in the following years—though no record exists—the area was slowly resettled by English colonists. The town was formally incorporated in 1642. It is at this time that the name "Gloucester" first appears on tax rolls, although in various spellings. The town took its name from the city of Gloucester in southwest England, perhaps from where many of its new occupants originated but more likely because Gloucester, England, was a Parliamentarian stronghold, successfully defended with the aid of the Earl of Essex against the King in the Siege of Gloucester of 1643.

This new permanent settlement focused on the Town Green area, an inlet in the marshes at a bend in the Annisquam River. This area is now the site of Grant Circle, a large traffic rotary at which Massachusetts Route 128 mingles with a major city street (Washington Street/Rt 127). Here the first permanent settlers built a meeting house and therefore focused the nexus of their settlement on the "Island" for nearly 100 years. Unlike other early coastal towns in New England, development in Gloucester was not focused around the harbor as it is today, rather it was inland that people settled first. This is evidenced by the placement of the Town Green nearly two miles from the harbor-front.

The Town Green is also where the settlers built the first school. By Massachusetts Bay Colony Law, any town with 100 families or more had to provide a public schoolhouse. This requirement was met in 1698, with Thomas Riggs standing as the town's first schoolmaster.

In 1700, the selectmen of Gloucester recognized the claim of Samuel English, grandson of Agawam sachem Masconomet, to the land of the town, and paid him seven pounds (equal to £1,327 today) for the quitclaim.[3]

The White-Ellery House was erected in 1710 upon the Town Green. It was built at the edge of a marsh for Gloucester's first settled minister, the Reverend John White (1677–1760).[9]

Early industry included subsistence farming and logging. Because of the poor soil and rocky hills, Cape Ann was not well suited for farming on a large scale. Small family farms and livestock provided the bulk of the sustenance to the population. Fishing, for which the town is known today, was limited to close-to-shore, with families subsisting on small catches as opposed to the great bounties yielded in later years. The fishermen of Gloucester did not command the Grand Banks until the mid-18th century. Historian Christine Heyrman, examining the town's society between 1690 and 1750, finds that at the beginning community sensibility was weak in a town that was a loose agglomeration of individuals. Commerce and capitalism transformed the society, making it much more closely knit with extended families interlocking in business relationships.[10]

Early Gloucestermen cleared great swaths of the forest of Cape Ann for farm and pasture land, using the timber to build structures as far away as Boston. The rocky moors of Gloucester remained clear for two centuries until the forest reclaimed the land in the 20th century. The inland part of the island became known as the "Commons", the "Common Village", or "Dogtown". Small dwellings lay scattered here amongst the boulders and swamps, along roads that meandered through the hills. These dwellings were at times little more than shanties; only one was even two stories tall. Despite their size, several generations of families were raised in such houses. One feature of the construction of these houses was that under one side of the floor was dug a cellar hole (for the keeping of food), supported by a foundation of laid-stone (without mortar). These cellar holes are still visible today along the trails throughout the inland part of Gloucester; they, and some walls, are all that remain of the village there.

Gloucester Harbor c. 1877, William Morris Hunt


1893 map of Gloucester

The town grew, and eventually colonists lived on the opposite side of the Annisquam River. In a time of legally mandated church attendance this was a long way to walk—or row—on a Sunday morning. In 1718 the settlers on the opposite shore of the river split off from the First Parish community at the Green and formed "Second Parish". While still part of the town of Gloucester, the people of Second, or "West", Parish now constructed their own meetinghouse and designated their own place of burial, both of which were in the hills near the marshes behind Wingaersheek Beach. The meetinghouse is gone now, but deep in the woods on the Second Parish Road, Old Thompson road, one can still find the stone foundation and memorial altar, as well as scattered stones of the abandoned burial ground.

Other parts of town later followed suit. Third Parish, in northern Gloucester, was founded in 1728. Fourth Parish split off from First Parish in 1742. Finally, in 1754, the people of Sandy Bay (what would later be called Rockport) split off from First Parish to found Fifth Parish. The Sandy Bay church founding was the last religious re-ordering of the colonial period. All of these congregations still exist in some form, with the exception of Fourth Parish, the site of whose meeting house is now a highway.

At one time, there was a thriving granite industry in Gloucester. English writer Harriet Martineau, who visited Gloucester during her travels in the United States in the mid-1830s, commented on the ubiquity of granite there:

It has great wealth of granite and fish. It is composed of granite; and almost its only visitors are fish. **** The houses look as if they were squeezed in among the rocks. The granite rises straight behind a house, encroaches on each side, and overhangs the roof, leaving space only for a sprinkling of grass about the door, for a red shrub or two to wave from a crevice, and a drip of water to flow down among gay weeds. Room for these dwellings is obtained by blasting the rocks. Formerly, people were frightened at fragments falling through the roof after a blasting: but now, it has become too common an occurrence to alarm any body.[11]

Geography and transportation[edit]

Good Harbor Beach, a beach in Gloucester

Gloucester is located at 42°37′26″N 70°40′32″W / 42.62389°N 70.67556°W / 42.62389; -70.67556 (42.624015, −70.675521).[12] According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 41.5 square miles (107.5 km2), of which 26.2 square miles (67.8 km2) is land and 15.3 square miles (39.6 km2), or 36.88%, is water.[13]

Gloucester occupies most of the eastern end of Cape Ann, except for the far tip, which is the town of Rockport. The city is split in half by the Annisquam River, which flows northward through the middle of the city into Ipswich Bay. At its southern end, it is connected to Gloucester Harbor by the Blynman Canal. The land along the northwestern shore of the river is marshy, creating several small islands. Gloucester Harbor is divided into several smaller coves, including the Western Harbor (site of the Fisherman's Memorial) and the Inner Harbor (home to the Gloucester fishing fleet). The eastern side of Gloucester Harbor is divided from the rest of Massachusetts Bay by Eastern Point, extending some 2 miles (3 km) outward from the mainland. There are several parks in the city, the largest of which are Ravenswood Park, Stage Fort Park and Mount Ann Park.

Gloucester lies between Ipswich Bay to the north and Massachusetts Bay to the south. The city is bordered on the east by Rockport, and on the west by Ipswich, Essex and Manchester-by-the-Sea to the west. (The town line with Ipswich is located across Essex Harbor, and as such there is no land connection between the towns.) Gloucester lies 16 miles (26 km) east-northeast of Salem and 31 miles (50 km) northeast of Boston. Gloucester lies at the eastern terminus of Route 128, which ends at Route 127A. Route 127A begins at Route 127 just east of the Route 128 terminus, heading into Rockport before terminating there. Route 127 enters from Manchester-by-the-Sea before crossing the Blynman Canal and passing through downtown towards Rockport. It then re-enters Gloucester near Folly Cove, running opposite of its usual north–south orientation towards its terminus at Route 128. Route 133 also terminates within the city, entering from Essex and terminating just west of the Blynman Canal at Route 127. Besides the bridge over the Blynman Canal, there are only two other connections between the eastern and western halves of town, the A. Piatt Andrew Memorial Bridge, carrying Route 128, and the Boston & Maine Railroad Bridge, just north of the Blynman Canal.

Gloucester is home to the Cape Ann Transportation Authority, which serves the city and surrounding towns. Two stops (in West Gloucester and in downtown Gloucester) provide access to the Newburyport/Rockport Line of the MBTA Commuter Rail, which extends from Rockport along the North Shore to Boston's North Station. The nearest airport is the Beverly Municipal Airport, with the nearest national and international air service being at Boston's Logan International Airport.

Climate data for Gloucester, Massachusetts
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 68
Mean daily maximum °F (°C) 35.3
Mean daily minimum °F (°C) 18.1
Record low °F (°C) −12
Average precipitation inches (mm) 4.22
Average snowfall inches (cm) 12.6
Source 1: [14]
Source 2: [15]
Average sea temperature:[16]
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
42.3 °F (5.7 °C) 39.4 °F (4.1 °C) 39.4 °F (4.1 °C) 42.8 °F (6.0 °C) 50.4 °F (10.2 °C) 57.9 °F (14.4 °C) 65.5 °F (18.6 °C) 66.9 °F (19.4 °C) 63.5 °F (17.5 °C) 57.4 °F (14.1 °C) 50.7 °F (10.4 °C) 46.0 °F (7.8 °C) 51.9 °F (11.1 °C)


Fish Dressing Wharf c. 1908

As of the 2000 census,[30] there were 30,273 people, 12,592 households, and 7,895 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,166.0 inhabitants per square mile (450.2/km2). There were 13,958 housing units at an average density of 537.6 per square mile (207.6/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 96.99% White, 0.61% African American, 0.72% Asian, 0.12% Native American, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.50% from other races, and 1.03% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.48% of the population. 22.6% were of Italian, 16.2% Irish, 11.1% English, 8.5% Portuguese and 7.1% American ancestry according to Census 2000.

There were 12,592 households, out of which 27.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.8% were married couples living together, 10.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.3% were non-families. 30.7% of all households were made up of individuals, and 11.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.38 and the average family size was 3.00.

Drying Fish c. 1915

In the city, the population was spread out, with 22.0% under the age of 18, 6.5% from 18 to 24, 29.9% from 25 to 44, 26.1% from 45 to 64, and 15.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females, there were 92.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.8 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $58,568, and the median income for a family was $80,970 from a 2007 estimate.[31] Males had a median income of $41,465 versus $30,566 for females. The per capita income for the city was $25,595. About 7.1% of families and 8.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 11.8% of those under age 18 and 11.2% of those age 65 or over.


Gloucester City Hall, built in 1871

Gloucester is a city, with a strong mayor-council system. The current mayor of Gloucester is Gregory P. Verga as of January 2022. The Mayor is also reserved a seat on the School Committee. City offices are elected every two years (those ending with odd numbers). In 2007, over 40 people ran for the 15 elected seats in the city's government.

The city is divided into five Wards, each split into two precincts:

  • Ward 1: East Gloucester – includes Eastern Point and Rocky Neck
  • Ward 2: Downtown and the Harbor area
  • Ward 3: The western edge of the "island" from Stacy Boulevard to Wheeler's Point – includes the Heights at Cape Ann and Pond View Village.
  • Ward 4: North Gloucester – includes Riverdale, Annisquam, Bay View, and Lanesville.
  • Ward 5: The entirety of West Gloucester west of the Annisquam River and Blynman Canal to Manchester-by-the-Sea and Essex – includes the Wingaersheek area and village of Magnolia.

As late as the mid-20th century, Gloucester had as many as eight wards, but they have been since reorganized into the current number.

On November 7, 2005, incumbent Mayor John Bell was re-elected to a third term in office. He stated his intention not to run for reelection and stepped down in January 2008.

On November 6, 2007, Carolyn Kirk was elected as the Mayor of Gloucester. Kirk resigned in December 2014 to take a position in the administration of Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker. Sefatia Theken was then voted to be the interim mayor of Gloucester by the City Council. Theken was elected to serve a full two-year term on November 2, 2015, and re-elected again in 2017 and 2019. She was defeated for re-election in 2021 by Gregory P. Verga.

Voter registration and party enrollment as of October 15, 2008[32]
Party Number of voters Percentage
Unaffiliated 12,563 59.89%
Democratic 6,056 28.87%
Republican 2,208 10.53%
Libertarian 149 0.71%
Total 20,976 100%


The following schools are located within the Gloucester Public Schools District:

  • Gloucester High School (9–12)
  • O'Maley Innovation Middle School (6–8)
  • East Veterans Elementary School (K-5) (Formerly East Gloucester Elementary School; the former Veteran's Memorial School (which has been demloished) was merged into it)
  • Plum Cove Elementary School (K–5)
  • Beeman Elementary School (K–5)
  • West Parish Elementary School (K–5) (site of the West Parish Elementary School Science Park)
  • Gloucester Preschool


Gorton's of Gloucester, Mighty Mac, Gloucester Engineering, Good Harbor Consulting, Para Research, Aid-Pack, Cyrk, and Varian Semiconductor are among the companies based in Gloucester.

Gloucester and the sea[edit]

The town was an important shipbuilding center, and the first schooner was reputedly built there in 1713. The community developed into an important fishing port, largely due to its proximity to Georges Bank and other fishing banks off the east coast of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Gloucester's most famous[citation needed] (and nationally recognized) seafood business was founded in 1849 as John Pew & Sons. It became Gorton-Pew Fisheries in 1906, and in 1957 changed its name to Gorton's of Gloucester. The iconic image of the "Gorton's Fisherman", and the products he represents, are known throughout the country and beyond. Besides catching and processing seafood, Gloucester is also a center for research on marine life and conservation; Ocean Alliance is headquartered in the city.

In the late 19th century Gloucester saw an influx of Portuguese and Italian immigrants seeking work in the town's flourishing fishing industry and a better life in America. Some present-day fishermen of Gloucester are descendants of these early immigrants. The strong Portuguese and Italian influence is evident in the many festivals celebrated throughout the year. During the Catholic celebration, St Peter's Fiesta, relatives of fishermen past and present carry oars representing many of the fishing vessels which call Gloucester their home. Saint Peter is the patron saint of the fishermen. Gloucester remains an active fishing port, and in 2013 ranked 21st in the United States with respect to fish landings. In that year 62 million pounds of fish were caught bringing in an estimated $42 million.[33]

Harbor View & Ten Pound Island Light c. 1915


Painting and printmaking[edit]

Brace's Rock, Eastern Point, Gloucester, c. 1864 by Fitz Henry Lane
Eastern Point Breakwater & Lighthouse c. 1915

Gloucester's scenery, active fishing industry, and arts community have attracted and inspired painters since the early 19th century. The first Gloucester painter of note was native-born Fitz Henry Lane, whose home still exists on the waterfront. The premier collection of his works is in the Cape Ann Museum, which holds 40 of his paintings and 100 of his drawings. Other painters subsequently attracted to Gloucester include William Morris Hunt, Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam, John Twachtman, Frederick Mulhaupt, Frank Duveneck, Cecilia Beaux, Jane Peterson, Gordon Grant, Harry DeMaine, Emile Gruppe, Stuart Davis, Joseph Solman, Mark Rothko, Milton Avery, Barnett Newman, William Meyerowitz, Joan Lockhart, Theresa Bernstein, and Marsden Hartley, and artists from the Ashcan School such as Edward Hopper, John Sloan, Robert Henri, William Glackens, Emile Gruppe, Carl W. Illig, and Maurice Prendergast.

Gloucester Harbor, oil on canvas, Winslow Homer, 1873. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Smith Cove is home to the Rocky Neck Art Colony, the oldest art colony in the country. Folly Cove was the home of the Folly Cove Designers, influential to this day in print design and technique.


Several important sculptors have lived and worked in East Gloucester, Annisquam, Lanesville and Folly Cove. They include George Aarons, Anna Hyatt Huntington, Charles Grafly, Paul Manship and his daughter-in-law Margaret Cassidy Manship, Walker Hancock, and George Demetrios. In addition, Aristides Demetrios grew up in Folly Cove.



Gloucester is the birthplace of Marvel character Dane Whitman whose superhero alter ego is the Black Knight.



National Geographic Channel films its reality television series Wicked Tuna, documenting and chronicling the lives of commercial tuna fishermen, and the lucrative bluefin tuna industry, in Gloucester.

Route 66 season 2, episode 6, "Once To Every Man" (October 27, 1961) was set and filmed in Gloucester.

Bewitched season 7, episode 5, "Darrin On A Pedestal" (October 22, 1970) was set and partially filmed on Gloucester.

Spenser: For Hire, season 2, episode 1, "Widow's Walk" (October 4, 1986) was set and filmed in Gloucester.


The Gloucester Stage Company stages five to eight plays each season, primarily in the summer months. Located in East Gloucester, the theatre sits at water's edge overlooking Smith's Cove. It was founded in 1979 by local arts and business leaders to encourage playwrights and their new works. Israel Horovitz, who founded the GSC, was also its artistic director from 1979 to 2006. Over the years, plays developed at the Gloucester Stage Company have gone on to critical acclaim, on and off Broadway, nationally and internationally.[citation needed] The group draws theatre-goers from Gloucester, neighboring North Shore districts, and the greater Boston area, as well as seasonal residents and tourists.[citation needed]


The city has much significant architecture, from pre-Revolutionary houses to the hilltop 1870 City Hall, which dominates the town and harbor. It also has exotic waterfront homes now converted to museums, including Beauport, built 1907–1934 by designer Henry Davis Sleeper in collaboration with local architect Halfdan Hanson, said to raise eclecticism to the level of genius. In addition, it has Hammond Castle, built 1926–1929 by inventor John Hays Hammond, Jr., as a setting for his collection of Roman, medieval and Renaissance artifacts. Gloucester was also the home of feminist writer Judith Sargent Murray and John Murray, the founder of the first Universalist Church in America. Their house still exists as the Sargent House Museum. Many museums are located in the main downtown area, such as the Cape Ann Museum, and the museum/aquarium Maritime Gloucester.

Points of interest[edit]

Tour Boat Gloucester
Edward Hopper, Universalist Church, 1926, Princeton University Art Museum

Gloucester's most noted landmark is the harborside Man at the Wheel statue (also known as the "Gloucester Fisherman's Memorial Cenotaph"), dedicated to "They that go down to the sea in ships", which is a quote from Psalm 107:23–32.

Gloucester's largest annual event is St. Peter's Fiesta, sponsored by the local Italian-American community. It is held the last weekend in June, which is typically the weekend closest to the saint's feast day. Preceded by a nine-day novena of prayers, the festival highlights include the blessing of the fleet and the greasy pole contest.

Notable people[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Anastas, Peter and Parsons, Peter. When Gloucester Was Gloucester: Toward An Oral History Of The City (1973), Harvard University Press. Published for the 350th Anniversary Celebration of the City
  • Clark, Margaret Elwyn. "Managing uncertainty: Family, religion, and collective action among fishermen's wives in Gloucester, Massachusetts." in Jane Nadel-Klein and Dona Lee Davis, eds. To Work and to Weep: Women in Fishing Economies (1988) pp: 261–278.
  • Connolly, James Brendan. The Port of Gloucester (1940)
  • Heyrman, Christine. Commerce and Culture: The Maritime Communities of Colonial Massachusetts, 1690–1750 (1986)
  • Meltzer, Michael. The world of the small commercial fishermen: their lives and their boats (1980)
  • Miller, Marc L., and John Van Maanen. "'Boats Don't Fish, People Do': Some Ethnographic Notes on the Federal Management of Fisheries in Gloucester." Human Organization 38.4 (1979): 377–385.
  • Otto, Peter, and Jeroen Struben. "Gloucester fishery: insights from a group modeling intervention." System Dynamics Review 20.4 (2004): 287–312. online
  • Thomas, Gordon W. Fast and Able: Life Stories of Great Gloucester Fishing Vessels (1952)

External links[edit]