(w/ Patty Knaggs)
With a year-round population of just under 7,000, Rockport is one of Massachusetts’ smaller seaside communities, and dwarfs in comparison to its Gloucester neighbor. But don’t let the size fool you - Rockport has a lot to offer prospective residents, current residents and summer visitors alike!
With great food, great shops, unique attractions, and natural beauty, there are hundreds of great reasons to like Rockport. It was a hard job to pick, but we narrowed it down to five of our top reasons to love Rockport!
The singular “Rockport” attraction is Motif #1, the dark red shack located near Bearskin Neck, which has been painted by thousands of artists and even appears in imagery for the new video game Fallout 4. It’s one of the most iconic buildings in the world, known to nearly everyone in the art world, and is one of the most often-painted buildings in America.
A scale model of Motif No. 1 even won first place in the historic float competition at the 1933 World's Fair! The dentist's office in the popular animated film Finding Nemo even has a picture of Motif Number 1 hanging on the wall, a tribute by director Andrew Stanton, a Rockport native.
Wondering how Motif #1 got its name? Illustrator and etcher Lester Hornby, who taught in Paris in the winter. His pupils were instructed to draw certain standard subjects or “motifs”.
During his summers in Rockport, Hornby’s many pupils chose to render the same dark red, rundown fish shack on the edge of the harbor. The simplicity, proportions, and location of the shack made it a natural model for his budding artists. According to legend, one day a student brought a pencil drawing of the house to Hornby for criticism, at which he exclaimed, "What-Motif No 1 again!"
The Paper House
Another of Rockport’s most unique attractions, appearing in newspapers worldwide, is the Paper House. Back in 1922, a mechanical engineer named Elis F. Stenman, who designed the machines that make paper clips, decided on an odd hobby - building his summer home in Rockport. But this was no ordinary home. Realizing that paper made good insulation, Stenman expanded and started making the home’s walls out of old newspapers, an inch thick, over which he put a final coat of varnish to keep it from rotting or disintegrating.
The framework to the home is made of traditional wood, and because of the varnish and the roof and porch, very little of the varnished paper is continually exposed to the elements, which explains why it has held up for nearly a century. Eventually, Stenman even fashioned elaborate pieces of furniture out of paper, too! The piano you see below, however, has just a coat of paper on it, for functionality’s sake.
Nowadays, Stenman's grandniece, Edna Beaudoin runs the Paper House, just like her mother did for many years. The attraction is open seasonally, and costs $2 per person to enter. It’s a fabulous exhibit for families to check out. The Paper House is located at 52 Pigeon Hill Street in Rockport, and the phone number is (978) 546-2629.
The Shalin Liu Performance Center
Another breathtaking Rockport attraction, nestled right in the downtown area, is the Shalin Liu Performance Center, run by Rockport Music. The air-conditioned concert hall opened in June of 2010, and offers unique and beautiful architecture and views of Rockport’s harbor from the full-length windows behind the stage.
Shalin Liu boasts extraordinary acoustics and comfortable seating for 330 people, professional quality audio-visual equipment for the presentation of film and live HD broadcasts, oceanfront reception space on the third floor, with stunning views of the coastline, for educational, social, civic and corporate events - with a catering kitchen available. It’s also fully ADA compliant!
The hall’s walls are stone-clad, which helps with the acoustics in the room, which was designed by lead architects Alan Joslin and Deborah Epstein of Cambridge MA, who collaborated with internationally known acoustician R. Lawrence Kirkegaard of Chicago.
So what entertainment can you expect from the Shalin Liu? A range of live music, from classical to current pop! Shalin Liu was designed to showcase chamber music and is the home of Rockport Music’s signature presentation, the Rockport Chamber Music Festival, which includes over 20 concerts per season, as well as pre-concert lectures, open rehearsals and free events for families. The center also hosts the Rockport Jazz Festival annually, along with classical, jazz, folk, world and pop music concerts. The hall even offers HD broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera and England’s National Theatre and films.
Halibut Point State Park
While much of Rockport’s charm is in its people, shops, and unique buildings, its natural beauty can’t be overlooked. That’s why Halibut Point State Park makes our list!
Halibut Point, at the tip of Cape Ann - not far from Lanesville - is made of sheets of 440 million year-old granite. In the 1840s, granite was first quarried from the area. Later, the Rockport Granite Company acquired the Babson Farm quarry and expanded its operation. The Cape Ann granite industry collapsed in 1929, after which 17 acres on the eastern side of the quarry were purchased and given to the Trustees of Reservations. Interestingly, the rest of the area was unused until late in World War II, when a fire control tower was constructed. The tower provided aiming information for the large defense guns that guarded both Boston and Portsmouth Harbors. That building now serves at the visitor’s center!
Due to the lack of soil and high winds, there are very few trees near the area. However, catbriar, bayberry, blueberry, arrowwood, shadbush, and an assortment of wildflowers grow among the ledges, which make it a naturally beautiful area.
Halibut Point is a birder’s paradise, as well. During winters, species of seabirds, including loons, grebes, ducks and even puffins, feed in the offshore waters.
In the 1840s, granite was first quarried from the area. Later, the Rockport Granite Company acquired the Babson Farm quarry and expanded its operation. The Cape Ann granite industry collapsed in 1929, after which 17 acres on the eastern side of the quarry were purchased and given to the Trustees of Reservations. Interestingly, the rest of the area was unused until late in World War II, when a fire control tower was constructed. The tower provided aiming information for the large defense guns that guarded both Boston and Portsmouth Harbors. That building now serves at the visitor’s center!
Last but not least, one of the most fun things that Rockport offers is the shops along Bearskin Neck. Tourists and year-round residents alike can spend hours wandering from shop to shop, and it’s the perfect place to bring guests from off-island for a Cape Ann experience.
Bearskin Neck and nearby Tuna Wharf have a great variety of shops. For instance, the Good Dog Gallery, the Happy Whale Toy Store, Himalayan Crafts, Bearskin Neck Leathers, James Russell Goldsmiths, TBT Post (which now has expanded to a second location on Gloucester’s Main Street), the Pewter Shop, the Rockport Fudgery, the Christmas Dove, the Last Resort, The Prince and the Pauper, the Village Silversmith, and Zircus are just a handful of the great small businesses you can find in the area.
Don’t overlook the great dining in the area! Roy Moore Fish Shack, Helmut’s Strudel, My Place By The Sea, the Bean and Leaf Cafe, and Rockin’ Cupcakes are all right on the Neck!
Have we nailed the best five things about Rockport? Do you have a favorite you think we left off the list? Make sure to visit our Live on Cape Ann Facebook page and add to the conversation!