Bearskin Neck Rockport, MA | History, Details & How It Got That Name
At the tip of Cape Ann, in the quaint coastal village of Rockport, Massachusetts you will find one of the most scenic stretches in all of Massachusetts, Bearskin Neck. Located in the heart of the town, Bearskin Neck proudly juts out of Dock Square into Rockport Harbor.
Bearskin Neck differs from other vacation and tourist destinations in that it maintains a sense of integrity and authenticity that is rooted in its humble, hardworking history. You’re not going to find any Polo Outlets or Red Lobsters on this quarter mile stretch.
The shops, galleries and restaurants that line the narrow roads are all small locally-owned businesses where you can find some unique artistic treasures, meet the friendly shop owners, enjoy the local history, and even make a new friend.
Let’s take a closer look at the history, shops, restaurants and galleries that call this scenic Rockport peninsula home.
In the 1600’s, fishermen from the Ipswich, area settled in Rockport, Massachusetts. The town thrived as a small fishing village throughout the 1700’s and Bearskin Neck was a busy commercial docking area, due to the fact that it was so easily accessible by boat.
With the birth of the Industrial Revolution came and increased demand for quality granite, and in the 1800’s Rockport became a major supplier. The rich supply of stone and the accessibility of the harbor for shipping created the perfect environment for the development of a successful trade.
Local townsmen became known as the “quarrymen” and Rockport granite made its way around the world. Many of the quarries were worked by Scandinavian immigrants from Sweden and Finland and their impact on the local culture can still be felt today.
Rockport granite was shipped far and wide and Rockport granite was even used during the building of the Panama Canal!
Rockport granite was also used to pave many of America’s roads. An innovative technique at the time, Rockport granite was converted into paving blocks that were packed aboard specially designed sloops and shipped off to finish the construction of streets in Boston, Philadelphia and New York.
The trade slowed during lat 19th century and into the Great Depression where the combination of economic meltdown and increase use of concrete was the death knell for the industry’s heyday.
Rockport’s rich quarrying history is on display throughout town from Halibut Point, where you can tour the old Babson Quarry, down to Feather and Wedge restaurant whose name is a nod the town’s quarrying past.
During the War of 1812, Bearskin Neck served as location of a barracks for a group of approximately 60 men who called themselves the Sea Fencibles.
Rockport, then known as Sandy Bay, was one of Gloucester’s 5 parishes. The parish was significantly hindered by the war due to its detrimental impact the free use of the sea.
On September 8, 1814, the soldiers from the British Ship, “Nymph” captured 14 of the Sandy Bay soldiers. They also sent a barge into White Wharf. When the barge was seen, the alarm bell rang at the local meetinghouse (now the Congregational church).
To silence the alarm, the barge shot a cannon at the belfry and one of the cannonballs remained stuck. The recoil from the cannon ended up sinking the barge and the soldiers were ultimately captured.
If you walk by the Congregational Church in downtown Rockport you can see a replica cannonball in the steeple and the cannon from the British barge right on the church lawn.
Of course, no exploration of Bearskin Neck is complete without a mention of the famous red fishing shack dubbed Motif #1. Built in the mid-1800’s to store fishing gear, the shack has become a symbol for the town and has been given significant artistic and photographic love.
Motif #1 has become a bit of a cultural icon. It’s been painted and photographed, perhaps more than any other building in the world. A float of Motif even made its way to the Chicago World’s Fair.
Motif #1 was also featured in Sandra Bullock’s The Proposal, and even given a nod in Finding Nemo because Rockport is director Andrew Stanton’s hometown.
When you’re walking down Bearskin Neck, take a right down Bradley Wharf, just after the Sea Bags shop, and you can walk right up to the Rockport icon and get some pictures. To photo Motif #1 itself you can get a better perspective from T-Wharf and another interesting perspective from the Headlands.
To learn more about this Rockport icon, you can
There have been a number of explanations of the origin of the Bearskin Neck name. The three most prominent explanations are as follows.
The first explanation is laid out on the sign at the entrance to Bearskin Neck and states that the neck got its name when a bear that was caught by the tide and killed.
The second explanation is that early settlers in the area had to deal with a number of aggressive bears. To maintain their safety they would route the bears onto the neck where they could trap and hunt them.
The third explanation is our personal favorite. According to local legend, Bearskin Neck received its name from a fisherman who saw the bearskin that Ebenezer Babson left on the rocks to dry.
The story goes that Ebenezer had witnessed his nephew getting attacked by the bear and Ebenezer intervened, luring the bear into the water. Ebenezer had no gun and ended up besting the bear with his trusty fishing knife. The scene of the struggle is depicted in the sign that hangs prominently over the Pewter Shop.
Regardless of how Bearskin got its name, it’s truly a Massachusetts treasure that is a must see for people of all ages. Let’s take a closer look at what you can find on the neck.
The shops on Bearskin Neck run the gambit and truly offers something for everyone. Whether you are looking for a souvenir to remember your trip or an original work of art, Bearskin Neck has you covered.
From clothing to jewelry to handmade artwork, to accessories and apparel, Bearskin has it all.
Some shops that we love include SeaBags, Original Beach Dog, The Pewter Shop, Bearskin Neck Leathers, Carol Lee’s Cottage, Rockport Candle Company, Strut Boutique, Soulstice, One Ocean One Love and many others.
In addition to shops there are some fantastic art galleries right on the neck, including Lauri Kaihlanen Gallery, Scott Tubby Fine Art, The Art Nook, John Caggiano and others.
But it’s important to keep in mind that Rockport is filled with shops and artists studios all throughout the town. From Dock Square to Main Street to Broadway, there is so much to explore in this coastal enclave that it can keep you busy for days.
Let’s take a closer look at the Rockport MA Art Galleries.
Rockport is one of America’s most beloved art colonies. Since the 1800’s artists have been flocking to the coastal village due to the beautiful coastal landscape, the quaint fishing shacks, the interplay of the subject matter and the light, and the supportive community.
Some of the incredible artists who found inspiration in Rockport include: Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, John Twachtman and many others. By 1921 a group of artists had formed the Rockport Art Association, which still serves as a linchpin for Rockport community culture providing space for exhibitions, education and community events.
Today, Rockport is still home to over 30 art galleries which include the work of over 400 artists. Some of our favorite galleries reside right in downtown Rockport and on Bearskin Neck.
To learn more about the local artists and get a better feel for their work you can read our blog
When hunger kicks in, stay calm, Bearskin Neck has you covered. This rustic Peninsula is filled adorable candy shops, ice cream parlors, and seafood shacks that can satisfy just about any craving.
For a full meal, on the go, Roy Moore Lobster Co. (39 Bearskin Neck) is a must stop. In fact, it’s a must stop no matter what. The iconic seafood stop is located in an 1800’s fishing shack that is teeming with lobster tanks and coastal character. This place just feels like quintessential New England Summer.
You can grab a lobster roll or steamed lobster and indulge at picnic tables out back overlooking the very waters from which the tasty crustaceans emerged just hours before. It doesn’t get much fresher…unless you’re eating on a trawler.
Another place that’s great for a quick bite is Top Dog (2 Doyles Cove Rd)! They have a whimsical, canine-inspired menu that includes such creations as the German Shephard (dog with sauerkraut) Boston Terrier (dog with baked beans) and the Golden Retriever (dog with mac and cheese). In addition to delicious hot dogs, Top Dog also serves some tasty fried clams, chicken fingers and other treats.
For a full sit-down meal, we recommend My Place By The Sea (68 Bearskin Neck). Located at the very end of Bearskin Neck, My Place has a deck that provides ocean front seating that cannot be beat. Enjoy chef Kathy Milbury’s famous clam chowder, a lobster roll or a tasty salmon sandwich.
If you have a sweet tooth that you need to keep at bay, you can pop into The Ice Cream Store (14 Bearskin Neck). It may actually be the cutest ice cream shop in the entire state! Other places to satisfy your sweet tooth include The Fudgery (4 Tuna Wharf) where you can indulge in some delicious creamy fudge or try to eat an elephant ear that’s as big as your head!
You could also embrace your inner Austrian at Helmut’s Strudel (69 Bearskin Neck) where you can kick back on the deck with coffee and strudel and enjoy the view. It’s Ahnold approved and, trust us, it’s much better than the toaster variety, although we still have a special spot in our heart for that childhood classic.
If you’re interested in additional dining information, you can
Hopefully, this exploration of Rockport’s Bearskin Neck has sufficiently whetted your palate. If you haven’t explored this Cape Ann treasure, we would definitely encourage you to take a weekend and do so. There is something truly cathartic about spending time in Rockport.
If you’re thinking of coming up, we would love to host you at our Rockport MA Hotel. We are only about a 5 minute walk from Rockport Harbor and the head of Bearskin Neck. If you have any questions or comments about Bearskin Neck or Rockport, in general, we would be happy to answer them. Just leave a comment or give us a call or email!