Located at the northernmost tip of Cape Ann, Halibut Point State Park will appeal to historic travelers on several levels with its scenic views of the Atlantic Ocean from the windows of a renovated World War II fire-control tower and self-guided walking tour of the former Babson Farm Quarry which includes the opportunity to walk out to a scenic overlook atop a mountain of waste granite pieces that have formed a beautiful point from which - on a clear day – visitors can look seaward to Crane Beach in Ipswich to Mount Agamenticus in Maine and the Isles of Shoals off the Coast of New Hampshire.
Administered cooperatively by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management (Halibut Point State Park) and The Trustees of Reservations, a Massachusetts nonprofit conservation organization (Halibut Point Reservation), the park is located on Gott Avenue just off of Route 127 about three miles north of the downtown area of Rockport. Additionally an adjacent property, Sea Rocks, is owned by the Town of Rockport and is open for public use. Halibut Point State Park is open year-round daily from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day and from sunrise to sunset the rest of the year. Weekends from Memorial Day through Columbus Day, tours of the quarry are offered by staff and volunteers with Saturday morning tours including a granite-cutting demonstration.
To access the park, after leaving your car in the lot and purchasing a pass for a nominal fee (the self-pay machine accepts cash or credit cards), visitors then cross the street and take a short, easy walk through the woods to the quarry.
Halibut Point's Visitors Center and Headquarters is located in a renovated Word War II fire-control tower in front of which there are plenty of picnic tables for visitors' use as they sit near the edge of the Babson Farm Quarry and enjoy the views along with their lunch or dinner. Towering over the quarry and looking towards the sea, the 60-foot tall structure is the only one of its kind open to the public along the New England coast. Used during the war to provide aiming information to the crews of the massive guns that protected Boston and Portsmouth from attack by sea, today it provides visitors who make the climb up the structure with panoramic views that extend as far north as the coast of Maine.
Inside the center, there are exhibits explaining some of the history of the granite industry on Cape Ann and at Babson Farm in particular, as well as teaching visitors about some of the wildlife that frequents the area, what went on in the fire-control tower during World War II, and how MIT's Lincoln Labs contributed to the development of radar following the war. Access to the tower is available from inside the center along with restrooms and information on upcoming programs at the park.
Made of sheets of 440 million year-old granite that now descend from a rocky headland to tidal pools below, the area of Halibut Point was first used by the Pennacook Indians (who also went by the names Merrimack and Pawtucket) as they migrated seasonally from their primary residence in the Merrimack River Valley of present-day Massachusetts and New Hampshire to the coast in order to harvest wild fruit, fish and game that were abundant in the area. In the late 17th-century the first white settlers to the area arrived and used the shallow soil for farming and raising cattle.
The area’s first resident was a weaver by the name of Samuel Gott whose 1702 house pictured below still stands just north of the park however it is not a part of the park as it is privately owned and closed to the public. It is believed that it was shortly after Mr. Gott made his residence in the area that it became known as ‘Haul About’ Point as ships rounding Cape Ann would ‘haul about’ – or tack - off the point.
As early as 1800, the inhabitants of Cape Ann began cutting the peninsula’s granite into blocks of stone as they gradually expanded the industry throughout the 19th Century to the point where quarrying passed the fishing industry in Rockport as the town’s primary business. Starting in the 1840s, granite began to be quarried from the area around Halibut Point, first primarily along the coast on a small scale and then on a much larger scale when the Rockport Granite Company acquired the Babson Farm Quarry and expanded its operation.
About the time that Nathaniel was hitting his stride with novels like The Scarlet Letter (1850) and The House of the Seven Gables (1851), Babson Farm Quarry was going full-tilt providing granite that, along with other rock cut and shipped from Cape Ann, was used in paving roads worldwide as well as in the construction of many famous buildings and monuments throughout the United States including parts of the Statue of Liberty and other monuments in addition to the 500-foot tall tower that tops the Custom House in Boston and the four eagles located just below the clock that were each carved from eleven blocks of granite. Quarrying continued at Babson Farm until 1929 when the Great Depression ushered in the collapse of the local granite industry as demand shifted to that of less-expensive concrete and steel for building construction and asphalt for street paving.
During the quarry’s busiest years, circa 1910, there were four derricks in use to hoist the heavy stones (168 pounds per cubic foot) from the floor of the quarry to the surface. Derricks were an arrangement of blocks-and-tackles and pulleys that were designed by the men who worked the quarries based on a technique that was used on sailing ships. Until steam engines became available in the 1860s, the derricks were powered by hand or by teams of oxen year-round in all kinds of weather.
Pamphlets are available at the Visitors Center for a self-guided walking tour around Babson Farm Quarry giving visitors the chance to learn more about Cape Ann's historic granite industry as they follow the trail around its nine stops. By following the stops along the self-guided tour, visitors to the park can learn more about the derricks as well as about each aspect of the quarrying industry as they visit the sites of Dead Men, Bollards, Dog Piles, and the Grout Pile.
When quarrying ended at Babson Farm, water from rain, run-off, and the natural springs on the quarry floor rapidly filled the up-to-60-foot deep pit with water and even though swimming was allowed at one point in time, as tempting as it might look, there's no swimming allowed anymore. That doesn't stop visitors from sitting somewhat precariously close to the edge of the quarry though, where caution should most definitely be exercised as even though it may look calm and peaceful, former quarries can be dangerous places beneath the smooth surface of the water.
In 1934, shortly after Babson Farm Quarry ceased operations in 1929, 17 acres of land on the eastern side of the quarry were purchased with funds donated by Dr. John C. Phillips and residents of Rockport which were then given to the Trustees of Reservations to protect the distinct character of the area. The mission of the Trustees is to "... preserve, for public use and enjoyment, properties of exceptional scenic, historic, and ecological value in Massachusetts." Through the assistance of the Trustees, Halibut Point became a state park in 1981 when an additional 54 acres was added to the property. After taking the self-guided tour of Babson Farm Quarry, be sure to allow some extra time for exploring the trails which lead to Halibut Point Reservation, the area protected by the Trustees, and the Sea Rocks which belong to the Town of Rockport. Depending on when you're visiting, there may be a public program available; in the summer months programs include wildflower walks and explorations of the tidal-pools which harbor snails, hermit crabs, and sea stars while in the winter months, the 2-1/2 miles of trails are perfect for seabird walks giving birdwatchers the chance to see loons, grebes, ducks and an occasional puffin as they feed in the rich offshore waters.
Even though it's a great place to just sit back and enjoy the view from a vantage point high above the Atlantic, while visiting at Halibut Point State Park it's important to remember that even though the very large grout pile, a mountain of waste granite pieces dumped over a period of many years, may appear to be quite sturdy and stable, it is still subject to landslides as the giant bits of granite occasionally shift and adjust so please do not climb on the pile or venture too far out from the designated viewing spots. There are always those people who think that the warning signs don't apply to them but the views of the Atlantic are just as nice from the "safe" sides of the pile as they are from a little further out so keep safety and caution in mind and pay mind to the signs.
A beautiful place with fantastic views and an interesting history, allow yourself a minimum of an hour to two hours depending on whether you visit when the Visitors Center is open and how much time you like to spend just sitting back and soaking in the sea air and vistas!
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