Rambling Through Rockport Where You'll Find History, Candy, Clam Chowdah, and Music But No Bars!

So now that you've learned about the history of Rockport and been introduced to Bearskin Neck, Motif #1, the Rockport Art Association, and a few other places around town, it's time to fill you in on a few other things you might want to see or do while you're visiting one of the quaintest towns in New England.   However, one more interesting piece of history that you might want to know before you go to Rockport, especially if you're the sort of person who likes to order a drink or two with your meal or hang out at one of the local bars to get a feel for the flavor of a town, is that Rockport 1) has some pretty strict rules when it comes to alcohol consumption in restaurants and 2) doesn't have any bars.

What? Why?

Well, the 'why' is actually pretty simple ... and it starts with a 'way' ... as in way back in 1814 the State of Massachusetts formed the Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance (later called the Massachusetts Temperance Society) following the initiation of a temperance movement in the United States in the late 18th-century. Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia (one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence) is often credited with starting the movement when he wrote that "A people corrupted with strong drink cannot long be a free people," in An Inquiry into the Effects of Spirituous Liquors on the Human Body and the Mind which was published in Boston in 1790. Using a "Moral Thermometer", a visual depiction of the horrors that awaited drunkards that placed both moderate drinkers and abstainers on the moral high ground, Dr. Rush made his point illustrating how "cider, wine or porter" could result in "cheerfulness, strength and nourishment, when taken only at meals, and in moderate quantities," while hard liquor would lead to various "vices and diseases." Dr. Rush hoped to start a temperance movement so that by the 20th century " a drunkard…will be as infamous in society as a liar or a thief, and the use of spirits as uncommon in families as a drink made of a solution of arsenic or a decoction of hemlock."

Taking the words of Dr. Rush to heart, various and assorted temperance societies popped up around the country (New York lays claim to the first) whose members were - not surprisingly - mostly women and doctors. Associating the devil and other demon figures with alcohol as one way to scare people away from liquor (which came to be known as "demon rum," "the devil’s blood," and even "the dark beverage of Hell"), society members collected pledges, held meetings, published books of songs, wrote novels depicting the evils of alcohol, and lobbied legislators to pass laws that would slow down or make illegal the consumption of hard spirits.

On March 11, 1847, a temperance society was founded in Rockport and named the Bay Tent of Rechabites (a name that was used by Christian groups keen to promote total abstinence from alcohol) which incorporated over 100 abstainers into promoting temperance in Rockport. Alarmed by the news reports which said that in the United States more than four and half million dollars was frittered away on wines and liquors, the society felt that it was time to take action in Rockport as the men in the town were contributing mightily to that frittering away. Each fisherman who brought home $157 at the end of nine months was spending most of it on rum leaving barely enough for their families to get by on and something needed to be done. Even though the town attempted to curb alcohol consumption by appointing a "Smellin' Committee" in 1856 - four agents who were empowered to enforce the statutes set by the town fathers - the statutes were openly defied and the use of alcohol rose by an astounding 250%.

Deciding that enough was enough, following the town's annual Fourth of July celebration in which drunkenness was the order of the day, at 9:00 a.m. on the morning of July 8, 1856, Hannah Jumper - a 75-year old spinster and primary organizer of Rockport's temperance group - helped lead the members of the Bay Tent of Rechabites to Dock Square in the center of town where they then begin going to previously marked locations where liquor was being, or had been, sold legally and illegally and methodically destroying the town's liquor supplies. Armed with hatchets, hammers, and tomahawks, “Hannah and the gang” raided thirteen establishments during their five-hour assault which ended at 2:00 p.m. At the conclusion of the raid, the gang left hatchet marks on fifty barrels and destroyed $700 worth of liquor leaving Rockport, according to Eleanor C. Parsons in her 1975 book Hannah and the Hatchet Gang; Rockport's Revolt against Rum, "as a mammoth punch bowl with which the smell of rum drifted for two miles across the bay" along with the men scarcely believing what they had just witnessed and wondering what to expect next.

Following the raid, over the next decade alcohol sales in Rockport steadily declined as it became one of several dozen Massachusetts towns to be designated as a 'dry town' where one could not buy liquor. During every single general election residents of Rockport voted on the issue of the sale of liquor in their community and voted against it. It wasn't until 2005 that a referendum on the sale of alcohol was approved and the liquor laws changed so that folks could have their favorite drinks and libations when accompanied by a meal/entree but the laws were pretty restrictive allowing inns, hotels, and restaurants to serve alcohol only with meals. In June of 2011, the Board of Selectmen liberalized the town's alcohol-consumption rules permitting the ordering of drinks with simple appetizers as well as buying beverages without food while waiting for a table if a reservation has been made with restaurant managers. Restricted to having to order a full meal when the law was first approved in 2005, the letter of the law was changed to read as ...
"The term meal shall include hors d'oeuvres, appetizers, desserts, sandwiches, soups, salads, entrees and prepared foods but shall exclude chips, nuts, pretzels, popcorn and other snack food..."
Additionally the hours of sales and service were extended to 11:30 p.m., with the removal of beverages taking place at midnight from the previous end of service at 10:30 and removal at 11 p.m. Oh, and if you want to take that partially-consumed bottle of wine with you that you bought with your meal but didn't quite finish, the new regulations, which follow state guidelines, permit diners to leave with a partially consumed bottle of wine that has been purchased with a meal stating, "The bottle that is removed must be placed in a one-time use, tamper-proof transparent bag with the meal receipt attached to the sealed bag." In other words, you can get a doggy bag for your wine!

You are certainly more than welcome to "BYOB" when visiting Rockport but bear in mind that there are no liquor stores or established bars in Rockport so if you want to pick up a bottle or sit at a bar and chat with the locals, you'll have to go “next door” to Gloucester where there are pubs and bars and package stores for your convenience. Just consider the alcohol laws to be part of Rockport's quaintness as the ghost of Hannah Jumper keeps watch over things and you'll be just fine!

Now then, just because you can't find a package store or pub in Rockport doesn't mean that you can't find a lot of other good places to go including one that's been located at 7 Dock Square (backing up close enough to Rockport's Inner Harbor and Motif #1 that Nathaniel can pose for a blurry background picture!) since 1929.

After apprenticing under some of the finest candy makers in the area, Walter F. Tuck opened Tuck's Candy Factory in Rockport and began making and selling his own homemade candies over 80 years ago. Using only the freshest and finest ingredients, Walter's candies were of such superior quality that they soon found immediate favor with both locals and tourists alike. Following in his father's footsteps, as soon as Walter's son Bob could reach the height of the tables, he helped his dad in the candy factory - even standing on a box to dip the Mints! - and it wasn't long before Bob’s son Dan continued the family tradition and became Tuck's third generation candy-maker ensuring that their line of homemade candies would continue for many years to come. To this day, the same formulas and many pieces of the original equipment are still being used to make salt water taffy, fudge, Swiss chocolates, peanut butter cups, buttercrunch and much more which continue to increase in popularity year by year, especially now that they can also be ordered online.

A trip home from Rockport simply wouldn't be complete if you didn't bring back a box of Tuck's historically delicious salt water taffy which you can watch being made right there in the shop by Dan so you know it's good and fresh! 

If you'd rather pick out your own flavors of taffy - by the by, Peanut Butter is their most popular flavor if you're stumped as to what kind to choose - rather than grab a pre-filled box from the shelf  you can figure out what's what with a card that identifies the flavor of the taffy by the color of its wrapper then fill your own box or bag with what is most definitely some of the finest salt water taffy I've ever sunk my teeth into!

Nathaniel mentioned something about bringing some back to Sophia but I think he needed a bigger trunk!

If by any chance you're visiting Rockport during the holidays, be sure to stop in to Tuck's Candies and watch free demonstrations of candy canes, ribbon candy, and satin sticks being made every Saturday between Thanksgiving and Christmas from 10 am to 4 pm and then bring home some sweets to stuff stockings with or simply just enjoy for the holidays yourself! You might also want to keep in mind that during the high tourist season, the lines at Tuck's can get rather long so you might have to patiently wait your turn to get into the store but it's more than worth it!

Once you've had a chance to check things out at Tuck's and watch candy being made the old-fashioned way right before your very eyes, be sure to take the time to walk around T-Wharf where you can see boats anchored in the inner harbor, Motif #1 (of course!), stop in at the Rockport Harbormaster's Office where you can find tourist information, and maybe even grab something to eat at Ellen's Harborside - home of the best chowdah in Rockport as voted by the masses!

Ellen first started out in the feeding the masses business back in 1954 when she opened Ellen's Coffee Shop on Mount Pleasant Street; in 1967 she was joined in business by her son, James. In 1975 they moved to their current location on T Wharf and changed the name to Ellen's Harborside as that's exactly where it is! Since then three generations of family - Ellen, her husband Charles, their son James, his wife Jean, and their three children - have served up great New England fare during the summer seasons only. "The Best Clam Chowder on Cape Ann" is reasonably priced at $3.99 for a cup or $5.99 a bowl and a Lobster Roll is only $17.99 - probably about one of the best price you're going to get! For over 58 years they've obviously being doing something right at Ellen's so if it's good food and non-pretentiousness that you seek then look no further than Ellen's which comes complete with some fantastic views of the harbor!

That said, there are lots of terrific restaurants and shops in the downtown area which is a great place to take a walk!  As a matter of fact, you're better off walking as parking can be pretty scarce during the high season so if you drove to Rockport and do find a spot, park the car and leave it there as you walk around Dock Square, Town Wharf, and Baptist Square which is also known as the Town Common.

As a quick aside when it comes to parking in Rockport, if you're going to be there during the high season, chances are really good you are not going to find a place to park in the downtown area so you might want to consider parking in the secure Blue Gate Meadow Lot off of Route 127 just outside of town where you can park your car for free and for just $1.00 per person each way -exact change only! - hop on board the Cape Ann Transportation Authority shuttle bus.  The colorful trolleys make the approximately one-mile trip to downtown just about every 25 minutes while saving you the parking headache that unfortunately downtown Rockport can be - including remembering to feed the meter!

Shuttle buses run from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Motif #1 Day and Memorial Day weekend in May, Saturdays & Sundays in June, daily in July & August, Saturdays & Sundays as well as Labor Day in September, and for the Rockport Harvest Festival in October.  Schedules are available around town or by calling 978-283-7916; for additional information on all of the CATA's bus routes, be sure to check out their website.

Meanwhile - back at Baptist Square ... For years this area where the World War I and II Monument stands in front of the 1822 Baptist Church was considered to be the winter storage area for fishing craft, an occasional shipbuilding yard, and a dumping place for decrepit wagons and what not. In 1856, the same year that Hannah Jumper and her gang washed the streets down with rum, the town decided to reform the Common and fenced it in. The Common really didn't become a park though until one of Rockport's native sons, George W. Harvey, took it upon himself to clean up the area, make improvements, and turn it into a place where people would want to spend time.

George W. Harvey was born in Rockport in 1885 and became a largely self-taught artist known for his landscapes of the Cape Ann area. He studied in Philadelphia and Holland and thus was influenced by the Hague School of painters who generally made use of relatively somber colors, which is why the Hague School is sometimes called the Gray School.

"Sailing Ships in Stormy Seas" by George W. Harvey Image Credit

Setting his artistic eye upon the Rockport Common, Mr. Harvey purchased the land, tore down a factory building which adjoined the church, built the parish house, completely remodeled the church, and laid out the shrubbery and lawn vastly improving the area and turning what was most likely an eyesore into a beautiful spot to sit and enjoy the sunshine on a warm spring day. In return, the good folks of Rockport named the park in his honor and placed a plaque on a rock in the middle of the Common.

Across from the Common is a spot to pick up some Visitor Information should you be in need of some guidance and didn't pop into the Harbormaster's Office!

Walking back up Main Street towards the Rockport Art Association, you'll find the 1880 Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall which was later referred to as the Veterans Memorial Hall seeing use as such through the 1920s. For those not familiar with the Grand Army of the Republic, it was a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army, US Navy, US Marines and US Revenue Cutter Service who served in the American Civil War which was founded in 1866 in Decatur, Illinois, and dissolved in 1956 when its last member died. There were chapters all over the country and this is where Rockport's Chapter met.

Next to the GAR Memorial Hall is another Tuck's Candy store but at this one they don't make the candy they sell (it comes from down the street) and they also have a gift shop area which takes up a lot more of the store. It's a great place to pick up that box of salt water taffy you might have neglected to buy at the Tuck's on Dock Square though! 

Just a little further down the road and across from the First Congregational Church is the former 1911 Haskins Mercantile Building now known as the Shalin Liu Performance Center - the current home of Rockport Music which has been committed to one enduring purpose since its formation in 1981: enriching lives through great music.

Stunningly beautiful and fitting in perfectly with the historic look of the rest of the village, the Shalin Liu Performance Center was rebuilt from the inside out providing a stunning setting for the annual Rockport Chamber Musical Festival, Rockport Music’s signature presentation, which includes over 20 concerts as well as pre-concert lectures, open rehearsals, and free events for families. With its 18-foot high by 25-foot wide wall of windows that forms the back of the stage overlooking the ocean and acoustics that are unsurpassed, the building is a visual and audio feast for those attending concerts there. Opened in June of 2010, the magnificent building has become an important cultural resource for the greater Boston community as it attracts well-known performers, audiences, and visitors to Cape Ann and Rockport.

If you're not able to catch a concert, you can still take a tour of the building on Saturdays starting in mid-June and continuing through mid-October when docents conduct free tours every 15 minutes from 12:30-2:00 as rehearsal schedules allow. On Tuesday/Fridays, also starting in mid-June and through at least Labor Day, only the performance hall is open for viewing and photographs while docents are on hand to answer questions and provide information and brochures to visitors. Dates, as always, are subject to change - contact the Shalin Liu Performance Center at 978-546-7391 for the latest tour times and availability.

Continuing past the Shalin Liu on Main Street and past more shops that have been in business in Rockport for years and years, you'll find a fork in the road that if you take to the right will bring you to Beach Street and the location of the Old First Parish Burying Ground.

Across from the burying grounds is Front Beach and the stone gazebo that is a big point of reference in Rockport as well as a favorite art subject of both painters and photographers alike.

If you continue down Beach Street just a little bit you'll come to Back Beach where you can get a great view of Rockport's skyline including the picturesque First Congregational Chuch as well as the back of the Shalin Liu Performance Center. Both beaches are a very easy walk from downtown and there are restaurants nearby.

Back Beach faces to the east and from there you can just make out the Straitsmouth Island Lighthouse which is more easily visible from the tip of Bearskin Neck or by boat cruise. In 1835, a 19-foot high brick lighthouse and brick Keeper’s house were constructed to guide mariners of the fishing and granite industries into Rockport Harbor during a time when an estimated seventy thousand vessels passed Cape Ann annually. During the 1850s, the oil lamps which displayed a fixed white light were refitted with a Sixth-order Fresnel lens and in 1878, a new 1-1/2 story Keeper’s house was built before the present 37-foot high brick tower replaced the original deteriorating tower in 1896. In 1967, the lighthouse was automated and the Fresnel lens was replaced by a modern optic which is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard.. During that same year, on December 5, 1967, the island and the Keeper's House were donated to the Massachusetts Audubon Society as part of the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary for bird and wildlife by Frederick Gibbs who bought the island as private property in 1941.

Though it may seem like Nathaniel and I have touched on a lot of the historic and interesting places that you can visit in the seaside village of Rockport, we really only scratched the surface as there is so much more there to see and do including the two house museums owned by the Sandy Bay Historical Society: the 1832 Sewall-Scripture House located at 40 King Street (a short walk from Front Beach) which is pictured below and the 1711 Old Castle located on Castle Lane in Pigeon Cove which is just a bit over a mile from the Sewall-Scripture House.  Both houses are open to the public but be sure to check the Sandy Bay Historical Society's website for hours, admission fees, and directions as they do change!

Even though Rockport is a relatively short drive from the Hawthorne Hotel, if you'd like to skip potential traffic and parking problems should you be visiting during the high tourist season (pretty much anytime between Memorial Day and Labor Day), consider leaving your car behind and taking the MBTA Commuter Rail train from Salem Station which is an easy walk from the hotel.  The Newburyport/Rockport Line will whisk you to Rockport's station located at 1 Whistlestop Mall where you'll find the Rockport Chamber of Commerce Information Office at the station and the center of town only 10 minutes' walk away.

For more information to help you plan your trip to the quaintest seaside village on Cape Ann that comes complete with lots of interesting history - but no package stores or bars! - check out the Rockport Chamber of Commerce's website for information on upcoming festivals and events as well as what's new in town.

Think you've seen all that the Rockport has to offer? Not by a long shot, there's more to come soon as Nathaniel checks out a few more places in the area that you'll want to add to your list of places to see!

Copyright © - Travels With Nathaniel/Linda Orlomoski/Hawthorne Hotel. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Travels With Nathaniel/Linda Orlomoski/Hawthorne Hotel is strictly prohibited.


  1. What a lovely area! Great photos, as usual. Now I'm ready to try that chowdah!!! Srsly...

  2. I ♥♥♥ Rockport... and Nathaniel!

  3. So, I see Nathaniel likes salt water taffy. But does he like to indulge in adult beverages?

    Love the "Smellin' Committee" - too funny. I went to a restaurant that had the story of Hannah Jumper in a glass case by the front door. Wonder if the restaurant was called Hannah Jumper's?? it was the 60s, I've forgotten.

    I love the photo of the three rowboats. Reminds me of the milk trucks photo. The theater looks gorgeous.


Thank you for your feedback; it is greatly appreciated!
~ Nathaniel and Linda