Don't Leave Gloucester Without First Visiting Its Downtown Area Which Has a Lot to Offer Including Historic Houses, Marvelous Museums, and More!

Gloucester City Hall located at Dale Avenue in Gloucester, Massachusetts was built in 1869-1871 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. It is currently undergoing renovations.

Once you've had a chance to take in all of other great spots in Gloucester, don't forget to go spend some time exploring the downtown area which Gloucester's beautiful City Hall has been standing watch over since its completion in 1871. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, the 141-year old building is undergoing a $2.6 million dollar exterior restoration paid for by local funds raised by the Community Preservation Act, but even the scaffolding can't hide the fact that the beautiful building which still serves as the most prominent feature of Gloucester's skyline continues to be the target of many a mariner making his way home from sea.

Gloucester City Hall Plaque
Gloucester City Hall Tower and SeagullDesigned as a veritable beacon with a clock tower that stands 148-feet above street level and 194-feet above sea level, Gloucester's City Hall is the third building built to serve as the municipal hub in a town that saw a surge of growth and prosperity during the 1860s. Following a population growth from fewer than 8,000 citizens in 1850 to over 12,000 in 1868 while continuing to escalate, the city-to-be decided that a new Town Hall should be built to meet their growing needs as well as to reflect the community pride that all felt.

Voting to replace the smaller town hall building (now the Legion Memorial Building on Washington Street) with something grander, in 1866 a prominent spot was picked in downtown Gloucester on Somes Field and building began. By 1867 the new building was practically finished and just about ready to take its part in serving Gloucester when tragedy struck and the structure burnt to the ground. Not to be deterred, work began immediately in the same spot on another structure of an even grander and more distinguished style designed to express the aspirations of the growing community.

Calling in a prominent architectural firm from Boston led by famed architect Gridley James Fox Bryant who had already designed Boston's City Hospital, Arlington Street Church, Old City Hall, and many other renowned buildings, there was soon erected a brick structure which was constructed in the style and size of the times reflecting the design of Philadelphia's Independence Hall and combining French Second Empire, Italian Renaissance Revival, High Victorian Gothic and English architectural elements. Soon the soaring structure with its ship-shaped weathervane claiming the highest point in the city became one of the defining elements of the Gloucester skyline as well as a favorite of countless artists.

In addition to being the center of Gloucester's government containing the location of the offices of the Mayor, City Clerk, Treasurer and City Solicitor along with many other administrative departments, Gloucester’s City Hall houses irreplaceable treasures of the community including original town records and original artifacts. Dating back to 1642, the Gloucester Archives located in City Hall are one of the most complete and best-organized collections of civic records (including maps, government papers, vital records, etc.) in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Additionally there are historic murals located in the building's auditorium, corridors and offices that are among the best WPA projects from the 1930s that still exist in their original settings. Created by Gloucester artists, the murals - including one in a staircase overlooking the harbor containing the names of Gloucester’s fishermen and mariners lost at sea - illustrate the history of the community.

Grand Army of the Republic Monument outside of Gloucester City Hall

Incorporated as a city in 1873, it should be noted that Gloucester’s good fortune and growth were based in part on the rest of the country’s tragedy. When the nation became embroiled in a bitter Civil War between North and South and thousands marched off to war, Union troops made salted fish a staple of their diets creating a new market for Gloucester’s fishing industry. Gloucester's growth and prosperity didn't come without a price to the town though as of the 1,500 Gloucester men who served in the Union Army, 127 died and never made it back while 162 fishermen were lost at sea during the 1860s bringing home the catch that would make its way to the men serving.  A monument erected by the Grand Army of the Republic on City Hall's grounds commemorates those Gloucester men who gave the last full measure fighting for their town and country.

Located at 9 Dale Avenue, Gloucester City Hall's hours of operation are Monday-Wednesday 8:30 am-4:00 pm; Thursday 8:30 am-6:30 pm; and Friday 8:30 am-12:30 pm. should you wish to view the interior of the building.

John Raimondi's Located on a lot adjacent to City Hall on the site of the former Moose Lodge, you'll find a park and sculpture garden belonging to the nearby Cape Ann Museum. Built of New England Deer Island granite, a stairway leads to the park where several benches can be found that provide a place for visitors to sit and take in the bronze sculpture Dance of the Cranes, by Rockport artist, John Raimondi. According to a press release on the Cape Ann Museum's website, "The inspirational depiction of cranes in flight exudes the optimism and positive spirit which is reflective of the proud and triumphant architecture of the iconic City Hall, which serves as its backdrop." The sculpture is part of Raimondi's Environmental and Abstraction Series and was donated to the Museum by the Charles R. Wood Foundation.

The Cape Ann Museum itself is located across Pleasant Street from City Hall and the sculpture garden. With a history reaching back to the early days of the 19th century, the museum was founded in 1873 as the Cape Ann Scientific and Literary Association which, along with the Gloucester Lyceum which was formed in 1831, hosted lectures by such literary luminaries as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Ward Beecher and Horace Mann during a time when New England was being swept with the spirit of cultural revival.

Gloucester's Cape Ann Museum was founded in 1873 as the Cape Ann Scientific and Literary Association.

In the early 1920s the association acquired its first permanent headquarters and took up residency in the 1804 Captain Elias Davis House which is still a part of the Cape Ann Museum with six of its twelve rooms open to visitors. The Captain Elias Davis House is furnished and decorated with domestic and personal items that were in use during the early 19th-century, many of which actually belonged to Elias Davis and his descendants.

1804 Captain Elias Davis House, part of the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester.

During the same time period that the Association acquired the Davis House, it also acquired the collections of the Gloucester Historical Society while also putting together its own impressive collections of fine art, decorative arts, fisheries and maritime history, books, photographs and other historical artifacts. Having outgrown its space in the Davis House to display its now vast holdings, it became necessary to build an adjoining gallery which also included an auditorium which enabled the Association to provide cultural programming for the community.

In the 1960s yet another expansion took place as the growth of the collections continued including the addition of what is the largest collection of Fitz Henry Lane paintings in the country. A new two-story wing with more galleries and storage space was built with an entire gallery devoted to the area’s fishing and maritime heritage. Expansion continued throughout the years and the museum now contains galleries, an auditorium, a library/archives, a children's activity center, two sculpture gardens and two historic homes.

Along with all of that expansion came a name change when in 2007 the Museum's Board voted to adopt the name Cape Ann Museum, with the accompanying tagline - art/history/culture. The board felt that the "new name more accurately describes the focused, but expansive nature of the Museum's mission, collections and activities, and strengthens the Museum's commitment to the people of Cape Ann and to preserving and presenting the rich traditions of its art, history and culture."

Entrance to the Cape Ann Museum

The Cape Ann Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; Sunday from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and closed on Mondays, major holidays and during the month of February. As of this writing, admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, students and Cape Ann residents; and free for children under 12 and Museum members. The Captain Elias Davis House and the White-Ellery House, the museum's other historic home, are only open on select days or by appointment. For information you can call (978) 283-0455 x11 or consult the museum's website where you can read about the various tours available as well as any special programs that the museum may be offering.

R. Michael Wall's American Marine Model Gallery at 20 Pleasant Street in Gloucester

While you're in the vicinity of City Hall and the Cape Ann Museum be sure to take a walk around and look at some of the other beautiful architecture in the historic area of Gloucester including the site of R. Michael Wall's American Marine Model Gallery above and the stately home on Pleasant Street below.

Pleasant Street Home in Gloucester.

The house above is a stone's throw to one of Gloucester's many Veteran's Memorials, this one being dedicated to the 100 Gloucester men who served in the 1898 Spanish-American War when the United States intervened in the Cuban War of Independence. America reluctantly entered the ten-week war after the mysterious sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor on the evening of February 15th, 1898. The battleship had been sent to protect U.S. interests during the Cuban revolt against Spain but she exploded suddenly and without warning, sinking quickly and killing nearly three-quarters of her crew. While the sinking of the Maine was not a direct cause for action, it served as a catalyst as, "Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!" became a rallying cry for action later that year.

Gloucester Memorial for Spanish War 1898
Plaque on Gloucester Spanish War Monument

Back down to City Hall and across the street stands the current home of the Gloucester Lyceum and Sawyer Free Public Library which has served the Gloucester community since February 15th, 1830 when nearly 100 Gloucester residents met and formed the Gloucester Lyceum.

Gloucester Lyceum and Sawyer Free Library

The purpose of the organization was to bring community members together to participate in lectures and debates which fostered ideas and information which inevitably led to the formation of a library. In 1850, a local businessman and philanthropist, Samuel E. Sawyer, offered the Lyceum $100 if additional funds could be raised to develop a library collection. A collection of 1,400 volumes was established by 1854 through the support of Mr. Sawyer and the public while more and more volumes were added over the years; however, a major fire in 1864 caused the loss of all but 300 of the 3,000 volumes that had been collected. Once again Mr. Sawyer stepped in and added $500 to the insurance settlement to rebuild the collection at which time membership fees were suspended and the library was officially named The Sawyer Free Library.

A successful merchant and representative to the Massachusetts General Court, Thomas Saunders built the Saunders house in 1764 to reflect his status in the community. It was one of the finest dwellings in Gloucester of the period. The Saunders House was purchased by the Sawyer Free Library’s greatest benefactor, Samuel E. Sawyer and his wife Abby I. Sawyer in 1884.

With still no permanent building to call home, in 1884 Mr. Sawyer purchased a prominent residence that had been built on the corner of Dale Avenue and Middle Street in 1764 by Thomas Saunders, a merchant and state representative, and donated it to the library corporation. At the dedication ceremony on July 1, 1884. Mr. Sawyer explained the reasons for his generosity:
"It has always been a prominent motive or object of my life to do something to promote the best interests of the young, for in them lie the germ, the roots and fibres (sic) of civilization. Books are the food of the mind; from the earliest years of childhood books are sought to feed the intellect, and so from school to college; later on they are a course of recreation to the idler, the tools of the student, the scholar and the man of letters."
1764 Thomas Spaulding House, part of the Gloucester Sawyer Free Library.

A modern expansion was added to the Saunders House in 1973 which opened in 1976 to provide adequate space for the Gloucester Lyceum and Sawyer Free Library to continue to serve as the literary and cultural center of the city, an institution dedicated to "maintaining a free library, lectures, collections in natural history and works of art, and the promotion of intellectual culture generally."

Colonel Foster Joseph House circa 1760

In addition to the Thomas Saunders House which became the city's library, there are other historic homes around the area of Gloucester's City Hall including the circa 1760 Colonel Joseph Foster House. Born on June 19th, 1730 in what is now Essex, Massachusetts, Foster moved to Gloucester where he became a merchant and sea captain. One of the wealthier land holders in Gloucester during the second half of the eigteenth century, Foster was present in Gloucester during the British attack on the city in August of 1775. He went on to serve in the House of Representatives of Massachusetts from 1775 to 1776 and was elected as Colonel of the Sea-Coast Forces during the Revolution in 1776. In 1782, Colonel Foster was captured with the ship “Polly” by British forces and was detained in Nova Scotia before eventually being returned to the United States. Colonel Foster died in 1804 in Gloucester.

1764 William Dolliver House, Gloucester, MA

Nearby another historic home, the 1764 William Dolliver House, belongs to a man whose grandmother was arrested during the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria in 1692 but never convicted. The daughter of a respected Salem Town minister, the Reverend John Higginson, Ann Higginson Dolliver was accused of witchcraft for making wax puppets and subsequently arrested om June 6th. Following her release from jail after being exonerated of the accusations, Ann became mentally afflicted and was deserted by her husband who left the care of their three children up to Ann's father, the Reverend Higginson.  William, born on June 17th, 1724, was the first son of William and Ann's son Peter who moved to Gloucester in 1707 and bought land on Spring Street before marrying Abigail Sanders, a Gloucester native.

Leaving behind the Cape Ann Museum and City Hall, Gloucester's historic district is just a short hop, skip, and a jump to its downtown business area where you can find lots of antique and other eclectic shops on Main Street to visit during your trip to America's oldest seaport.

Downtown Gloucester, Massachusetts
Downtown Cats, Gloucester, MA
Downtown Gloucester

Also located on Main Street is the Isabel Babson Memorial Library which was founded on August 1st, 1961 by Roger Ward Babson in memory of his ancestor with the mission to open minds about childrearing.

The Isabel Babson Memorial Library, Gloucester, MAIsabel Babson came to Gloucester as a widow, and was one of the first, if not the very first, practitioners of the obstetric branch of the medical profession in town. An inhabitant of Salem in 1637, Isabel came to Gloucester a short time afterwards with her son James. Isabel lived in a log cabin on the land today located at 69 Main Street and to this day, that remains the library’s permanent address.

During a time when midwifery was thought by some to be an act of witchcraft, Isabel Babson defied convention and traveled throughout the Cape Ann area helping expectant mothers prepare for childbirth. In her memory, Roger Babson (1875–1967), an economist and financier from the area who believed that safe and informed child-rearing as well as the health and well-being of women were critical to a stable society, established the Isabel Babson Memorial Library which specializes in books for expectant mothers.

An article in Wicked Local Gloucester that was written when the library celebrated its 50th birthday in 2011 describes this one-of-a-kind library best:  "Referred to as a family library, the Isabel Babson Memorial Library is unique and remains the only one of its kind in the country. Originally focusing on midwifery, prenatal care, childbirth and childrearing, the library’s core collection expanded as times changed and family needs evolved over the past half-century. Now more than 2,300 titles line the shelves to help patrons answer questions they have on almost every phase of their life. Topics covered include women’s and men’s health issues, marriage, divorce, sex education, adolescent challenges, depression, menopause, autism, sleep disorders, cancer, diabetes, abuse, grief and more."

The library is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and although the library doesn't carry novels, it does stock a pleasure reading section which is full of memoirs and biographies.

Doorknocker in downtown Gloucester

Located almost directly across the street from the Isabel Babson Memorial Library - and rightfully so - is the The Sargent House Museum, the former home of Judith Sargent Stevens Murray (1751-1820), a philosopher, writer and an early advocate of women's equality.

For over 100 years, the Sargent House Museum was the home of sea merchants, patriots and community leaders. A fine example of high-style Georgian domestic architecture, the house was built in 1782 for Judith Sargent Stevens (1751-1820), a philosopher, writer and an early advocate of women's equality.

Designed in the Georgian style of architecture - the dominant style for domestic construction in the United States from 1700-1780 which grew out of the Italian Renaissance in Europe - the house was built in 1782 and for over 100 years was the home of sea merchants, patriots and community leaders. Judith Sargent Murray, for whom the house was built by her first husband Captain John Stevens, was one of the first women in America to have her own literary column and the first American to have a play produced on the Boston stage. After Judith's first husband died in the West Indies where he fled to escape debtors prison, Judith married John Murray in 1788 in Salem, Massachusetts. John Murray is considered to be the founder of organized American Universalism; charismatic and convincing, he succeeded in dismantling the dark, gloomy promises of Calvinism in favor of a more hopeful view of the present and life after. In 1790, Judith Sargent Murray's essay “On the Equality of the Sexes" was published marking her as one of this country’s earliest feminist writers. In addition to writing plays, essays, poems and fiction, Murray was an avid writer of letters having penned over 2,000 between 1774 and the early 1800s.

Open Friday, Saturday & Sunday, 12pm – 4pm from Memorial Day through Labor Day, visitors to The Sargent House Museum can learn about the early history of Gloucester from its beginnings as a farming and lumbering outpost to its evolution into the country's premier seaport and also see a collection of original works by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), a descendant of the Sargent family, who was considered to be the "leading portrait painter of his generation".  Admission to the house is $10, $5 for students, and free for members.

Judith Sargent Murray Mural of Gloucester

More or less kitty-corner across the street from The Sargent House Museum is the 1996 mural painted to honor Judith Sargent Murray by New Mexico artist, Be Sargent Allen. I'm afraid that I can't tell you much more about it other than that it's there!

Finally, speaking of there, just about across from the mural there is a great little Mexican restaurant that might not exactly be historic but is definitely worth exploring if you happen to enjoy good south of the border cuisine. Established in 1992 (definitely not quite old enough to be considered historic but a little older than the mural across the street), Jalapenos of Gloucester serves up authentic, genuine Mexican cuisine with recipes that have been brought to Massachusetts from Mexico City as well as central and southern Mexico.

Jalapeno's in downtown Gloucester
Jalapeno's Gloucester's authentic Mexican Restaurant, established in 1992.

If seafood just isn't your thing or you've spent the whole day exploring Gloucester since having a nice seafood lunch and want to try something just a bit different for dinner, Jalapenos serves up some truly amazing food like ...

Jalapeno's Tortilla Soup:  Julienne-cut tortillas in a light chicken broth with shredded cheese and avocado. - Yummy!
Tortilla Soup: Julienne-cut tortillas in a light chicken broth with shredded cheese and avocado.

Jalapeno's Steak Gaonera: Charcoal-grilled steak, pan baked with Chihuahua and Monterrey Jack Cheese, topped with chilled guacamole.
Steak Gaonera: Charcoal-grilled steak, pan baked with Chihuahua and Monterrey Jack Cheese, topped with chilled guacamole.

Jalapeno's Chocolate Mousse in a Deep-Fried Tortilla Bowl with Chocolate Sauce and Whipped Cream
Chocolate Mousse in a Deep-Fried Tortilla Bowl with Chocolate Sauce and Whipped Cream

Even if you just stop in for dessert and try the Chocolate Mousse, you'll be glad you did as it's a great way to wrap up your visit to America's oldest fishing village which has certainly grown since the Dorchester Company first arrived in 1623 but hasn't forgotten its history as one of the first English settlements in what would become the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

As for those who may have noticed that Nathaniel wasn't in any of the above pictures, I should probably mention that he was in the car sleeping off that gigantic ice cream cone he'd had earlier in the day at the Long Beach Dairy Maid! Which is too bad as he missed a very nice part of Gloucester filled with lots of interesting history - not to mention a darned tasty meal! 

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. Gloucester... sigh... WIWT again!

    Poor Nathaniel. His tummy is so teeny.

  2. Visiting late, but I'm here..

    In addition to being a travel writer and photographer, you can also be a food critic ~ why not, I say!

    It looks like you had perfect weather to explore Gloucester. Thanks for the history lesson. You do so much research for your posts!

  3. Thank you so much for your lovely description of Gloucester. When visiting, take the new, award-winning Gloucester HarborWalk. Find it in advance on your trip, or scan the qr codes on your smart phone to see--and hear--much more. It weaves between the sites described above and the working waterfront. Currently, there are 42 markers with many more links, and more to come. Also visit Discover Gloucester to arrange for a trip on a fishing or lobster boat, and see the new Gloucester Harbortown and Rocky Neck Cultural Districts. A new app to encompass all will be revealed shortly.


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