Fried clams, shipbuilding history and arty seaside towns are some of the drawcards of Cape Ann. Everyone knows Cape Cod is a playground for the rich and famous. The other cape in Massachusetts, a jut of land around 50km north of Boston, Cape Ann, may not be as glamorous but it’s certainly worth visiting.
Cape Ann is a New England seaside retreat. Think rugged cliffs and picturesque fishing villages. Rockport, Manchester, Essex and Gloucester are popular for their uncrowded beaches, art galleries, restaurants and antique shops.
Here are seven reasons why you should visit Cape Ann.
1- You’re a fan of George Clooney
If you’re a Clooney fan you’ve probably seen The Perfect Storm, where George Clooney plays a sea captain caught in a huge storm. Gloucester is the setting for the movie and book.
Gloucester is the USA’s oldest seaport. It has a working harbour with lobster boats, trawlers and tourism boats used for whale watching, deep sea fishing and sailing.
2- You love the history of Cape Ann
Queen Anne of England was the inspiration for the naming of Cape Ann in 1623 when Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.
These early settlers arrived at Cape Ann in search of better fishing areas. Gloucester Harbor became the fishing centre for New England.
Besides marine activities, Gloucester is also home to one of America’s oldest continuously working art colonies. Rocky Neck Art Colony is where many local artists have studios and galleries. open to the public.
3- Rockport is out of a movie set
The former fishing village of Rockport looks like a movie set, with colourful fishermen’s shacks house art studios, trinket shops and restaurants.
The fishing shack on Bradley Wharf, known as “Motif #1”, is one of the most painted buildings in the USA and a symbol on the Massachusetts U.S. postal stamp.
After wandering around Rockport’s Bearskin Neck (named by fishermen after a bear skin that was left out to dry on the rocks), you’ll wish you had more time to spend in the craft shops and galleries.
4- You love eating lobster
Another reason I like Rockport is for the lobsters, which are supplied by local lobster catchers to the town’s restaurants. Lobster is served everywhere in a number of different ways: in salads, as lobster rolls, boiled and as lobster chowder.
New England is famous for lobster rolls, which is usually consumed in summer and after trying one, you could be hooked. The fresh cooked lobster meat is tossed with mayonnaise or butter and served on a grilled roll. It’s just too hard to resist.
5- You’ve heard about the fried clams at Cape Ann
Another New England culinary staple is the fried clam and Cape Ann is where this dish was invented.
Tuck into a creamy New England clam chowder while sitting in an old-fashioned booth in Woodman’s of Essex. Don’t forget the fried clams, onion rings and steamers, which are delicious when dipped in melted butter.
The legend of the fried clam involves Lawrence Henry Woodman, “Chubby”, and his wife, Bessie, who had a small roadside stand in Essex. They started out in 1916 selling fruit, home-made potato chips along with fresh clams from the Essex River.
Clam sales were down but the potato chip business was booming. A throw-away line by a local fisherman gave them the idea of deep frying their clams.
So, the enterprising couple came up with a method involving shucking the clams then dipping them in a milk and cornflour mixture. Woodman’s fried clams now set the standard upon which fried clams are judged and the original recipe is still used today.
6- You’re fascinated with boats and ships
Besides fried clams, the Essex Shipbuilding Museum is another drawcard and one of the main attractions in the museum is an original ship, a schooner called Evelina M. Goulart, built in 1927.
In the 1800s, Essex shipbuilders were famous for their two-masted wooden schooners. More of these were built here than any other place in the world.
7- Cape Ann is a place that attracts the rich and famous
The next town along from Essex is Ipswich, where it’s worth stopping in at the Crane Estate (290 Argilla Road, Ipswich, tel: +978 356 4354) to soak up the atmosphere of the grand summer estate, which belonged to one of America’s wealthiest families.
In 1910, Chicago industrialist Richard T. Crane, Jr. and his family lived a lavish lifestyle on the 850ha estate, which has a casino, wildlife refuge, gardens, manicured lawns and a private beach.
Follow a guide through The Great House and marvel at the 18th-century Georgian woodwork, Baroque carvings and Gothic vaulting.
Down at Crane Beach, gaze across the sand dunes towards the Atlantic and ponder how the ocean has moulded Massachusetts’ other cape into the lovely place it is today.