This handsome little town at the tip of Cape Ann was settled in 1690, and over the years it has been a fishing port, a center of granite excavation, and a thriving summer community whose specialty seems to be selling fudge and refrigerator magnets to visitors. But there’s more to Rockport than just gift shops. It’s home to a pretty state park and it’s popular with photographers, sculptors, jewelry designers, and painters. Winslow Homer, Fitz Henry Lane, and Childe Hassam are among the artists who have captured the local color.
On summer weekends, Rockport can be packed; in winter, from January to mid-April, it’s somewhat desolate, but the year-round population is large enough that some businesses stay open with reduced hours. Metered parking spots are available throughout downtown and there’s a free parking lot on Upper Main Street (Route 127). The CATA “park-and-ride” shuttle bus to downtown costs $1, exact change only.
The most famous sight in Rockport has something of an “Emperor’s New Clothes” aura—it’s a wooden fish warehouse on the town wharf, or T-Wharf, in the harbor. The barn-red shack known as Motif No. 1 is the most frequently painted and photographed object in a town filled with attractive buildings and surrounded by rocky coastline. The color certainly catches the eye in the neutrals of the surrounding seascape, but you may find yourself wondering what the big deal is. Originally constructed in 1884 and destroyed during the blizzard of 1978, Motif No. 1 was rebuilt using donations from residents and visitors. It stands again on the same pier, duplicated in every detail, reinforced to withstand storms.
On Main Street, behind what looks like a Victorian facade, the Shalin Liu Performance Center (37 Main St.; tel. 978/546-7391) is a stunning modern concert hall with ocean views behind its stage. It was built in 2008–2010 as a home for the acclaimed Rockport Chamber Music Festival, held every June. In summers the lobby is usually open to the public 10am to 2pm on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, with docents giving tours between 11am and 12:30pm, if there’s no performance going on.
Throughout town, more than two dozen art galleries display the work of local and nationally known artists. The Rockport Art Association & Museum, 12 Main St. (tel. 978/546-6604), sponsors exhibitions and special shows. It’s open daily in the summer, Tuesday through Sunday in the winter.
The 1922 Paper House, 52 Pigeon Hill St., Pigeon Cove (tel. 978/546-2629), is an unusual experience. Everything in it, including the furniture, was built entirely out of 100,000 newspapers. Every item is made from papers of a different period. It’s open daily from 10am to 5pm from spring to fall. Admission is $2 adults, $1 children (cash only). Follow Route 127 north from downtown about 1 1/2 miles until you see signs at Curtis Street pointing to the left.
Beyond Pigeon Cove, continue north on Route 127 to the very tip of Cape Ann, surf-battered Halibut Point State Park (tel. 978/546-2997). (The point got its name not from the fish, but because sailing ships heading for Rockport and Gloucester must “haul about” when they reach the jutting promontory.) This is a great place to wander and admire the scenery. On a clear day, you can see Maine. About 10 minutes from the parking area, you’ll come to a huge water-filled quarry (swimming is absolutely forbidden) and a visitor center, where staffers dispense information, brochures, and bird lists. There are walking trails, tidal pools, a World War II observation tower, and a rocky beach where you can climb on giant boulders. The park is open daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day, 8am to 8pm; otherwise daily dawn to dusk. Parking costs $10 (for non-MA-residents) from Memorial Day to Columbus Day.
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