With the seasonal camping deadline of Columbus Day looming (when RV parks close), we left Maine with the goal of completing a quick sweep through Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut… starting with a camping base in Gloucester, the main city on Cape Ann, and the oldest fishing port in New England. Since 1623, Gloucester has been serving the world as a harvester of quality seafood… and it’s also the perfect location for exploring the Massachusetts coastline, as well as Salem and Boston.
We have been mostly very lucky on this trip with weather — missing the crazy blustering winds and gales, the pouring rains and flooding, and major storming — but we have had our moments… and our days in Massachusetts were filled with strong winds, choppy seas, and lots of rain.
We spent our first day exploring Gloucester and Cape Ann along the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway, starting first at Stage Fort Park, located at Stage Head, just south of Gloucester. The park includes fields, picnic areas, bathrooms, visitor information, and two beaches. In the summers, the park hosts a weekly farmers market. It is a historic site, where Gloucester’s first settlers set up fishing stages. The main — and very obvious — feature of the park is a large rock, some sixty feet high and two hundred wide, which now features a plaque that states that on that spot a collection of fishermen and farmers established The Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1623.
We then drove north a few blocks to the Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial, which was installed in 1925 — as part of Gloucester’s 300th anniversary in 1923 to permanently memorialize the thousands of fishermen lost at sea in the first three centuries of town’s history. Between 1830 and 1910, 779 vessels and 5,305 people out of Gloucester were lost at sea. (In 1879 alone, 249 fishermen and 29 vessels were lost during a terrible storm.) The 8-foot tall bronze statue is positioned so that he is looking out over Gloucester Harbor. Inscribed on plagues all around the statue are the names of the fishermen lost at sea. In 1996 the memorial was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Because we were in a seafood port, we had to buy some fresh fish, and after consulting with locals, decided on Turner’s Seafood Market, located on Smith Street. The Turner family has a long history of fishing and selling the freshest seafood available — their tagline is “anything fresher still swims.” They also have two seafood restaurants (in Salem and Melrose). More importantly, they have an online Dock to Door Seafood Market and ship overnight to anywhere in the continental U.S. We purchased fresh Atlantic Salmon, Halibut, and Schrod (Haddock). Yum!
We then traveled as far east as we could — over to the Eastern Point Lighthouse, built in 1832 and featured in the movie The Perfect Storm. The fixed white light in the 30-foot tower was constructed for $2,579. In 1848, the original lighthouse was torn down and rebuilt for $2,550; it was slightly higher at 34-feet and built of brick in 1890, the 1848 tower was demolished and a new 36-foot-tall, cylindrical brick tower built on its foundation. In the late 1890s and early 1900s, a 2,250-foot-long breakwater positioned next to the lighthouse was built using 231,756 tons of Cape Ann granite blocks (from a nearby quarry) to protect the harbor. The lighthouse was automated in 1985.
From the lighthouse, we continued up Route 127A, which follows the coastline… stopping several times for more views of the crashing waves (including at Good Harbor Beach). We traveled through the town of Rockport, located a the tip of the Cape Ann peninsula. While we did not stop in town, it is a popular tourist location because of its reputation as an artist colony. (Previously, in the 1800s until the Great Depression, Rockport was a big granite quarry town, as numerous quarries were located nearby… and tons and tons of Rockport Granite was being shipped to cities and towns throughout the eastern U.S. The Cape Ann quarries specialized in the conversion of granite into paving blocks that were used to finish roads and streets, and millions of paving stones were annually shipped out of Cape Ann for road projects in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and other major eastern cities. Fun fact: The area has a Scandinavian influence as many of the granite laborers came from Sweden and Finland to work in the quarries.)
From Rockport, we continued our exploration of Cape Ann on MA-127, traveling up to Halibut Point State Park, which sits on the site of the former Babson Farm granite quarry (which was later acquired by the Rockport Granite Company)… the park was opened in 1981, contains 67 acres, and is managed for scenic, historic, and conservation purposes.
On a clear day, park officials say you can see Mount Agamenticus, located 81 miles away in Maine, and the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire.
When we visited, the visitor center and historic “fire tower” (a 60-foot World War II tower used for positioning the coastal weapons defending the harbors in Boston and Plymouth) were closed for renovations.
There are two main draws to this park. First, a very cool, self-guided trail that highlights the quarrying history of the park. Second, trails leading to the ocean and the rocky shores. We, of course, did many of the trails, first hiking the self-guided trail and being fascinated by the history of granite extraction in this old quarry. We also loved standing on the overlooks as well as hiking down to the rocky beach and observing the crashing waves.
The park is open year-round… and on Saturdays, from Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day weekend, tours of the quarry are offered which include a granite-cutting demonstration.
The next day we headed to Salem, known as both a historic seaport but more infamously for the Witch Trials (which took place in a period between February 1692 and May 1693). We faced two major problems in Salem. First, it was absolutely horrible stormy weather (rain and winds). Second, it was October and because of Halloween, many more people were visiting the city.
Salem, which was settled in 1626, lies at the mouth of the Naumkeag River. It became one of the major international ports for the American colonies. by 1790, Salem Harbor was a world-famous seaport and sixth-largest in the country. Today, the focus is tourism.
Sadly, many come to Salem because of the witch trials… and much of the tourism — especially in October — is centered on Halloween and witches. No one knows exactly how the witch hysteria happened — nor why it escalated to such a fever pitch in Salem. Some experts suggest a family rivalry/feud led to the initial accusations while others say a containment in the food supply (the fungus ergot — found in rye, wheat and other cereals — can cause symptoms such as delusions, vomiting and muscle spasms) led to the initial “possessed” behaviors. Many were accused, and ironically all 19 that were executed (by hanging) for being witches had plead not guilty while those who admitted to being a witch were not given death penalties. (One other man, Giles Corey, was crushed to death for refusing to plead.)
By September 1692, the fervor had begun to slow and public opinion turned against the trials. Though the Massachusetts General Court later annulled guilty verdicts against accused witches and granted indemnities to their families, bitterness lingered in the community. Gallows Hill, which was originally believed to be the site of Salem Witch Trials public hangings, is currently a park used as a playing field for various sports.
We visited the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, next to Charter Street Cemetery (also known as the Old Burying Point Cemetery) — which is the oldest cemetery in Salem, and among the oldest in the United States. The memorial consists of a solid stone block wall with 20 granite benches, each etched with the name of one of the victims, along with the date of execution. The memorial also contains six black locust trees, which some believe were the type of tree used to hang the 19 found guilty.
The sad legacy of the witch trials endured well into the 20th century, when playwright Arthur Miller dramatized the events of 1692 in his 1953 play The Crucible, using them as an allegory for the anti-Communist “witch hunts” led by the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.
Next up was a trip into Boston — the capital and most populous city in Massachusetts. It is also one of the oldest cities in the U.S., founded in 1630 by Puritan settlers from England. Boston was also a hotbed of the American Revolution, including the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre.
We drove into the city and parked right along The Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile path through the city that marks 16 significant spots in the history of the U.S., including Boston Common, Old State House, Boston Massacre Site, Faneuil Hall, Paul Revere House, Old North Church, and Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. It also crosses the Charles River and goes to the Bunker Hill Monument and the USS Constitution. There are National Park Service visitor centers at Faneuil Hall and the USS Constitution.
We enjoyed our experience in Boston, but disliked that many of the attractions along the trail required an entrance fee (including Old North Church and Paul Revere House). We were also a bit disappointed that Faneuil Hall (built in 1742) was undergoing renovations, but it was still fun to see the building… and the best part was the beautiful Great Hall on the second floor — where dissent against the British gained traction. We also enjoyed watching the many street performers outside Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. (The market was jam-packed with people, so we took about one step inside and turned around!)
Boston is one of those places in this country that have to be recognized as a key part of our history. In this case, for the strong ties to the birth of this nation, including the start of the American Revolution — with “the shot heard round the world,” which took place in the nearby towns of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775.
The one excellent attribute about Boston is that it is a very walkable city… and there are multiple options for driving or training into the city. Boston is also a lively city, partly because of all the college and universities located in and around the city… and we even stumbled into a rather large “farmers market” just a few blocks from Faneuil Hall where we bought some pomegranates and avocados.
While in the area, we also visited another Costco Wholesale — store #301 in Danvers. We also got in another Jazzercise class — this one a Legacy Class, which was a lot of fun, and a great workout. Finally, we also had a fun tasting at Alfalfa Farm Winery in Topsfield. The family-run winery produces hand-crafted wines on the grounds of a 300-year-old farm that once served as a dairy. For $7, you get five tastings and a free (small) souvenir glass. We enjoyed the tasting (including a Marechal Foch, Leon Millot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a dry blueberry wine), but none of the wines truly spoke to us… so we left with more glasses and Jen worrying about the clutter of all these wine glasses we have been collecting.
Fun facts about Massachusetts, the Bay State (technically, commonwealth). It is one of the original 13 colonies and one of the six New England states, and is best known for being the landing place of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims. Colonist John Smith named the state for the Massachuset Indian tribe. The state’s motto is “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.” The state observes a legal holiday called Patriots’ Day on the third Monday of April each year, which commemorates the first battles of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord. (And the Boston Tea Party reenactment takes place in Boston Harbor every December 16th.) The first subway system in the United States was built in Boston in 1897.
From Gloucester, we headed down to Rhode Island — state 36. With an eye on the calendar and the weather, we only stayed in the state for two days because the RV park was closing for the season. Our main focus here was visiting another wildlife refuge, one of five located in the state: the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1970 and located along the southern coast of Rhode Island. The 858-acre refuge is home to salt marshes, kettle ponds, freshwater wetlands, maritime shrub lands, wooded swamps, and forest — and it attracts more than 250 species of birds… and like most of the refuges we have visited, it was mostly empty of people.
But the coolest part of Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge is its history. Many of the wildlife refuges we have visited have been former farms that drained wetlands and diverted streams and rivers via dikes for that farming… this refuge is unique because it is in part the former Charlestown Naval Auxiliary Landing Fields — used during World War II and home to a fairly famous young pilot named George H. Bush (and his fighter plane named Barbara). While nature has greatly returned to the land, you can still see parts of the original runways. Ninigret comes from the local Native American tribe that used to live in Rhode Island.
The refuge has both an east entrance and a west entrance — connected via hiking trails, In fact, the refuge offers about four miles of hiking trails. We parked in the East Entrance, going through Ninigret Park (227 acres) to reach the parking area. We hiked all of the Grassy Point Nature Trail (1.1-mile loop), which preserves a piece of one of the runways (shown i the collage) — and offers an excellent view of Ninigret Pond, the largest coastal salt pond in Rhode Island, from an observation platform at Grassy Point. We also hiked part of the Cross Refuge Trail to see where another of the old runways used to exist. We end with about a mile hike along the paved Charlietown Runway Trail, which follows the path of one of the old runways. The only trail we did not hike is the Foster Cove Nature Trail, a 1-mile loop trail located next to the west entrance. Besides hiking, the refuge allows hunting and fishing — in season.
Fun facts about Rhode Island, the Ocean State: It is the smallest state by size in the U.S., covering an area of 1,045 square miles — only about 48 miles from north to south and 37 miles east to west… its shoreline along the Atlantic Ocean runs for 40 miles. It was the first of the original 13 colonies to renounce its allegiance to the British Crown, but the last of the original 13 colonies to become a state, doing so in 1790. Unlike most states, Rhode Island has no county government; it is divided into 39 municipalities, each having its own form of local government.
Then it was off to Connecticut — state 37. We stayed at Branch Brook Campground in Thomaston, about 30 miles north of New Haven and 27 miles southwest of Hartford. We had a mix of business and pleasure while visiting the area, starting with a fabulous hike to Castle Craig via Hubbard Park, located in Meriden. The 1,800-acre park is located in the Hanging Hills area, a mountainous range in southern Connecticut that overlooks Meriden and the Quinnipiac River Valley. Fun fact: the park was designed with the help of the Olmsted Brothers, sons Frederick Law Olmsted (best known for designing New York’s Central Park). Walter Hubbard not only donated the land to the city of Meriden, but cleared lands, built roads, and created Mirror Lake. in 1900, on the east peak, Hubbard built Castle Craig — with the help of local stone masons — a stone tower that was modeled on those built by the Turks along the Danube River in the 12th century. The tower is 32 feet high and 58 feet in circumference, with an interior stairway that provides access to an observation deck.
The park was added to the Register of National Historic Places in 1997, and has many features and activities for visitors. We were focused on hiking up to Castle Craig, though there is a road to take visitors to it — but it is only open from May 1st through October 31st. We hiked a 3.6-mile loop hike, beginning on the White Trail, which starts at a small parking lot in the northwest corner as you circle the lake; we parked in the main parking area, just north of the lake and walked over to the trailhead. The White Trail parallels the interstate (I-691) for a while — before crossing it on a cool pedestrian bridge. At a fork on the mountain side, take a left to take the Red Trail — which is a steep and rocky assent up the mountainside… and which then connects back with the White Trail and eventually leads to Castle Craig. After enjoying the views, we crossed over and down the mountain, passing Halfway House (the pavilion shown in the collage) on way down to Merimere Reservoir… before ending on Notch Road back to the parking lot. It’s best to use AllTrails or a similar app to find the best path to hike as the park itself has no trail maps.
The next day we took care of some business — meaning some shopping at Costco and a bit of wine-tasting.
We got gas and supplies at Costco #313 in Waterbury. Why so many Costco stores? We love the gas prices and their growing focus on organic groceries. Our Costco staples are salted, macadamia nuts. lamb loin steaks, and organic chicken. We often also get avocado oil, avocados (when from Mexico), coconut milk, and a few other organic items, as needed.
We then headed over to Gouveia Vineyards, which has a very nice tasting room situated on a hilltop — offering panoramic views of lush woodlands, open fields, and more than 32 acres of pristine vineyards. In total, the vineyard as about 140 acres in Wallingford. The winery produces about 90,000 bottles a year using traditional skills of Portuguese wine-making. They produce wines from a variety of grapes including Chardonnay, Traminette, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Muscat, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, and others. Wine tastings are $12.00, and includes six tastings: five pre-selected wines and one of your choice from the wine list. Also included in the price is an etched, souvenir wine glass.
The weather was stormy and rainy, but we had a cozy tasting. We always love it when we can share our experiences tasting around the country. We left with a bottle of the very-berry, smoky Stone House Red — a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Zinfandel.
We ended our visit in Connecticut running around the New Haven area for a good part of the day — including getting out in nature for a bit, starting with Farm River State Park, a 62-acre park located on the western shore of the Farm River estuary in East Haven. There is a small parking area along Short Beach Road which provides access to the Shoreline Greenway Trail — which then connects to the Nature Trail — both fairly short, but very pleasant.
We then drove over to Lighthouse Point Park, an 82-acre park located at the eastern point of New Haven Harbor along the Long Island Sound that includes the deactivated 1847 Five Mile Point Light (which was a beacon for 73 years and now which is only open to the public on special event days). The park is perhaps better known in the area for its Lighthouse Point Carousel, a 1911 carousel that includes 69 horses, one camel (one of only three in the world), and two chariots. (It is one of less than 100 still in use today. )The carousel is operated seasonally and the building available for weddings and other special events. The park also includes beaches, a splash play area, pavilions, picnic tables, boat launch, fishing pier, and nature trails. The park is also a favorite of birders, as it sits along the Atlantic Flyway — a key resource of migratory birds.
Fun facts about Connecticut, the Constitution State (although also known as the Nutmeg State) because its constitution served as a model for the U.S. Constitution. The name of the state comes from the Connecticut River, which bisects the state before flowing out into the Long Island Sound. The river’s name is derived from the Native American word quinetucket, meaning “besides the long, tidal river.” The first non-native settlers to the area were Dutch fur traders, arriving in 1614. It is also one of the original 13 colonies — and home to Samuel Colt, the inventor of the revolver.
Next up a quick stop in the Hudson Valley of New York as we slowly make our way to a week in New York City and visiting Ran’s birth state of New Jersey.