Hounds and History–Dogtown Commons, Gloucester, MA

If you’re anything like us, you usually head to Gloucester for the beaches and galleries, and maybe some great seafood.  Today, we decided to try something different.

We woke up to a morning a bit rainier than originally forecast, a postponed playdate due to a sick friend (get well soon, Em!), outdoor activities and chores partly limited due to my sprained finger, and a dog who was rearing to get out.

A good sentiment before a long hike!

A good sentiment before a long hike!

We figured it was an appropriate day to go to Cape Ann but stay inland for once.  Dogtown Commons is a historically protected wilderness in Gloucester and Rockport.  It’s about 3600 acres (not too different in size to our beloved Middlesex Fells!)

Some beautiful natural sights we saw:

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Even the dried grass is interesting to look at, especially as it camouflages our dog quite well!

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It has an extraordinarily rich, and sometimes slightly spooky history, which made checking it out on an overcast day appropriately atmospheric.  Telling your kids some of the legends will keep them engaged and interested on a day hike.  There’s a great article here with some history.

A marker of an ill-fated bullfight.

A marker of an ill-fated bullfight.

In short, some of the excitement involves the fact it is suspected the first settlers picked the rocky and hilly area to hide from pirates.  Some of the last settlers were accused of being witches.  And there is no shortage of stories from in between, including one of a very bloody bullfight. (Not the traditional kind you might think of.  Apparently a drunk guy wrestled his pet on dares from friends…and eventually lost.)  Oh, and some think the area is haunted.

Bridget's leaning against a huge boulder, pensive.  Thinking about ghosts?

Bridget’s leaning against a huge boulder, pensive. Thinking about ghosts?

The area is overflowing with glacial boulders, and there many formations to admire and huge erratics to climb.   During the Great Depression, philanthropist Roger Babson hired out-of-work stonecutters to carve inspirational quotes and historical references on the boulders to mark some of the old building foundations and sites.

Bridget found a rock that said "study" and pretended to practice her letters.  The site of an old school?

Bridget found a rock that said “study” and pretended to practice her letters. The site of an old school?

...and Craig proceeded to move her aside and sit on the "Y" to change the meaning.  Probably not the first goofy dad to do that.

…and Craig proceeded to move her aside and sit on the “Y” to change the meaning. Probably not the first goofy dad to do that.

 

People don’t seem to be exactly sure where the name comes from, but it is suspected to be canine based.  No, it is not a formal dog park, although it is hugely popular with dog walkers who are more than welcome and who are partly inspired and drawn by the name, I’m sure.  It seems the most popular theory, cited in the links above, is that many of the residents were Revolutionary War widows.  Living alone, it was common for them to have dogs for protection.  After they died or moved on, some of the dogs stayed as strays, and it was not rare to see them running around or hear them howling.

We imagine Moxie was so sad to leave she blew us raspberries!

We imagine Moxie was so sad to leave she blew us raspberries!

Gloucester is a gorgeous and quintessential New England town with many things to do.  But one of these times, go visit this lesser known enclave.  It’s only a short hop away for many of our outdoorsy readers–check it out!

Fiona can't wait to come back!

Fiona can’t wait to come back!

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