Cape Ann

Dogtown and The Babson Boulders

Cape Ann is a magical place steeped in history, and one of the more historic and magical places I have had the adventure of exploring is Dogtown, in our quest to find the Babson Boulders and old cellar holes of the ghost town settlement. To the right is some history about Dogtown and the Babson Boulders, and below are photos of the ones we have found so far, as well as other interesting spots in Dogtown. These images are available on cards (to give suptle hints to those friends or family members who need them) and prints, as well as the 2011 Dogtown and Babson Boulders calendar. Also now available is a collection of Dogtown and Babson Boulder T-shirts and sweatshirts at* in a variety of colors and styles.



dogtown black and white photograph

Goose Cove Reservoir through the trees and rocks of Dogtown


Babson Boulder Be On Time


Granny Day's Swamp - Jane "Granny" Day (#20 or #21 Dogtown Road - controversy exists over which was her actual location) was a school teacher, who worked out of the single-room schoolhouse at Dogtown Square. In either case, her house apparently abutted the swamp, known for swallowing sheep and other careless creatures that wandered too close. She lived to the age of 94 and died in 1814.


Babson Boulder Courage


Terminal Moraine at Dogtown Square (A terminal moraine, also called end moraine, is a moraine that forms at the end of the glacier, called the snout. Terminal moraines mark the maximum advance of the glacier. A moraine is any glacially formed accumulation of unconsolidated glacial debris (soil and rock). Moraines may be composed of debris ranging in size from silt-sized glacial flour to large boulders. The debris is typically sub-angular to rounded in shape.)


Babson Boulder Ideas


Rocks alongside the trail to Goose Cove Reservoir.


Babson Boulder Integrity


Split rock with lichen.


Babson boulder Intelligence


The trail - stay on it! It is easy to get lost if you get off trail and don't have a compass (my sister and I spent way too much time wading through brambles and thickets to find our way back to the trail when we left it to explore).


Babson Boulder Keep out of Debt


Dogtown Babson Boulder Kindness


Dogtown Babson Boulder Loyalty


Spiritual Power from the trail - the words are carved on the backside of it. This boulder is huge, much larger than it appears in the photo, probably close to 20 feet tall and wide.


Dogtown Babson Boulder Spiritual Power

Spiritual Power - my favorite and the grandest of the boulders, also known as Andrew's Rock.


Dogtown babson boulder Study



dogtown babson boulder to rockport


dogtown babson boulder Truth


Dogtown Babson Boulder Use Your Head



dogtown babson boulder work

This is my 2nd favorite. It looks like the big rock is directing the smaller ones.















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History of Dogtown and the Babson Boulders

Millionaire philanthropist, Roger Ward Babson (1875-1967), provided charitable assistance to unemployed stonecutters in Gloucester during the Great Depression, by commissioing them to carve inspirational inscriptions on approximately two dozen boulders in the area surrounding Dogtown Common. While the inscriptions are clearly visible, the boulders are scattered, not all are on the trail, and not all of the inscriptions face the trail, making finding them something of a challenge.

Representing the tenth successive generation of Babsons to live in Gloucester, Massachusetts, Roger Babson valued his heritage. He researched his ancestors, investigating their personalities, professions, and lifestyles. Beginning with Isabel Babson, who came to Massachusetts from England in 1637, Roger Babson discovered a lineage of farmers, merchants, midwives, preachers, and sea captains. Believing that personality traits were hereditary, Roger Babson continually looked for opportunities to foster and benefit from his ancestors' individual attributes.

Babson College continues to be one of Roger Babson's greatest achievements. Remaining close to his initial conception of offering practical business and management instruction, the College now offers a graduate business degree and courses in executive education in addition to a four-year undergraduate business program.

Babson's religious convictions also extended into the world of politics. In 1940, he ran for President of the United States as the candidate for the National Prohibition Party. Although the church-affiliated party was best known for wanting to outlaw vices such as alcohol, gambling, and narcotics, as well as indecent movies and publications, the party also advocated reducing debt and taxation, conserving natural resources, aiding farmers, and "assuring workers and consumers a fair share of industry's products and profits." Although Roger Babson knew his party would not win the election, he felt it was his duty to bring its moral and religious agenda to the nation. Out of a field of eight candidates, Roger Babson followed fourth behind Franklin Roosevelt, Wendell Willkie, and Norman Thomas.

Babson was interested in the history of the abandoned settlement in Gloucester known as Dogtown. Dogtown (also Dogtown Commons or Dogtown Village) is located in a densely wooded area of about five square miles, or 3,600 acres, in central Gloucester stretching from the Riverdale section of the city, north of Route 128, into Rockport, and includes Goose Cove and the Babson Reservoir. Once known as the Common Settlement and populated by respectable citizens, it was for a century the most prosperous part of Gloucester. It is in an area not particularly suited to agriculture, due to its poor and very rocky soil. Nevertheless it was settled due to its inland location, which afforded protection from pirates and enemy natives, and because of its availability of water. Another attraction was the fact that the area lay on what was originally the only direct land route between Sandy Bay (Rockport's original name) and Gloucester. Dogtown's development and prosperity lasted from about 1650 until 1750. During this time, the area was home to Gloucester's most prominent families, and since it was directly connected by road to all of Cape Ann's seashore communities, the Commons Settlement, as it was called, was a thriving and successful hub of agriculture, timbering, and transportation. The peak of its population has been estimated at around one hundred families.

After new coastal roads were opened, and especially after the conclusion of the War of 1812 and its attendant risk of coastal bombardment, most farmers moved away from Dogtown. Their abandoned houses were for a few decades occupied by itinerants and vagabonds, giving the area its bad reputation. Many of the widows of sea-goers and soldiers who never returned kept dogs for protection and company. As these last inhabitants died, their pets became feral and wild, roaming the moors and howling, possibly giving rise to the nickname "Dogtown". An equally likely reason for the area's name is that residents of surrounding villages considered the inhabitants of the decrepit area to live like dogs.

Some of the last occupants were suspected of practicing witchcraft, including Thomazine "Tammy" Younger, whom some knew as the "Queen of the Witches." Tammy lived on Fox Hill, by Alewife Brook, and would reputedly place a curse on teams of oxen carrying fish from the harbor as they crossed the bridge there, unless their driver paid her a "toll". A reputed witch often associated with Dogtown was Peg Wesson, but in fact she lived in Gloucester, not Dogtown. The last resident of Dogtown, a freedman named Cornelius "Black Neil" Finson, was found half-dead living in a cellar-hole in the winter, and was removed to the poorhouse in Gloucester in 1830; he died shortly afterward.

During the Revolution, the Commons Settlement produced two heroes. Isaac Dade (cellar hole 18) escaped impressment on a British ship to fight in three battles and be badly wounded at the Battle of Yorktown. Peter Lurvey (cellar hole 25) became Gloucester's most celebrated Minuteman in August 1775, when the British ship "Falcon" sailed into Gloucester harbor. Lurvey quit working in his field and ran to the harbor, recruiting comrades along the way. The "Falcon" was driven out to sea, but Lurvey was killed in the action. Over a century later, his heroism was the subject of a poem by Gloucester's banker-poet Hiram Rich.

Finally, there is James Merry who became a Dogtown legend in 1892, long after Dogtown ceased to exist. At 60, he still believed he could wrestle to the ground a bull he had been raising for three years. He had performed the feat in years past, but this time the bull was too much for him and he died in Dogtown of his injuries. The poet Charles Olson was drawn to the Merry legend, some say because both were very tall and broad, and Olson used the legend to anchor his long poem "Maximus from Dogtown - 1."

Stories about the lives of the residents of the Commons Settlement and Dogtown abound. Roger Babson's chapter on Dogtown in his Cape Ann Tourist's Guide (Gloucester: Cape Ann Community League 1952) and Thomas Dresser's Dogtown: A Village Lost in Time (Franconia NH: Thorn Books 1995) provide detailed and interesting sketches of many of these residents.

Most of the area of Dogtown is now a dense woodland, peppered with house-sized boulders, criss-crossed and bisected by trails and old roads. The area is held in trust by Gloucester and Rockport and therefore protected in perpetuity. Dogtown Road off of Cherry Street in the western section (the Gloucester side)is lined with the remains of the cellar holes of the settlers. Babson also mapped and numbered the cellar holes left from the homes of Dogtown's former residents.

The famous American artist and poet, Marsden Hartley, described Dogtown as a cross between Stonehenge and Easter Island. The natural history of Dogtown is responsible for its natural beauty. The most significant event in Dogtown's natural history was the melting of the glacier thousands of years ago. Tons of rocks and boulders were left behind by the glacier, including an impressive terminal moraine that can be seen near Dogtown Square and from the Babson Boulder Trail. Sometimes large and unique rock formations called erratics were also left behind. Whale's Jaw in the northern part of Dogtown is the area's most famous erratic. Residents of the Commons Settlement used the rocks and boulders in the area to build stonewalls and stone cellars for their houses, and of course, Roger Babson used the boulders to mark cellar hole sites and display mottoes for self-improvement. In addition to the rocks and terrain, a variety of plants, wildflowers, and trees contribute to the natural beauty of the area. The current state of Dogtown affords rich recreation opportunities to hikers and bikers, dog-walkers, nature lovers, cross-country skiers, geologists and historians.

(Excerpts taken from Babson College Archives - "Biography of Roger Ward Babson" and Wikipedia)