Dogtown and Babson Boulders

dogtown montage copy

dogtown montage2 copy

I’ve never built a stone wall, but creating this montage gave me an idea what it is like, without the heavy lifting.  The boulders have been placed along the road leading from the Cherry Street entrance to Dogtown Road.  There is one I couldn’t fit in – as with all stone walls, some rocks just don’t fit, and there is one I created which is not a Babson boulder.  Can anyone identify the missing boulder, and which one doesn’t belong?  Also, I did two versions and would be interested in knowing which one people like better, assuming you like them.  The second version has the denser woods of Ravenswood in the background.  They both contain the same boulders, but are placed a little differently in the 2nd version.

In case you didn’t know, Millionaire philanthropist, Roger Ward Babson (1875-1967), provided charitable assistance to unemployed stonecutters in Gloucester during the Great Depression, by commissioing them to carve these inspirational inscriptions on 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.  There are an additional three boulders which are location or direction markers and are informational, not inspirational.

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.  

Dogtown’s development and prosperity lasted from about 1650 until 1750. During this time, the area was home to many of 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”. 

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.

(Excerpts taken from Babson College Archives – “Biography of Roger Ward  Babson” and Wikipedia)

If you decide to go on a search for the Babson boulders, Eric Bickernicks has created a wonderful map with GPS coordinates for all the boulders, which was how my sister and I found some of the more hidden ones.  You can find the map at  There is one small error on the map, which caused us some confusion.  There is a boulder identified as “First at Tasks” which we thought an odd saying, and couldn’t find.  In fact it is “First Attacked” and marks the spot where Jas Merry was first attacked by his bull.  There is another marker nearby which identifies the spot where he died in 1892 from injuries sustained when the sport of wrestling his bull went bad.

E.J. Lefavour

20 thoughts on “Dogtown and Babson Boulders

  1. Next time you copy/paste information from a Wikipedia article, check for that banner at the top stating that nothing in the article has citations (ergo, it isn’t verifiable).

    It should be clarified that the “inhabitants of the decrepit area [who lived] like dogs” would refer to the undesirables that moved into the area after the town center moved away from Dogtown and the residents left or died. Suggesting that the original inhabitants lived like dogs or that the area was decrepit to begin with is a little offensive.


    1. Lia,
      I think you might want to reread what it says. It clearly identifies the Common Settlement as home to many of Gloucester’s most prominent families…, a thriving and successful hub of agriculture, timbering, and transportation. It didn’t become known as Dogtown until after the settlement was abandoned after the War of 1812 and later became occupied by itinerants and vagabonds, giving the area its bad reputation.


    1. Hi John,
      I’ve never seen or heard of a Babson boulder “Honor Thy Father” – where is it located? “Use Your Head” is there. It is on the left, bottom, in front of “To Rockport” and “Be On Time”. The one that is missing is a Babson boulder, but not one of the inspirational ones – it is an identification boulder.


      1. I looked on a map of the stones. I think the stone I was thinking of is spiritual power. Not sure where I got honor Thy Father from.


  2. It’s been a while since I have been there, but I think if you leave dot sq head past study / be on time, before you get to the intelligence stone, the path joins with a path from left. On the path that joins from the left is the stone that I am thinking of. It is a large stone and the inscription is up high. I am going to have to take a walk now I guess.


  3. My Dad used to take us up to Dogtown to go blue berrying . He also used to go rabbit hunting. I used to love fried chicken until I found out one time it was not chicken but rabbit. Needless to say I was a close assocciate of the Gloucester Easter Bunny for seven years. The last year when the ladder truck stopped to let me off at Stage Fort there were school buses lined up from one end to the other . Panick time.


    By Peter Albert Todd

    Along its trails and wooded paths
    I view with amazement at Dog Town’s reflections
    Of how all Mother Natures leaves amass
    Its various and beautiful colors blended to perfection
    God’s great creatures dashing around
    Making ready for a long winters sleep
    Birds up and flying southward bound
    Those left behind building nests to keep
    You can feel the history of Dog Town in the air
    As you view each cellar and heart nature’s sounds
    We must take heed to treat it with great care
    Of all God’s wonderful creature’s abound
    So as the first snow begins to fall
    Take a last look at Dog Towns open space
    Appreciate the winters cleansing in whiteness all
    That God has given us to embrace


    1. Beautiful poem Peter. I was just looking through some fall photos of Dogtown, at “its various and beautiful colors blended to perfection”. Perfect description.


  4. I think the fake boulder is the one that just says “Dogtown”. I think “Moraine” is missing. Great montages! I prefer the second one. I was walking in Dogtown yesterday, and took some pictures of some of the boulders. I am planning on posting them in a day or two.


    1. You know your boulders Fr. Green. Yes, the fake boulder is the Dogtown one, and Moraine is the missing one. Dogtown is a magical place isn’t it? I’ve never walked there in the snow. Some of the trails are challenging enough when the ground is clear and dry, I can’t imagine walking them with frozen snow on them.


      1. Yes, it was beautiful in the snow, but it was a bit of an adventure as well… One of the trails that we walked on had not been used since the snow fell, so we had to struggle up slippery slopes and try to find the tree markings to follow the trail. Great fun, really!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you! The HarborWalk website has links to a simpler map of Eric’s as well as EJ’s photos. It also links to a short poem of Marsden Hartley’s titled, Beethoven in Dogtown. The City website also displays Qr codes for the boulders and some detailed history.


  6. There is a store near the end of Bearskin Neck that has T shirts & caps with the Dogtown inscriptions. Also the Dogtown Bookstore has T shirts that read Dogtown, Gloucester.
    For fans of the area.


  7. I found celler holes numbered 15, 17, 18, 20, 22 and 24. Are there any others? A review of the area says there is a #25. Has this been located?


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