Fun Facts About Gloucester’s Breakwater From Terry Weber

old time photo breakwater

Fun Facts About Gloucester’s Breakwater

Because I am a research geek, I present to you some fun facts about Gloucester’s breakwater.

This 2,250 foot breakwater was built by the Army Corps of Engineers aided by the Rockport Granite Company between 1894 – 1905.

Its official name is the Dog Bar Breakwater.

It was built partly because after Eastern Point Lighthouse was lit in 1832, ships continued to run aground on Dog Bar Reef. Residents also wanted to keep rough water out of the harbor during storms.

The substructure is a rubble hill made from grout, broken granite and the refuse from quarries, averaging 100 feet wide at the base and gradually narrowing to about 30 feet. 

The rubble was dumped overboard in a line and allowed to “settle” for several years until it was ready for the top structure, or “superstructure.”

The superstructure is composed of seven tiers of cut granite, placed on top of each other in pyramid-like fashion.

Each of the top capstones weights at least ten tons.

Further extension of the breakwater was considered, but officials at the time could not agree whether it was necessary, or would have adverse affects on the harbor.

Cost at the time was $300,000 to $500,000; now it would cost an estimated 14 million.

The breakwater was described in a 1905 Boston Globe article as a “delightful promenade for the people.”

Dog Bar Breakwater is now part of a 53-acre nature preserve owned by the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Monarch butterflies and seabirds can be spotted there.  

Nearby the breakwater, towards the Eastern Point lighthouse, you can find “Mother Ann’s Rock”—a rock formation similar to New Hampshire’s Old Man of the Mountain. You can find a great post about Mother Ann’s Rock from E.J. LeFavour on GMG, just put the words “Mother Ann” into the Search Box, and you will see it about three posts down.

Did you know? A short loop trail through a nearby “forest“ is located across from a cul-de-sac named Aileen Terrace. It’s public and you can walk it if you can find it!

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15 thoughts on “Fun Facts About Gloucester’s Breakwater From Terry Weber

  1. Dog Bar Breakwater

    It’s quite a simple structure, given its task:
    blocks of granite, each one thirteen tons, piled neatly
    and securely on and next to the other.
    So far it has survived more than one hundred
    years of tides, winds, waves, heat of summer and the
    numbing cold of winter.

    Like a mother’s guarding arm, it protects our boats
    from the dangerous surf, deflects the fury
    of the sometimes angry sea; provides a measure
    of calm to our harbor and is home to the beacon
    and signal that guide us safely to our berths.

    On fine days, it is a place of walks, picnics,
    picture taking, artists painting, people fishing,
    quiet talks and, each September, we watch schooners
    head out for their annual race into the past.

    On stormy days, if one dares go out to see,
    we witness giant sea upon sea doing their best
    to crest over the topmost blocks as if to challenge
    the very notion that we, by force of will,
    can make any harbor safe.

    It is a noble effort that makes me wonder:
    we have built the Dog Bar breakwater, but
    can we, on our stormy days, prevent ourselves
    from dashing recklessly upon hidden bars
    by careful placement of blocks of wisdom,
    and, on the good days, walk along the tops amid
    waves of joy and gratitude?

    Marty Luster

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Marty I noticed your beautiful photography of the breakwater while i was doing my research. Especially the black and white one that’s on here with the big low clouds. Stunning!

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  2. Great historical summary. For some strange reason, I have always told people it was a mile long…clearly not right!!. I had heard that the breakwater was damaged during the 1937 hurricane, during which several of the capstones were displaced. Not sure if that can be confirmed.

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  3. Three more interesting items: The granite was floated down from New Hampshire on barges because it was that much cheaper than using our local and beautiful orange granite. Notice it’s dark grey, not light orange.
    Apocryphal: In 1978 at the hight of the Blizzard of ’78, a 40′ Coast Guard Cutter was lifted entirely over the breakwater and set down safe in the Yacht Club mooring yard. The CG would never admit this of course, it meaning they were completely off course.
    Lastly, until last year Mass Audubon asked for a voluntary $5 fee for parking. After six years of nothing, because Gloucester people still think they own the breakwater and don’t pay for things unless there’s a cashier present, they hired someone to collect $10 for parking. So if you go, bring a tenner.

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  4. Walked the breakwater many times servicing the light and fog bell at the end when E.P.L.S. was a manned family light . I was the assistant keeper and my wife and I lived in the seaward side dwelling .Also the C.G. motor lifeboat that topped the breakwater was a 41 footer and the crew was risking their lives attempting to assist the pilot boat Can Do that was foundering . The 41 footer was badly damaged by the sea state and was returning using dead reckoning in zero visibility.

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  5. I knew some of the history of the breakwater as my dad spent his younger years to adulthood growing up on Eastern Point. After WWII he married and my parents live there for a few years. I didn’t know much of the details shared here.

    My parents used to visit Gloucester every October. My wife and I would travel with them which is how I learned much of the history of Gloucester and Eastern Point. I have been told that the Retreat at Niles Pond on the Back Shore had huge stones hurled inside the house by strong storms on the Atlantic Ocean. My wife and I still visit Gloucester. Is such a beautiful place.

    One question that has not been able to be answered by anybody who knows the history of Gloucester is how did the breakwater got it’s name, “Dog Bar”. I am pretty sure the famous Gloucester historian Joe Garland has been asked that question. I have been asked this as my family was from Gloucester and I have asked around and to even the Plymouth historians if Dog Bar was an English term. Nobody knows and even the name of the neighborhood in Gloucester called Dog Bar. Seems a bit of history was lost as Gloucester was the second settlement after the Plymouth Colony which is a shame. If anybody has some knowledge about how the name of Dog Bar came to be in Gloucester, please share that knowledge with me. Thank you

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  6. When I lived in Gloucester, Eastern Point Lighthouse and the breakwater was part of my tour with out-of-town visitors. Thanks for the reminder of how truly beautiful Gloucester is.

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