GLOUCESTER — The new roof and shingles cannot hide the ramshackle character of the Lane’s Cove Fish Shack. But on a recent Saturday morning, it was easy to see why the restoration has become a symbol of community to Lanesville residents.
Philip “Doc” Goldsmith and six or seven other local volunteers stood on staging along the north wall, brandishing hammers and tossing wisecracks in an effort that has brought this Gloucester village together.
“Do these look straight?” Goldsmith asked out loud, eyeing the rows of white-cedar shingles he had just nailed.
“They ought to be, I snapped a line,” someone else said wryly.
Goldsmith, a physician and a Lanesville resident since 1968, is one of dozens who have pitched in to save the city-owned shack since it was declared a hazard in 2011.
“It’s part of what makes the Cove the Cove,” said Goldsmith, who has prints and paintings featuring the shack in his home nearby.
“If we hadn’t started, it wouldn’t have lasted through this winter,” said Barbara Jobe, a 66- year Lanesville resident and project organizer. “It would have washed out in the blizzard.”
But the volunteers say the value of the project goes far beyond seeing the fish shack restored to how it looked in the mid-20th century. What matters most is that they cannot wait to get out there every Saturday and work together. The camaraderie has shown them their community at its best.
“It is a quirky little place, but it’s a good quirk,” said Jim Hafey. “It’s a lot of character, a lot of nice, nice people, a lot of people looking out for each other.”
Hafey has been a Lanesville resident for more than a decade and facilities manager for the city of Gloucester for the last two years. He was a logical choice to chair the Building Committee for Lane’s Cove Fish Shack established by the city, and he has been swinging a hammer since work began last spring.
The group has raised more than $20,000 for the project with an auction, T-shirt sales, and more.
So far, they have spent less than $4,000.
The labor is all volunteer, with pros like Russell Hobbs and brothers Robin and Zach Smith to guide the amateurs. Most of the materials were donated too, rough-sawed local wood from Peter Natti, roofing and shingles from David Grace. Timbers were reclaimed from the Tarr and Wonson paint factory down on Rocky Neck.
Someone ordered pizzas for the workers one Saturday early on, and since then Jobe has organized a rotating crew of neighbors to cook and serve lunch to the workers every Saturday.
Everyone is welcome to lend a hand.
“Last year we had a college kid on his bike who stopped in to see what was going on, and he ended up staying the rest of the day, sweeping up or whatever,” Jobe said.
Fish shacks were used mainly to repair and store gear. They were usually built quickly and cheaply, without much fanfare, so facts about them can be as slippery as a net full of cod. There was a shack and chandlery on this site as early as 1725. Some date the current structure to as late as 1880.
The breakwater and wharf date to the mid-1800s and the rise of the Cape Ann granite industry. Like other inlets on the Ipswich Bay side of Cape Ann, Lane’s Cove was a bustling harbor through the rest of that century, when dozens of fish shacks shared the space with trains and schooners hauling stone from the quarries for building projects around the country.
The granite industry died out early in the 20th century, and the fishing industry has had tough times since.
The shack was last used full time in the 1980s, and soon after began to decay. Most visitors were transients or local youths looking for a place to party. Even with the doors padlocked, it was easy to gain access from underneath at low tide. The shack was rotting and falling apart, and these “guests” accelerated the process.
One volunteer will not be there when the project is finished. Paul D’Antonio traveled a lot for his job, but came to work at the shack every Saturday he could. Then, one Sunday in December, he died of a heart attack at age 50.
“We both grew up in this community,” said his widow, Kim D’Antonio. “We live in a house about one minute up the road from Lane’s Cove. We actually bought the house I grew up in. And the house that he grew up in was just five minutes down the road, in Bay View. So the cove was very important to us. Our children swam there and played there, and it was part of our lives.”
When D’Antonio heard about the shack project, “He jumped right in to lend a hand,” she said. “He took a lot of pride in it. It made him feel good. He felt like he was giving back to our neighborhood. . . . He made a few new friends and worked with a lot of old friends down there.”Continued...