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.”
Goldsmith is one of the many volunteers who will miss D’Antonio.
“He and I worked shoulder to shoulder for weeks, and I really developed a profound affection for him,” said Goldsmith. “It was a profound loss. Some of the glue holding the crew [together] went with him.”
Jobe said D’Antonio will be formally remembered in some way when the project is done, perhaps by hanging one of the miniature dories he made in a place of honor inside.
Carol Hong moved to Lanesville in 1999 with her husband, Nicholas Richon, who grew up just down the road. She joined the lunch rotation and jokes that it was because her husband was probably one of the kids causing trouble down at the shack when he was young. But it is more than that.
“I never had the experience of seeing in action what a great community it is,” Hong said. “I’m just so proud of what we’re doing.”
Retiree Arnie Shore is a relative newcomer, having moved here from Brookline with his wife three years ago.
“We became friends with Jim Hafey, and he asked me if I’d like to join the committee and help with fund-raising,” Shore said, and laughed. “I went to my first meeting and he introduced me as chairman of the finance committee. That’s how they do it in Lane’s Cove.”
There may be more artists and other professionals living here than when the fish shack was built, but they love Lane’s Cove as much as ever.
Listen to Jobe on the topic of the Lane’s Cove shack versus the famous red fish shack over in Rockport, which had to be re-created from scratch after the Blizzard of ’78.
“This was Motif No. 1 before Motif No. 1. It’s been painted as much if not more than Motif No. 1,” she said. “And when it got ruined, we didn’t put a Home Depot shack up.”
The roof is new, and a lot of planks have been replaced, but wherever possible, new boards have been “sistered” to existing ones, and new windows fitted into the cockeyed spaces left by the old.
What will be done with the Lane’s Cove shack when it is finished? According to the codes under which it was rebuilt, it must be dedicated to maritime use. Most hope a local fisherman will use it.
Completion is expected in the spring or early summer. But many say they do not want the work to end.
“There are people really worried about what will happen when we finish the project,” Shore said. “It’s just too much fun.”Joel Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.