Everyone loves Rockport for its low key family feeling. Families, couples, retirees, artists, writers, musicians, they all come to Rockport. People love Rockport not only for what is here, but for what isn’t here: no stop lights, no neon, no loud places. (Besides the fire horn, the loudest thing you’re apt to hear in Rockport is a man singing Italian opera in a spirited voice as he strolls through town.)
Rockport is a quiet meandering kind of place, where people come to sun and swim on the beaches, stroll the downtown shops and galleries, and take their children for homemade fudge and ice cream. Shop owners take pains to decorate with colored awnings and brightly painted window boxes or pocket gardens full of geraniums, verbena and daisies. You can buy some unusual gifts in the shops, especially paintings and other artwork, jewelry, sterling silver, leather and rare gem stones.
While a couple of T-shirt stores have arrived, you’d almost swear you were in a time warp of the 1950s, so little has Rockport changed. On Main Street stand decades-old family establishments that look the same today as they did when they were built, all conservatively painted and decorated. Rockport’s smorgasbord of simple old-fashioned pleasures goes on, including Sunday evening summer concerts by the Legion band, the Fourth of July parade and bonfire, and sailing lessons for the children, or art lessons at the Rockport Art Association. You can watch handmade saltwater taffy being stretched and rolled through the candy factory window in Dock Square just as it has been since 1929. You can eat lobster in the rough at picnic tables overlooking a scenic cove, or right on Bearskin Neck.
Much of Rockport’s sedateness owes to Hannah Jumper, a doughty lady who fought the demon rum with an ax in 1856. After that, Rockport stayed dry for 150 years. Now the blue laws have faded and many restaurants restaurants serve drinks, but Rockport has no liquor stores. You can still see where Hannah Jumper lived in a small wooden house at the corner of Mount Pleasant Street and Atlantic Avenue, one of a number of historic houses spanning three centuries. Just across the street from the Jumper house you’ll find Joshua Norwood’s Cabin at 2 Atlantic Ave., built circa 1700, one of the oldest houses in Rockport. Built around 1725, the Old Tarr Homestead stands at 6 South St. The Tarr family founded Rockport.
On Main Street, look up at the tower of the Old Sloop Congregational Church, and you’ll see a British cannonball lodged there in the War of 1812. The church is also famous for its semi-annual yard sales, where you might buy an armchair for $5, or a pair of antique cut glass salt and pepper shakers for a quarter.
Not for nothing is the town called Rockport. Rich lodes of granite anchor the town, which generated a profitable industry in the nineteenth century. At Halibut Point State Park, a few miles north, you can see an old quarry and demonstrations of quarrying techniques. The park trails overlook the ocean, with clear views to Maine, and are good spots for birding and tide pooling.
Rockport granite built the breakwater off Bearskin Neck, the Old Granite Pier, and the keystone bridge in Millbrook Meadow. Offshore on Thacher’s Island stand the Twin Lighthouses, 150-foot-tall granite spires that are the only surviving multiple lights on the United States coastline. You can see them by driving south on the Back Shore, Route 127A. Be sure to take a detour to Cape Hedge Beach, a left off Rt. 127 on Seaview Street. Cape Hedge Beach has a high dune formed entirely of cobblestones.
Mostly, you won’t need your car. Rockport is so small it’s a walker’s paradise; you can go everywhere on your own two feet. And it’s probably only on foot that you can spot the tiny black and white signs marking public footpaths to the ocean all over town, a special pleasure here. If you walk up Atlantic Avenue, you’ll see a sign saying “Way to the Headlands” halfway up the hill. Follow that path out to wide open views of the harbor and the ocean, and granite benches for resting on.
Summer is when Rockport really comes to life. The summer calendar is always full, particularly with Rockport Music’s Shalin Liu Performance Center, a world class music hall right on the water now presenting scores of world-class performances. You can experience plays, chamber music, jazz, Celtic, folk, Met Opera broadcasts, you name it. The theater operates year round.
Every season here has its joys, even winter. A traveler on a tripadvisor.com forum, clearly stumped, asked, “What do Rockporters do in the winter?” Well, Rockport doesn’t close down completely, but its rhythms slow down to a low ebb. At night, it’s so quiet you can hear footsteps, voices and the chimes of the First Baptist Church clearly. The library offers free popcorn and movies. Rare birds, like the king eider or a mew gull, may visit here, and Halibut Point State Park leads winter birding walks. Churches offer concerts, and the occasional ham and beans supper. You can have dinner and enjoy a cozy fire at a B&B or an inn. Rockport’s community theater troupe, Theater in the Pines, puts on shows in late fall and winter every year, ranging from Shakespeare to “Harold and Maude.”
The Christmas season lasts a month, with Santa arriving by lobster boat. Hundreds of children and their parents come to see him in Dock Square and witness the lighting of the splendidly tall town tree. You can walk to all the festivities at the family-oriented Rockport New Year’s Eve. And for the hardy, there’s always winter surfing off Cape Hedge Beach and Long Beach.
No matter the season, Rockport is just a great place to be.
Article by By Patricia Mandell