The 3,000-acre swath of boulder-strewn uninhabited land that makes up the center of Cape Ann has been known as Dogtown for generations.

April 22, 2021

Ed Touchette, Red Landscape #1, Dogtown, 2006, acrylic on canvas. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, MA. Gift of the artist, given in memory of Dana Todd, 2007 [Acc. #2007.12].

Dear Friends,

In honor of Earth Day, today’s issue of CAM Connects celebrates nature, the history as well as those artists inspired by their encounters with Cape Ann’s Dogtown. With this year’s spring blooms now in full effect, please join us in looking back to the spring 2020 issue of CAM Connects and contemplate the unprecedented times we have all endured during this past year.  

Thanks to the efforts of the Museum's docent volunteers, CAM is excited to announce the introduction of a new walking tour itinerary investigating Dogtown's history and the families for whom it was home. More information about these tours can be found below. The maps and videos featured here, as well as related items available in CAM’s online shop all set the stage for another dynamic season of tours and outdoor exploration with the Cape Ann Museum.  

Many of the works featured throughout this issue of CAM Connects are currently on display in the galleries, so please also make a reservation to visit CAM this month and experience for yourself the beauty of Dogtown as seen through an artist's eyes.

Oliver Barker, Director


The 3,000-acre swath of boulder-strewn land that makes up the center of Cape Ann has been known as Dogtown for generations. Since the disappearance of the last glacier, the area has undergone many iterations—from inhabitation by Native American groups and subsequently Colonial settlers to a sparse population of those on the fringes of society—and a slow but steady reversal of pasture lands back to the woodlands that are experienced in this protected green space today. Despite these changes, Dogtown remains mystical and magical, a sanctuary from its busier surroundings, a place for quiet thought and a reunion with nature. Read on as we explore its history and impact as a vast expanse of land that endures as both a resource and a challenge for the people of Cape Ann.

Terminal Moraine

Elizabeth P. Riegel (1916-1987), Blueberries and Fall Foliage, Dogtown Common, c. 1940, photograph. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives, Gloucester, MA.

The geology of Dogtown has been largely shaped by two events. The first occurred 300 million years ago when the drifting landmasses of modern-day Africa, Europe and North America collided to form Pangea. As they came together, they clamped like a vice around a small island called Avalonia. As the resulting supercontinent broke apart over the subsequent 100 million years, the larger landmasses each carried away a fragment of the now shattered Avalonia. Today, one of its fragments underlies all of Cape Ann, and is responsible for the region’s famed granite which was formed during those continental collisions. Across the Atlantic, other fragments lay deep below places as far flung as England and coastal Morocco.

The second event occurred much more recently, beginning a mere 30,000 years ago, as a continent-sized glacier invaded from Canada. As the ice sheet moved slowly southward, it carved through the landscape, acting as both lint-roller and sandpaper. On Cape Ann, the glacier stripped away the ancient soil down to its Avalonian granite, shearing off irregularly shaped pieces and carrying them along with it. Millions of stones became embedded in the ice or plowed along as it advanced. As the glacier began to melt, those stones (ranging in size from sandy pebbles to massive boulders) settled into place on the granite bedrock. The resulting landscape, shaved smooth and strewn with countless chunks of rock (some carried from miles away), is called a terminal moraine, a reference to its occurrence along the edge of the glacier, at its terminus. In some areas of Dogtown this sediment forms a layer 150 ft thick on top of the bedrock.

Written in Stone

Marsden Hartley (1877-1943), Rocks, Dogtown, 1931, ink on paper. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, MA. Museum purchase, 1999 [Acc. #1999.45].

Dogtown is full of stories written in stone. Some are literally chiseled into the hard granite and are easy to spot, while others require a keener eye. Perhaps the most recognizable is that of the “Babson Boulders,” a project conceived and financed by local entrepreneur Roger W. Babson. The project kept 35 stone cutters employed during the Great Depression, carving 24 boulders with messages Babson believed would instill good character in passersby. Hiding among those boulders, a flat stone marked “Jas. Merry Died Sept. 19 1892,” tells a more tragic story, marking the spot where a Gloucester man named James Merry met his end at the horns of a bull.

But some stones aren’t such literal storytellers—the earthen depressions lined with tumbling field stones recall their former lives as the cellars of Dogtown’s colonial era houses, and the heaped stone walls still delineate farmland long since reclaimed by the woodlands. And there are stories that are still waiting to be explored, like those told by the shaped stone tools that remain hidden away in the Dogtown soil, remnants that could speak about the region’s Indigenous peoples, including the Pawtucket. These populations made their homes on the shores of Gloucester Harbor and in the woods of what is now called Dogtown thousands of years before Samuel de Champlain visited Cape Ann in 1604 and 1606 and the English arrived in 1623.

Marsden Hartley and Dogtown

Many artists have been intrigued and inspired by the unique landscape of Dogtown, and Marsden Hartley is particularly well-known to have been revitalized by his visits there in the early 1900s. In part due to Hartley's written material in which he credits his experiences in Dogtown with turning around a period of despondency, we know time in Dogtown empowered Hartley to reach the next level of expression in his creative journey.

Two offerings from CAM’s Video Vault record lectures that coincided with the exhibition Marsden Hartley: Soliloquy in Dogtown that was on view at the Museum in 2012. Both presentations are by noted Hartley scholars and lend further insight into the pivotal role that Dogtown played in Hartley’s artistic development while offering a deeper understanding of this complex American Modernist painter.

VL43 - Marsden Hartley's Second Coming - Gloucester and Beyond 1931-1943 with Townsend Ludington - 06-28-2012
Video still from VL43 - Marsden Hartley's Second Coming: Gloucester and Beyond, 1931-1943. Speaker: Townsend Ludington. Date: 6/28/2012. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives, Gloucester, MA. Click here for transcript.

The author of Marsden Hartley: The Biography of an American Artist, Townsend Ludington combines a slideshow of Hartley’s work before, during, and after his time in Dogtown with readings from several of Hartley’s poems, thereby demonstrating the special role that visiting Dogtown played in Hartley’s creative development and spiritual quest.

VL47 - Marsden Hartley - From Maine to Dogtown and Back Again with Gail Levin - 09-22-2012
Video still from VL47 - Marsden Hartley: From Maine to Dogtown and Back Again. Speaker: Gail Levin. Date: 9/22/2012. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives. Click here for lecture transcript.

Noted art historian and author Gail Levin traces the artistic path of Marsden Hartley through the course of his extensive travel, which included multiple visits to Dogtown Commons. With recurring themes of mysticism and folk art, and influenced by European movements, Hartley’s body of work reflects his very personal response to the places to which he was drawn.

Learn more about the work of Marsden Hartley on the CAM website.

Artists in the Heart of Cape Ann

Clockwise: John Sloan (1871-1951), Dogtown, Ruined Blue Fences, 1916, oil on canvas. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Hollon W. Farr, 1991 [Acc. #2736.2]. Leslie Barlett, Chapters on a Quarry Wall I, 2003, photograph. Gift of the artist, 2013 [Acc. #2014.27.1]. Audella Beebe Hyatt (1840-1932), The Castle, Dogtown Common, 1884, watercolor on paper. Gift of the artist, 1928 [Acc. #536.6]. Gabrielle Barzaghi, Catbriers, 2012, pastel and charcoal on paper. Gift of the artist, 2012 [Acc. #2012.101.1]. Helen Stein (1896-1964), Untitled [Dogtown], early 20th century, oil on panel. Gift of James F. O’Gorman and Jean Baer O’Gorman, 2015 [Acc. #2015.057.13]. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, MA.

Cape Ann has spawned a number of well-known art colonies over the past 150 years: Magnolia in the early 1870s; Annisquam in the late 1870s; Rocky Neck and East Gloucester in the 1880s; and Rockport in the 20th century. Each has had its own flavor and attracted its own set of creative people. While Dogtown has not achieved – and probably never will – the same popularity amongst artists as other areas, the 3,000-acre swath of land that makes up the core of Cape Ann has attracted a handful of creative souls over the years.

Marsden Hartley stands head and shoulder above all other artists who have fallen for Dogtown, the uninhabited rock-strewn heart of Cape Ann that noted 20th century poet Charles Olson called the "great hogback." Among those who shared Hartley’s passion are Louise Upton Brumback, a Kansas City artist who summered in Gloucester during the early 20th century and was the first head of the Gloucester Society of Artists; New York artist Jan Matulka who sometimes worked alongside Stuart Davis and was fascinated by the quarries sprinkled throughout the center of Cape Ann; John Sloan who reveled in everything Cape Ann; and Helen Stein who admired Hartley (and was admired by him) and followed him into Dogtown. More recently contemporary artists Ed Touchette, Gabrielle Barzaghi and Les Bartlett have felt the pull of Dogtown just as earlier artists did.

It seems safe to say that so long as Dogtown survives, a certain number of intrepid artists, determined to discover something new about Cape Ann, will find their way to the area.

The Maps of Dogtown

Clockwise: X.D. Tingley, The Deserted Village of Dogtown in Gloucester Massachusetts, 1901, map. Nathalie Diamond Clough, Dogtown, Deserted Village Cellars ­, 1901, map–front and back. Isaac F. Day, Dogtown, 1880, map. Howard Curtis, Houses of Dogtown, 1970, map. Unknown, Map of Dogtown, 1951. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives, Gloucester, MA.

To help contextualize the locations discussed in this issue, and to guide your own exploration of the area, the CAM Library & Archives has recently digitized a few of the more unique maps of Dogtown in the collection and uploaded them to our Google Arts & Culture page. You can view the maps, zoom in to see the details, and read a little bit about the creation of each here. And while you’re at the page, be sure to check out two of our recent online exhibitions, Urban Renewal and the Fitz Henry Lane House and Portraits of a Working Waterfront: Photographs by Jim Hooper.

The CAM Library & Archives continues Research Appointments at the Janet & William Ellery James Center at the CAM Green each Monday. To make an appointment, email 

CAM Dogtown Tours - May 16 & June 6

Dogtown Walking Tour
Recently the CAM staff had the pleasure of going on a dress rehearsal run of the Docent-led Dogtown Tour. Click here for a quick look into that trip and what you’ll see on the tour.

The Museum is excited to announce a series of new tours exploring Dogtown. These tours will take you down the main roads of this early settlement to meet some of the people, see where they lived and hear their stories. You will learn how Dogtown got its name, why people left, and how it has changed in the 200 years since the last house came down. You will hear about writers and artists who were inspired here, and reservoirs that were built here. Finally, you will see some of the inspirational word-boulders along the trails that are the lasting legacy of entrepreneur and philanthropist Roger Babson and a symbol of the enduring nature of this special place called Dogtown.

This walking tour is three miles and will take approximately two hours. The route is over hiking trails that are generally easy, but uneven, with rocks and roots underfoot. Hiking attire and footwear are advised; also, please bring walking poles if you use them. Lastly, don't forget your water and insect repellent.

Cost is $15 for CAM members and $25 for Non-members. Space is limited; reservations required.

For more information and to reserve your spot click here for the May 16 tour and here for the June 6 tour.