History Lessons

WANTED! – a photo of Lanesville resident Harry Lewis Johnson, born October 2, 1894, died February 26, 1982.  Unmarried.  Parents, Lewis and Sverina Johnson, immigrated to Lanesville from Sweden.  At twenty-two years old, Harry Lewis Johnson registered for the World War I draft.  He later worked at United Shoe in Beverly.  His Lanesville address was 10 Viking St.

Harry Lewis Johnson was the last known owner of the recently restored Lane’s Cove Fish Shack.

1823 Map of Lane's Cove
1823 Map of Lane’s Cove

The Lane’s Cove Historical Association is doing research.  The ultimate goal in this chase is to understand who built The Shack and when, but any news about the Fish Shack is welcome.  We know that Harry Johnson owned it last, and we’d love to see what he looked like.

Quarrying in the Lanesville woods, the Pier Company, in the late 1840’s, purchased much of the Lane’s Cove land from private families like the Haradens, the Sargents, and the Youngs.  The Haraden family, one of the oldest in Lanesville, originally came from Annisquam.  (Edward Haraden is registered living in the southern village in the 1600’s.)

According to LCHA president Russell Hobbs, Nathaniel Haraden and his brother Jonathan, in 1844, agreed to sell their land to the Pier Company with the caveat that the company build them

Haraden agreement to sell their land to the Pier Company
Haraden agreement to sell their land to the Pier Company

“the whole string of wall from the Gate to the bars near the Cove.”  (Hobbs has copies of this deed.)  Is that stone wall the one running along the hill above the cove or is it a version of a seawall? – No one knows.

The land in Lane’s Cove, after the mid 1800’s was therefore owned by the Pier Company, but the fishermen of Lane’s Cove – families who had been fishing there since the William Young and John Woodbury left the English Dorchester Company in Gloucester in 1623 and headed north – weren’t letting the Pier Company interfere with what they had been doing for two hundred years; the Lane’s Cove fishermen were the owners and occupants of the fish houses that once densely lined the northern edge of Lane’s Cove.  They owned the shacks and The Pier Company owned the land upon which the shacks stood.  As needs changed into the 20th century, these fishermen sold or moved their shacks to backyards all over Cape Ann.  Many of the shingled wooden sheds you see in Lanesville backyards were once Lane’s Cove fish shacks.

President Russell Hobbs has already spent cumulatively weeks at the Salem Registry of Deeds and the Gloucester Archives.  His copy of Barbara Erkkila’s History of Lane’s Cove is studded with post-its.  His broad dining room table serves as a place holder for acres of old photos, older maps, deeds, and a hefty crate of files.

The oldest photograph of the Fish Shack dates to about 1880, well after the Pier Company was up and running.  The Pier Company records, still to be carefully examined by the LCHA

Undated photo of the Shack thought to be from the late 1880's.
Undated photo of the Shack thought to be from the late 1880’s.

subcommittee, definitely include discussions of multiple Lane’s Cove fish shacks.  Was our Fish Shack part of these discussions?  Was it therefore part of the original 1844 Haraden sale of Lane’s Cove land to the Pier Company?  Is the Shack older than 1844?  Was it ever rebuilt?  (Hobbs believes it was.)

The Lane’s Cove Historical Association – historical sub-committee is on it.  Watch this space for answers!

By Heather Atwood

Why does a fish shack need a blog?

Why does a fish shack need a blog? The answer may lie in other “whys?”

Why did twenty or so Lanesville men hike down to the cove every single Saturday morning – in icing Nor’east winds or blistering, shadeless sun – for two years, unpaid, to study plans, plane boards, hammer nails, even spill blood? As Arnie Shore, fundraising co-chair of the Fish Shack, describes it, “I have never in my life worked anywhere when people steadily got there earlier and stayed later.” Why did people send coffee and donuts down to the Fish Shack crew? Why did they order them pizzas, and make batches of fish stew, lamb stew, homemade bread and brownies? Why, when the Fish Shack committee first introduced the restoration concept, did contributions flow in like a Lane’s Cove high tide? Why were supplies donated with almost biblical generosity? Why were so many kindly checks written that, when the city finally got around to awarding the project Community Preservation Act funds, the committee was able to say, “that’s ok; we’re all set.”

The Lane’s Cove Fish Shack seems to have an inexplicable magic. People who have grown up with their feet in Lane’s Cove mud and people who barely know the place want to help re-raise it, make it not straight and perfect, but to preserve its crookedness, it’s wooden shakes and red-tar roof.

I first witnessed the Fish Shack alchemy the first time I made lunch for the crew; the guys were cold and hungry, and they were politely thankful for my efforts, but mostly this bunch of men almost didn’t notice the lunch, because they were just so happy; it looked like the rare kind happiness that rises from hard, meaningful work. Why a Fish Shack blog? – to record whatever it was that called these guys down to the cove earlier and earlier every Saturday morning. What had them beaming, laughing, and joking by noon? What made them not even want to leave? In fact, I’m told that they often stayed. Someone got some beer, and Saturday morning blushed into Saturday late afternoon.

This blog is to record whatever it is about the Fish Shack that inspires people to be generous with their lumber, their lunch, their dollars, and their hands, to record – if it’s possible – what the Fish Shack really means to anyone. I’ll interview each of the Fish Shack guys, and Barb Jobe, the one woman on the crew. Barb lives on the cove, looks at the Shack every day, and I think her heart beats in the shape of the Fish Shack.There is something in the Fish Shack that no one can quite identify, but everyone knows it when we see the little red Shack bending away from a nor’easter or basking in the sun behind a planter of daisies.

Over time, this blog will examine the Shack’s history, and that of the cove that shelters it, Lane’s Cove. The Fish Shack crew, many of whom have joined the new non-profit group Lane’s Cove Historical Association, are not done; they’re still wondering who originally built the Fish Shack, and why? What was Lane’s Cove like then? What did it look like, smell like, and sound like? That group is looking ahead, too, imagining the Shack’s next hundred years, how it will be used, and how it will remain a beloved emblem of – what? – history, work, nostalgia? The LCHA sees the Shack in the future as a gathering place for cooperative, non-profit ventures – in other words, a place by the sea to shelter/hold a community. That’s why the Fish Shack needs a blog.

Feel free to contribute your own thoughts about the Fish Shack. Write to us and we’ll post it.

Blog by Heather Atwood