Snow blocks the entrance to the fish shack; lobster pots are relegated to sit in wintery piles on the pier and an icy coating holds the jetties in their frozen posture against the harsh northwesterly wind. Lane’s cove is a place of much noted summertime beauty. But the summertime beauty gives way to the contrasting elegance of the winter cove. The winter cove has a striking visual beauty contained in the accompanying photographs but it also has an unspoken inspirational beauty that provides the endurance not only to make it through a harsh, costal New England winter but to thrive. There’s a part of me that’s looking forward to red summer sunsets, kayaking on the calm sea and hearing the neighborhood children diving and swimming in the cove. But when sitting by the warm wood fire with the winter cove as a background, I’m happy to let the summer take its time returning.
Russell Hobbs, President of the Lane’s Cove Historical Association, didn’t grow up in Lanesville; he grew up in Gloucester proper. But, his wife, Melissa, grew up in Lanesville, and Hobbs remembers lobstering with his father-in-law, Ron Parnell, in Lane’s Cove. The Fish Shack was “usable” then; George Morey kept a cooler in it for bait.
Hobbs and Melissa ended up raising their three daughters in a classic Lanesville cottage with a shack of its own in the rear, in which Hobbs, a carpenter, keeps a workshop. Hobbs told me that many of the backyard “shacks” in Lanesville had for many years been rented out to summer people as tiny get-aways, one room in which to keep a cot, a table and chair, for a city person to be close to a quiet day of Flatrocks sunning or Dogtown blueberry picking. It wasn’t until the city required real hot water hook-ups that these postage stamp cottages closed their doors, and their owners lost the helpful rental income.
In 2005, Russell Hobbs and Greg Smith worried about the other Fish Shack, the one slipping away in Lane’s Cove; George Morey’s cooler had long been unplugged and was rusting in a corner.
A meeting was held at the Lanesville Community Center to address the Fish Shack’s future – should it come down? Should it be preserved? But, Hobbs said, people at that point weren’t interested; “we dropped it.”
Time passed and the Shack sagged lower.
“Something needs to be done; this is dangerous,” became the neighborhood cry. The city appointed the Building Committee, and most of the remaining story has been already told.
Hobbs, who has stood by the Fish Shack from wreck to respectability, reflected on the best and worst Fish Shack moments; he said the worst was all the meetings and the initial negativity. Some people had fallen in love with the Shack’s crooked ways, and feared straight lines, plumb walls, and new construction. Damon Cummings didn’t want a level used. Barb Jobe wanted to make sure the roof would be red because, looking at it from her home across the cove, she couldn’t imagine it any other way. Some people didn’t want anything done at all, believing natural decay was the right Lane’s Cove aesthetic.
Apparently Hobbs’ carpentry command is matched only by his diplomacy skills. That charming lean to the new Fish Shack, the way it seems to bend into the arms of the cove?
“The sag is fake,” Hobbs laughed. “The roof is built straight; we put a cap on the peak that raises up on each end – the sag is fake.” He’s not president for nothing.
Russell Hobbs also heads the Lane’s Cove Historical History Committee. After all, while the new building is nor-easter sound, the greatest Fish Shack question remains unanswered: who built it? Hobbs is particularly interested in the Haraden family who once owned large parcels of land, heading right down to the cove in Lanesville. (Nathaniel Haraden was sailmaster for the U.S. Constitution; a monument to his service in Tripoli stands on the Gloucester Boulevard.)
The best Fish Shack moment, Hobbs said, is that the building is going to be there for another one hundred to two hundred years. “Many generations will be able to see this building.”
And may all its sags be fake.
Russell and his wife have put forth one hundred dollars to keep the Fish Shack fund vital, to keep the Fish Shack standing, a memory of all the Lanesville fish shacks, and the way of life they represented, to preserve the fake sag and prevent the real ones. He invites you to contribute, too.
By Heather Atwood
The Fish Shack crew had been working to restore the Shack for a year when Paul D’Antonio suddenly passed away. At that point these hammer-wielding volunteers were best described as a disparate group of Lanesville residents united only by showing up in Lane’s Cove every single Saturday morning with tools. Along with others, there was an ex-Navy guy, an internist, an artist, a handyman-gardener, a woman who had grown up looking at the Shack every day of her life, and Arnie Shore, recently retired as Associate Vice Provost for Research at Boston College.
Shore describes the career he departed this way: “If a professor wanted to submit a proposal for funding, it went through my office. If there was a need to reconsider any aspects of the Animal Lab, it went through my office…Anything and everything having to do with research at Boston College coursed through my office. A great, fun job with thirty employees reporting to me.”
Shore’s job upon retiring to Lanesville with his wife Laurisa in 2010 got even better; he became the expert walker of Butler, a white dog with brown spots, broad chest, extremely low center of gravity, and movie star charm. Describing his retirement move into a small 19th century house at the top of Lane’s Cove, Shore says, “Adam had his paradise; Arnie had his.”
The Shores quickly became friends with their neighbors the Hafeys, and to be friends with Jim Hafey is to find yourself on the Fish Shack Building Committee. Shore appeared at his first meeting, and, to his surprise, Hafey introduced him to the group as “Chairman of Fundraising.” Shore says that co-chair Barb Jobe deserves applause for the fund raising momentum that crescendoed from there.
Donated building supplies – shingles, roofing, wood – piled up; funds flowed in. Arnie still shakes his head, mystified by people’s generosity; “nobody ever said no,” he said, with that classic Arnie voice that at the last second of the sentence turns into a question, as if Arnie is still asking “how is that possible?”
About Paul D’Antonio’s death, Shore says, “I heard the news at the Gloucester House the next day. There had been a reception honoring Damon Cummings. I walked in and Barb Jobe and Russell Hobbs were there; they said to me, ‘sit down. Paul died. We’re not telling Damon yet.’ Immediately, it felt like we were a family.”
Until Paul D’Antonio passed away, the Fish Shack volunteers had not known how adhered they were to each other, what all those weather-beaten Saturdays had made of them.
“My whole career I was trying to get entities to come together,” Arnie said. He left the second half of the sentence empty. Of course, he was referring to the mystery of how a sagging fish shack had inexplicably bonded these naturally discordant Lanesville residents into a family without them even knowing.
By Heather Atwood
“The cove has always been the center of Lanesville, and the Shack has been the epicenter. Whatever you’re feeling going to or from work, you can always drive to the cove.”
Jim Hafey said this in November, in a lantern-lit interview at a long plank table in the Lane’s Cove Fish Shack.
In 2001, Hafey moved with his wife and children to Lanesville, to a house with a front porch, lined with rocking chairs, facing the cove.
“At that point I was up to my eyeballs in caring for my little kids; I barely knew the cove was there. My wife started walking the kids down to the cove, and pretty soon going down to the cove was a de facto thing. Now my kids spend the whole summer down there.”
– And now Hafey has proudly spent every Saturday morning for two years restoring the cove’s signature building – a building that represents a time when the fishing boats were thick and the Coast Guard shimmied its vessels through the gap. Later, abandoned by its last honest occupant, George Morey, the Fish Shack lurked empty, representing an easy shelter for questionable activities and large personalities.
According to legend (and Jim Hafey,) there was a certain Lanesville crew whose favorite predawn fun was attaching an old wrecked dory to the back of a truck, dousing it in gasoline, lighting a match, and dragging the flaming boat through town. Welcome to Lanesville, as they say.
In 2011 the city declared the Shack condemned, but a few Lanesville men, quietly inspired by Russell Hobbs and including newcomer Hafey, began talking about saving the place.
“We got a committee together,” Hafey said, meaning that’s what the city wanted, “but we knew we were going to make it happen one way or another.” A certain sentiment had permeated all the men who came together in that year to rebuild the Shack, Hafey explained, “We don’t have a lot that’s steady in our lives, but this we can do.” Again, welcome to Lanesville.
Hafey was appointed chairman of the Building Committee by Mayor Kirk, a committee that does the work to make sure the Fish Shack remains weather and hooligan tight.
I asked Hafey what he thought the Fish Shack means to him and to the community:
“I feel like a part of me went into this shack – I had wanted my kids to grow up and say, ‘my dad worked on this. To the community, the Shack represents an idea that we can actually put something together ourselves.”
Welcome to Lanesville.
A knotted fist of harbor facing northwest across Ipswich Bay, Lane’s Cove has a vista struck through by tons of granite seawall, bitten a few too many times by nor’easters’ brutal jaws, but still awesome.
The strength of that wall combined with its obvious vulnerability could be a metaphor for the Cove: this is a beautiful place, but nature – or a singular Lane’s Cove wildness – has its way with fate, a way that can tear stone apart like a shirt on a clothes line, or write tragedy into the lives of famously tough Lane’s Covers – fishermen, quarrymen, and their descendants.
The Fish Shack restoration was not immune from the Lane’s Cove metaphor; not every Shack story is a happy one. Paul D’Antonio, a beloved smile among the Fish Shack crew, passed away suddenly on a Sunday afternoon. The day before he’d been part of the tool-belted crew swarming the Fish Shack.
Like so many Accelis employees in the Cape Ann Area, D’Antonio’s work with that company was often a hectic imbalance of too much or too little; D’Antonio was either flying around the world or temporarily laid off. But in the Saturday morning Fish Shack jobs, D’Antonio seemed to find the regular hands-on-a-hammer work he craved. Arnie Shore says that if there was a project to learn, D’Antonio was the first one there for the lesson, and demanded of himself that he know it the best.
D’Antonio had been rebuilding the Shack’s south-facing window, the one that illuminates the plank stairway inside that rises to the second story. Paul’s smile over lunch that day had never stopped; he’d been seemingly as happy as he could be, working with his friends around him, a cold, clear blue sky overheard, the Lane’s Cove breakwater at his back.
He passed away the next day while working on one of the model dories he loved to build. That model dory, now encased in glass, is part of the Fish Shack history, maybe a totem to the Lane’s Cove history that is not always kind.
Blog By Heather Atwood
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