President of the Lane’s Cove Historical Association

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