November 2010: Ravenswood Park

Gloucester, Massachusetts

At the age of 12 Samuel Elwell Sawyer went into trade in Gloucester, eventually parlaying a local start with a dry goods dealer into a successful career as a Boston-based international merchant. His prominence, however did not match his success. Irascible and difficult to approach, few appreciated that he had funded the town library and clock tower. He bought up many parcels of land south of town - many that were his family’s ancestral lands dating to the early 1700s - and dreamed of creating a woodland park to rival anything in Boston. A fire delayed his plans but after he died in 1889 his will stipulated that a park “be laid out handsomely with drive-ways and pleasant rural walks,” to be named Ravenswood, thought to be for the castle in Sir Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor.  

There are no more becoming trails to hike with your dog in Massachusetts than those in Ravenswood Park. Wide and well-maintained, the former carriage paths will delight any level of canine hiker. Wooded throughout, the 10-mile trail system is decorated with Chevy-sized glacial erratics and rolls up and down past stands of large hemlocks. The backbone of that trail system is the historic Old Salem Roadthat was once the main conduit between Salem and Gloucester but was largely abandoned after the early 1800s. The Ledge Hill Trailscrambles to an abandoned quarry and along the way your dog will catch a splendid view of Gloucester Harbor. The dominant natural feature at Ravenswood is the Great Magnolia Swamp, the northernmost stand of this showy tree in the country. Discovered in1806, many specimens of the native Sweetbay magnolia were plundered from these woods before they were protected. When in bloom the mountain laurel and pink Lady Slippers and deep green ferns transform the property into a garden painting.

It wasn’t long after relocating to Boston with his pharmaceutical company that Maine accountant Mason Walton saw his health deteriorate. Fearing tuberculosis, he sought a salt water cure but he was too frail to crew for any ship. Instead he pitched a tent in these woods and began to live among nature. Soon he had built a cabin close to Old Salem Road and acquired the nickname the “Hermit of Gloucester.” Walton was hardly a recluse, however. He would eventually entertain dozens of visitors daily to listen to him espouse the simple life. He wrote articles for 19th century magazines and even published a book. The Walton cabin is now gone but a plaque marks the spot where the “hermit” lived for 33 years.

From Route 128, take Exit 14 (Route 133) and follow east towards Gloucester for 3 miles until it dead ends into Route 127. Turn right onto Route 127 and follow for two miles to entrance and parking area on the right.