New England is deeply rooted in its colonial past.  Walking through the woods in most towns in the area, you’ll come across miles of stone walls, old cellar holes and forgotten road beds.  But there is no walk in the woods quite like Dogtown Common.  I had an opportunity to take a walk through this abandoned village yesterday, a bright February Tuesday.  While it was a beautiful day for a walk in the woods, I didn’t see another soul in the two hours I spent there.

Dogtown is located in Gloucester, Massachusetts, right on the edge of the town of Rockport, on Cape Anne.   It was once a small community of settlers who cleared and farmed the land as so many other communities did in New England.  Unfortunately, they chose a tough spot for this.  As the name Rockport indicates, this area is basically arid piles of loose granite sitting on top of ledge, sprinkled with some dirt.  Once the trees were cleared and the livestock grazed the remaining vegetation to the ground, there wasn’t much left to work with.  Compounding things, Dogtown was sited in an exposed area near the sea, making it an easy target for the British in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.  So over time residents moved on, abandoning the area for easier living elsewhere.

Sheep continued to graze in this area into the early 20th century, but as with so much of New England    the farmers and herders passed on, leaving the land to return to the woods.  Dogtown 100 years ago was a rocky land sprinkled with grass and shrubs.  Today it’s a forest with a bed of boulders, ledge, old stone walls and cellar holes, similar to what you’d see in forests throughout the region.  What makes Dogtown unique is the work of Roger Babson, who commissioned unemployed stonecutters to carve words and numbers into the granite boulders that litter Dogtown.  Babson was an interesting guy; he was a Prohibition Party member, he predicted the market crash that led to the Great Depression, and he founded Babson College.  As a tenth generation Babson from Gloucester Dogwood Common was figuratively in his blood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking through the woods of Dogtown on a bright winter day, the work of Babson resonated with me.  I chose a Tuesday when most people are working to visit, and had the place to myself.  Aside from seeing mountain bike tire prints, the sounds of commuter trains on the tracks that cut through Dogtown and the sounds of construction encroaching on the woods at the nearby office park betraying the current century, my visit was timeless.  The stonemasons and the settlers to this area have come and gone from this place and it was my turn, alone amongst the boulders.
Babson spoke to me from the past with his choice of words and phrases carved into the boulders.  “Get A Job” is highly relevant for me as I leave the struggles of one job for the hope of another.  “Truth” challenges me to be honest with myself about where my own strengths and weaknesses lie.  “Courage” shoves me in the chest and knocks me back a step, urging me to be bold today.  And “Prosperity Follows Service” reminds me that to earn anything worthwhile you’ve got to give much more of yourself.  While some view the messages as a strange curiosity, Babson’s boulders for me are a humbling reminder of what I can be.
I came to the woods knowing of this place.  Perhaps because I was alone on this brilliant winter day, or maybe because of the place I’m at in my own life, but Dogtown resonated as I walked its quiet paths.  They say that when the student is ready the teacher will appear.  Maybe it was the woods, with voices of the past whispering in my ear as I walked.  Maybe it was me moving on from one job to the next and working that through in my mind.  Or maybe it was a message from a tenth generation Gloucester Babson who died a year after I was born.