The Gloucester Guide

Wingaersheek Beach in 1998, somebody's summer houses way off there. But the rest of the beach and dunes are still clear of human dwellings and open to the public.

The Beaches

On to the beach.

Along Atlantic Street the windswept, sanded-over woods shrink to scrub oak, sumac, wild cherry, and cedar. Ahead are the private roads of the Wingaersheek summer colony and Coffin's Beach on Ipswich Bay. Turning right for the city-owned Wingaersheek Beach, we pop out upon a desert world of sand: bleached mounds and hillocks and mountains of it to make the eyes squint, here and there a barely subsisting juniper, the dunes tufted tenaciously with the toughest grass in creation, the baking parking lot, and then the smooth, shining, shimmering slope of the beach. This is the summit of the underwater mountain of sand that shifts restlessly and endlessly where the currents of the bay meet the pliant land and make the treacherous shoals, the beaches, the entrance to Squam River—and remake them and unmake them.

Take to the beach and look across the channel to Annisquam and its lighthouse, as close as if they were handpainted on china. Then walk to the southeast end of the beach and trace the river's retreat, or the ocean's penetration, into the marsh that keeps West Parish to itself. Come here and share the scene with the sandpipers and the gulls, and the terns dipping into the surf if it's a hard easterly...

Not far behind the dunes stood the farmhouse of the Coffins for generations and the building where they housed their slaves. All traces of these, and indeed of the farm and its fine stand of trees, disappeared long before the Civil War. There is a tale that on his deathbed the old hero enjoined his sons to preserve the woods on the property as they would the grass that holds the dunes in place—but they tired of agriculture and cut and sold the timber for a quick profit, and the drifting sand took over.

The origin of the name "Wingaersheek," which its promoters gave to their summer colony at the east end of Coffin's Beach in the 1890s, remains a mystery. Historian Babson thought it was the Indian name for Cape Ann, while James Pringle suggested that it might be a corruption of the Dutch "Wyngaerts Hoeck," a land abounding in grapes.

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The Gloucester Guide, Copyright © 1990 by Protean Press and Joseph E. Garland.
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