The Gloucester Guide
The Cut to Goose Cove

Blynman Bridge (looking toward the harbor) in 1998 will split in the middle to open for boats. The ledge beneath has been blasted out, making the Cut navigable at any tide.

Blynman Canal

There is an excitement about the Cut, which is what we call Blynman Canal. Go there day or night, any season—when an easterly slashes rain across and whips up spray from the surf smashing on the seawall, or when the June sun sparkles on the harbor and they cast the blossoms on the ebb for the souls of the men who went down to the sea and did not return, or in the fullness of the evening when the rising moon profiles Eastern Point and sheds diamonds on the water.

The red lights flash on, the siren screams, the gates swing across the boulevard, the gears grind, and the jaws of the drawbridge crack open to let a fishing dragger through. For a few minutes Gloucester is almost an island. Then the jaws descend and shut with a toothsome click, the gates swing clear, and the line of summer traffic drones across again, always with that urgency: can we make it before the next one shuts us off?

Especially before Route 128 spanned the river in 1953, the Cut bridge has symbolized Gloucester's isolation and contrariness. Since 1907, when the state dredged the channel and rebuilt and electrified the bridge, the machinery has waited, as if it had a life of its own, to get stuck half way up or down on sunny summer Sunday afternoons, each time requiring a citywide search for Sylvester Deering, the only electrician in town who talked its language. Before that, back to just after the Civil War, when the canal was reopened, the bridge was cranked or swung by hand, and some local magician with a different bag of tricks had to conjure with it.

In 1643 the town gave Pastor Blynman permission to cut a ditch through the isthmus between the Annisquam River and the harbor and to build the first swinging bridge over it. Blynman's "cut" could save a hard outside ocean passage around Cape Ann to Squam or the eastward, or could float wood to the harbor from the western hills, and skippers paid him toll, willingly or not. However, a storm filled his cut with sand in 1704; it was cleared, only to fill again in 1723.

It was another hundred years before the Blynman Canal was re-opened in 1823, with a drawbridge whose backers had high hopes for steam. But the river turned out to be too narrow for steamboats and too hazardous for all but the smallest craft to sail. Moreover, the Eastern Railroad insisted on a fixed bridge upriver for its new Gloucester branch from Salem in 1847. Consequently, in 1848 the canal was filled with a solid east-west roadway. Not for twenty more years was all at last resolved when for the fourth time the Cut was opened and bulkheaded, and another bridge built, all for the purpose of passing boatloads of granite through from a new quarry on Wolf Hill. Reasoning that what couldn't flow over could run under, the Gloucester Water Supply Company a hundred years ago built the big brick tunnel under the Cut that carries the mains from Bond Hill reservoir and other utilities to town.

So for a hundred and twenty years of its three hundred and fifty, Blynman Canal has been no canal at all.

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