Last weekend I made my way down the narrow streets of Bear Skin Neck in Rockport Massachusetts to my favorite north shore lobster shack. Actually, I have three lobster shacks that I favor on the North Shore; Roy Moore Lobster Company just happened to be the one I was closet to. After record breaking rain the prior week, we were blessed on Sunday Morning with record breaking heat and sun. (Still don’t believe in global warming?) The sun and heat triggered a primeval craving for a walk down Bear Skin Neck that usually, like the lilacs around my house, activates later in the spring. As soon as I think of eating in Rockport, I can’t suppress the anticipation of taking a walk through town after eating for a tour of the wonderful art galleries and shops. Once my summer craving for steamed clams and lobsters starts, it has to be sated. Off to Bearskin Neck we went.
Legend has it that back in 1700 there was a bear in the village that wandered down to the waters edge and was caught by the rising tide and killed. An alternative tale is that the neck was named after the bear skin that colonial resident John Babson left drying on the neck. For the next three hundred years, the legend as well as the name held fast as did the town itself. After making a cameo appearance in the war of 1812, the port took off in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s due to the high quality of granite that was quarried locally and shipped from the quay all around the world. Granite neck would have been a more fitting name.
Roy Moore’s is a real seafood shanty, it isn’t a fabricated place created in the 1990’s to resemble one. It was founded on the south side of Bear Skin Neck in 1918 while the granite industry was still flourishing. I have been eating lobsters and clams there since the late 1960’s. The building consists of a tiny single story fish shack with faded cedar shingle siding and a giant red wooden lobster sign out front. Inside there are several chilled display cases filled with fish and loaded lobster tanks circulating fresh salt water. Toward the back of the space there’s a small kitchen, a closet really, equipped for steaming lobsters and clams, a double bain-marie for holding hot chowder, and a couple of microwave ovens. There is no bathroom and, except for the half-dozen picnic tables on the back deck, there’s no seating either. It’s not luxury food, the Wampanoag Indians used to use whole lobsters as fertilizer. This is rustic New England street food. Lobster served the way it is supposed to be, simply cooked right out of the tank, cracked, with drawn butter and a napkin on the side. The same way they have cooked lobsters on Bearskin neck for hundreds of years.
Bearskin neck has been an active fishing port since the late 17th century but today it has tilted toward the tourist trade like most other New England ports. The shops along the neck are true old-school shanties transformed into art galleries, retail shops, restaurants and inns. Although the architecture along the avenue is seaside New England in style, there is no lack of low-end t-shirt and souvenir shops stuffed into these historic spaces. The art galleries are another story and include the work of artists known locally as well as others with global reputations like the late Martin Ahern and John Terelak.
Fitz Hugh Lane, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Paul Manship, Katherine Lane Weems and Walker Hancock all passed through this town during their careers and Manship and Hancock both lived within five miles of town center for most of their lives. Manship is best known for his sculpture of Prometheus that overlooks the ice rink in Rockefeller Center. Hancock is noted for creating one of the most lifelike busts of Robert Frost, now at the Robert Frost library at
Amherst, during a series of sittings at his studio in Lanesville in 1950. For more on the history of art in Rockport and on Cape Ann, visit the Rockport Art Association on Main St. It’s worth the trip.
Art galleries and Bearskin Neck go together like steamed lobster and drawn butter. Now that the weather is warming up, take some time and head north to Rockport for some “lobsta and steemas.” Sit out on the back deck and let the ocean air blow over you. Just be sure to get to Roy Moore’s before 5:45PM, that’s when the last lobster drops into the pot before closing.