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The Legends of Dogtown, Ghost Town of Massachusetts


The Old West tends to steal all the ghost town claims to fame, but we're not without our derelict towns left to ruin out here on the East Coast. It's just that most of ours are more far-gone, usually just stone cellar holes and hand-lain stone walls. Our recorded history spans over centuries and the Colonial occupation of these states gave rise to several rural towns that didn't survive through our various evolutions in progress. For one reason or another, be it economic, environmental, catastrophic or otherwise, whole villages have sprung up and over time, subsequently disappeared back into the lush, often labyrinthine forests of the Northeast. Often, there is superstition and mystery concerning these long-gone locales.

One such place of intrigue along coastal Massachusetts is known as Dogtown. The nearest larger city being Gloucester, Dogtown was a rural farming community located on a hilly peninsula along the coast, south of the New Hampshire border. First settled in the late 1600's, the Parrish began as a farming community away from the larger coastal cities that were subject to pirate attacks, Native American attacks and coastal raids. At its peak, Dogtown was host to around 100 families. The farm work was difficult in the rocky, boulder-strewn landscape of this area, and it never experienced any boom in industry to drive people to the area..

At the time known as the Commons Settlement, Dogtown remained intact for nearly a century until after the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 ended. As threats to the area decreased, most people moved away and back to the more populated harbor towns. The economy and necessity for Dogtown dwindled, as did the families that lived there. More and more unsavory people began to move to these recently vacated residences, further driving the town to ruin in the early 1800's. The stigmas surrounding these vagrants may have also likely led to the use of the name "Dogtown", further cementing the legends into history.

It is in this period of deterioration that witchcraft rumors ran high through the area. Single and widowed women who didn't leave the area when other families did started attracting the wrong kind of attention. According to onlyinyourstate.com, "rumors began to brew that some of these had stayed in order to practice witchcraft. Strange booming sounds began to be heard coming from the town and travelers reported flickering lights and figures in the surrounding forest." While the paranormal activity associated with this 1800's town is intriguing, one can only speculate as to how true these claims are. Descriptions from modern hikers and nearby residents of slimier unexplained activity only furthers the mystery. Missing hikers and the 1984 murder of a local teacher keeps the reputation of Dogtown relevant, and shrouded in spookiness.

In 1830, that last resident, a freed slave by the name of Cornelius Finson, was found with his feet completely frostbit and was immediately taken to the local almshouse. According to writer Charles E. Mann, "What changed the Commons Settlement to Dogtown was the people: women who dressed like men, men who did housework, alleged witches, and former slaves, who lived...‘Gypsy Ways.’"

Society at the time viewed anyone who didn't conform to a Christian or Puritan lifestyle as an outcast, and quickly disassociated from them so as not to be seen the same way. While this is no different than the way many of us behave today, the outcasted people faced more brutal consequences for their misperceived identities. Single women became known as witches, and the poor were seen as criminals and thugs. The reputation of Dogtown remained known around the larger areas until the mid-1800's when it was finally deserted, but not forgotten.

All that remains now are the intact cellar holes of the homes that once stood there. The carriage roads have become hiking paths. In the 1930's, local financier Roger Babson of Gloucester gave the ominous area an even more unique quality. He purchased much of the land in Dogtown and carved quotes and words onto the faces of large boulders that dot the landscape. These readable rocks give different moral or instructional messages to passersby, lending to the strange quality of the environment. Met with disdain for destruction of the landscape and seen as an odd project at the time, Babson persisted. The Babson Boulder Trail is now a popular destination as an oddity for hikers and legend trippers. With nearly 40 cellar holes listed to explore, the inspirational carved rocks along the trail, and the paranormal activity surrounding the forest, Dogtown remains a place of persisting mystery and legend, even today.

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