Best Wishes from Rockport Postmaster ‘Uncle Bill’, 1909


Here is a highly unusual postcard that was both printed for and sent by William E. Parsons, long known around Rockport as “Uncle Bill” or “Uncle Billy.” Parsons was postmaster of Rockport between 1898 and 1914 and also gained acclaim as half the theatrical team of Parsons & Pool, who traveled widely in the late 1800s putting on performances of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Most likely, Parsons had a number of these cards printed as his personal note cards. The left side of the card is printed. It shows a picture of Parsons, presumably at his desk in the Post Office. The words under the picture that look like handwriting are also printed on the card. They read:

Yours, Wm Parsons.
Better known by the Postmasters as Uncle Bill.
Rockport, Mass.

The right side of the card contains a handwritten note from Parsons dated Nov. 18, 1909. It says:

Rockport. Nov. 18 – 09
Best Wishes
from your old
Uncle Bill

The card has an undivided back. That tells us that it was printed before 1907, when postal regulations first allowed divided backs.

The card is addressed to Dana L. Brooks in Worcester. Brooks was born in Rockport in 1857 and lived here at least until 1881, when he married Geneva Hooper from Gloucester. At some point he moved to Worcester and then to Millbury, where he worked as a farmer and also as warden of an almshouse.

Parsons & Pool

As noted above, Parsons traveled the country as part of the theatrical team Parsons & Pool putting on stage productions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The Pool of the team was F.E. Pool, but I do not know more about him (or her). They may have started doing this as early as 1880 and continued through at least 1990. Below is a slideshow of some of their posters.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The novel, of course, is the famous anti-slavery novel written by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The novel was originally published in serial form in The National Era, an abolitionist newspaper, from June 5, 1851, to April 1, 1852. It was then published as a book in 1852 and was the best-selling novel of the 19th Century.

After the Civil War, stage productions based on the novel — known as “Tom shows” –became wildly popular, although they were not authorized by Stowe. In his 2012 book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin on the American Stage and Screen, author John W. Frick wrote that, by 1902, the play had more than a quarter-million presentations, and the total audience during the half century of its existence equaled the total population of the United States.

There were hundreds of Tom companies, Frick wrote, but it appears that the Parsons & Pool company was among the more popular. They toured with the Tennessee Jubilee Singers (originally known as the Fisk Jubilee Singers), a nationally known group in the 1890s who sang early black spirituals. One of the posters above claims that their production had been presented “2300 times to nearly 2,000,000 delighted people.”


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Road to Bearskin Neck, Rockport, Mass., c. 1934


In this view looking down Bearskin Neck, we can see three reminders of Rockport’s bygone days. The first can be found on the building that is slightly to the left of the picture’s center. Today, this building houses The Pewter Shop. According to the shop’s website, it was founded in 1935. I estimate this photo to be from about 1934, so the shop may have opened within a year or so of this photo.

On the facade of that building is a large sign advertising the Artists Ball. In the 1920s and 1930s, the ball was an annual event organized by the artists of Rockport. It was held in the old town hall, and when I enlarge this photo, I can make out the words “Town Hall” on the sign. As I wrote in a prior post, this event was so “spirited” that in 1932 town officials called in state troopers to help keep the party in check. One news report from 1926 described the dancing as continuing until 5 a.m., after which breakfast was served.

The second reminder of bygone days is the sign on the right for the Yellow Bowl. This was a tea room on Bearskin Neck in the 1920s and 1930s. I had another picture of it in this post. Over at the GoodMorning Gloucester blog, Fred Bodin posted a great photo of the Yellow Bowl in 1925, with Waddell’s shipyard in the background.

The third reminder is the white sign further down the road, just above the parked car. You probably can’t read it, but when I enlarge it, it says “Bowling” — an ad for the bowling alley that once stood on Bradley Wharf.

The postcard was published by Rockport Photo Bureau. It is not dated. I estimate it to be from around 1934, based in part on the clues I’ve already described, as well as on the cars that can be seen and the markings on the reverse.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Two Views Of Artists On The Headlands, c. 1930 and 1945



As evidence that some things never change, here are two postcards, roughly 15 years apart, showing artists painting Rockport’s picturesque harbor from above it on The Headlands. One is just as likely to encounter the same scene today (in warmer weather, that is).

The top postcard bears the caption, “Rockport, Massachusetts, One of the Art Towns of America.” It was published by the Rockport Photo Bureau. There is no date, but markings on the reverse and the people who are pictured lead me to estimate that the picture was taken around 1930.

The bottom postcard is by Virginia Cleaves Little, who was the daughter of Charles Cleaves, the founder of the Rockport Photo Bureau. This image is marked with a 1945 copyright, so we know its date for certain.

The name of The Headlands is attributed to explorer John Smith, who was commissioned by King James I of England in 1614 to chart the coast of Maine and Massachusetts. He gave it the name “Ye Faire Headlands.”

In 1772, Caleb Norwood bought the land and it was often thereafter referred to as Norwood’s Head.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Thatchers Twin Lights, From Turks Head Inn, c. 1910


This undated postcard shows a view of the Twin Lights of Thacher Island as seen from the Turk’s Head Inn, which formerly stood at the location of the present-day Cape Hedge Inn. The inn was originally constructed in 1888 or 1889 and operated until 1963. Fires in 1968 and 1969 severely damaged the old hotel and a 1970 fire destroyed what remained.

Compare the view above to this circa 1918 postcard, also showing the Twin Lights as seen from Turk’s Head Inn.

My dating of this card as circa 1910 is largely a guess. You can see the tall brick chimney of the whistle house on Thacher Island, which was build in 1900, according to Paul St. Germain’s book, Twin Lights of Thacher Island, Cape Ann, so we know the image is from after 1900. Closer to the center of the photo, there appears to be little or no development along what would be a portion of Eden Road, even though cottages began to appear there by at least 1906, if not earlier. That would suggest the photo is from roughly that period.

The back of the card provides no further clues as to its date and does not identify a publisher.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Rockport Harbor in Winter, c. 1935-1955


I found this image on the Web. Like another I have showing Rockport harbor in winter, it was taken by photographer Arthur Griffin. The date of the photo is identified only as sometime between 1935 and 1955.  Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Bailey Cottage, Pigeon Cove, built 1896


This cottage sits at the corner of Ocean Ave. and Haven Ave. in Pigeon Cove. The caption indicates it was built in 1896. As you can see from the photo below, it is still there, now with its front porch screened in and different landscaping. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Family Photos of Long Beach in 1920 and 1936

1920 Bill, Jean and C.A. Matthews by Long Beach sign

Grandmother Matthews 1920 LB

1920 Bill, & Jean Matthews on porch at Long Beach

1936 Inn at Long Beach

Dave Matthews is a marketing, mergers and acquisitions consultant in Stowe, Vt., who has seen five generations of his family spend a portion of their summers on Long Beach, which straddles the Rockport/Gloucester line. Dave generously sent along these photos to share with readers of Vintage Rockport. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment