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Research Question 5:

What can the Eliot scrapbook tell us about shoreline conservation?

During the late 1800s, many coastal cities in Massachusetts were unable to purchase large segments of shoreline, so towns provided access for the public via footpaths, landings, and other rights of way between roads and the water’s edge.1 Reportedly, the towns of Gloucester, Rockport, and Marblehead had a total of almost 100 ways to the sea. Arguments over rights of way can be seen in some passages from the scrapbook, highlighting that these rights of way were not clearly defined and often contested [pg. 45, article 3; pg. 47, article 1].

The shoreline was one of the first areas where The Trustees focused their efforts. Knowing that large parts of the Massachusetts shoreline were being bought by investors and private owners, The Trustees hired J.B. Harrison to report on public shoreline access across the State. His report is presented in the first Trustees of Public Reservations Annual Report (1891). Places such as Revere Beach and the Province Lands were areas that The Trustees originally wished to preserve, and were central to Harrison’s report. A letter to the editor on [pg. 14, article 2] about preserving Massachusetts’ shoreline highlights the urgency that some felt over shoreline conservation. To raise awareness of the lack of public land in Massachusetts, particularly shorelines, Harrison made speeches to several clubs and organizations in the Boston area, such as the Appalachian Mountain Club [pg. 60b].

Originally, The Trustees played an integral role in the designation of the Province Lands as a “marine park” [pg. 50, article 1; pg. 69]. The hope was that The Trustees would steward the land for the residents of Provincetown, as well as add much needed vegetation to secure the dunes. Through a temporary transfer of lands via the Massachusetts State Legislature, it was hoped that The Trustees would take on the land. J.B. Harrison, in an article about the Province Lands for Cosmopolitan, points to the destruction of trees in the area [pg. 81a, article 2] through photographs of the Lands. The Trustees of Public Reservations did not end up creating the “State Marine Park,” but the area was instead preserved by the National Parks Service through the Cape Cod National Seashore.2

In Harrison’s report, public access to beaches on the North Shore, particularly on Cape Ann, was notably absent during the late 1800s [pg. 42]. He suggested that public shoreline should be acquired before more land was bought by private interests. Newspapers took these reports seriously, with multiple newspapers addressing J.B. Harrison’s work, particularly regarding the North Shore [pg. 60b-61].

Access to Revere Beach was an integral part of the Metropolitan Park System [pg. 130, article 1]. There was an attempt to bring the beach back to what it was, before private cottages took control of the beach. The Metropolitan Park System allowed the beach to become a “public pleasure ground,” by ridding the area of private cottages. The Trustees of today continues this early commitment to shoreline preservation. While it is unclear how much seashore the organization saved in its first few decades, it currently protects 70 miles of Massachusetts shoreline. In the face of current needs and future concerns, The Trustees has identified coastal change and conservation as a key tenet of the 2023 Strategic Plan.

1 United States of America. Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. Coastal Zone Management Office. Preserving Historic Rights of Way to the Sea: A Practical Handbook for Reclaiming Public Access in Massachusetts. By Lisa Gollin Evans, Esq. 2nd ed. Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management Office, 1999.
2 "J.F.K. Signs Bill Creating Cape Cod National Seashore." Mass Moments.