Conservation Group Takes a Chance on White Wharf (MA)

Rockport, Massachusetts–Today, the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit land conservation organization, announced its interim purchase of the White Wharf property on Rockport’s historic waterfront for $1.1 million. In response to an emergency request for assistance from the Rockport Board of Selectmen, TPL agreed to purchase the property and hold it off the market temporarily. This will provide the Town with the time it needs to hold a Town Meeting vote on purchasing a substantial portion of the property. Recently, the site was the target of a proposed hotel/commercial development, which was abandoned due to local opposition.

The White Wharf property on Bearskin Neck is slightly less than one acre and lies adjacent to Lumber Wharf, which is already owned by the Town of Rockport. The property includes a 220 ft. granite wharf, built in 1811, and is the oldest commercial fishing and shipping wharf in town. It also includes a marina with 27 slips, a small undeveloped open lot, and a private residence.

“TPL is grateful to the Essex County Greenbelt Association and the Town of Rockport for inviting as to participate in this important project. By purchasing White Wharf from the estate of Robert Ramsdell, we are buying time for the Town of Rockport to hold a Town Meeting vote on the acquisition of this property,” explained TPL regional director Whitney Hatch. “Over the next five months, our staff will be working with local elected officials and residents to protect this outstanding historic wharf and adjoining undeveloped land permanently.” TPL currently plans to sell the residence to a private buyer.

“The Town of Rockport is grateful for the assistance of the Trust for Public Land. We contacted them at the end of September, and they have acted with unbelievable speed to secure an opportunity for the Town to purchase White Wharf. The Selectmen are in favor of this acquisition, and in March we will seek $600,000 from Town Meeting to acquire the property,” said Nick Barletta, chairman of the Rockport Board of Selectmen. “This is an important decision that will affect the character of Rockport’s historic waterfront for years to come.” The Board of Selectmen plans to form a committee soon to determine potential future uses of the property.

“We are extremely pleased with the acquisition of White Wharf and adjoining open space. We would like to thank the Essex County Greenbelt Association and the Trust for Public Land for their efforts to provide an opportunity for the community to acquire this waterfront gem,” said John Bruce, president of Seafencibles, a group of concerned citizens dedicated to preserving Cape Ann’s historic coastal areas from overdevelopment. “Now the hard work begins. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and work with the Town to secure funding for the purchase.”

“This is a very exciting opportunity for Rockport to acquire a key part of its waterfront,” remarked Ed Becker, executive director of the Essex County Greenbelt Association. “The Board of Selectmen are to be commended for their quick and decisive action on behalf of the citizens of Rockport. I also want to recognize the critical role played by the Trust for Public Land. Their ability to reach an agreement with the landowner under a very tight timeline has secured Rockport’s chance to buy the wharf for the use and enjoyment of its residents.”

White Wharf has a long and colorful history. In 1811 the Sandy Bay Pier Company replaced a wooden pier in Rockport’s harbor with one made of granite, creating White Wharf as we know it today. The company also built the Lumber Wharf and the Middle Wharf, thus completing the three piers of the Old Harbor from which salt fish, lumber, and blocks of Rockport granite were shipped around the world. During the War of 1812, White Wharf was successfully defended by Rockport’s volunteer militia, the Seafencibles, against the British ship, Nymph.

The Trust for Public Land was founded in 1972 to protect land for people to enjoy as parks and open space. Nationwide, the Trust has protected more than 1.2 million acres, including nearly 60,000 acres in New England. For more information, contact TPL’s Boston office at (617) 367-6200 or visit