© Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester MA
Samuel Sawyer was a great Gloucester philanthropist. A very successful ship owner and merchant, Mr. Sawyer donated Gloucester’s City Hall clock and bell. He bought up woodlots to preserve the 600-acre Ravenswood Park. He founded the City’s first free library, complete with an art gallery filled with personally chosen works from Europe as well as from Cape Ann.
On February 15, 1830, nearly 100 Gloucester residents met and formed the Gloucester Lyceum to bring community together to participate in lectures and debates which fostered ideas and information. Among the many intellectual luminaries of the day who appeared were Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes.
The Lyceum inevitably led to the formation of a library through the great philanthropy of ship owner and merchant, Samuel E. Sawyer, and other public donations. In 1764 Thomas Saunders, a merchant and state representative built a sturdy house on the corner of Dale Avenue and Middle Street. In 1884 Mr. Sawyer purchased this prominent residence and donated it to the library corporation. Today this library continues as a public charitable corporation as designated under a charter granted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, June 10, 1872. Explore over 100,000 items; local oral histories; special collections & archives; fine art including Fitz Henry Lane paintings & significant WPA-era murals by Frederik Stoddard; year-round programming, cultural events, art exhibitions, and lectures.
Ravenswood Park, in the Freshwater Cove area of Gloucester, Massachusetts, consists of land donated to the city by businessman Samuel Elwell Sawyer upon his death in 1889. Sawyer, who was born in Gloucester on November 25, 1815, was a noted businessman and philanthropist who purchased woodlots, old pastures, and swamp in the vicinity of his home to keep the land undeveloped. In his will, Sawyer donated 26 parcels of his land to the city for a park, which he wanted named Ravenswood, for the castle in Sir Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor. His will also set aside funds for purchasing surrounding land for the park when it became available, as well as money to build a chapel for the residents of Freshwater Cove, and to fund several other charitable causes in Gloucester. Sawyer asked that a board of trustees be formed to manage the funds and to help maintain the park and chapel. The Trustees of Ravenswood Park were organized in 1895 upon final settlement of Sawyer’s will.
Soon after its formation, the board of trustees helped establish the park, as well as manage funds used to add parcels of land to the park through the 1970s. It also raised enough funds by 1955 to build Sawyer’s requested chapel on park lands, when the plot of land suggested by Sawyer himself was found to be too small. The expanded park lands included those where naturalist Mason “The Hermit” Walton built his cabin in the 1880s; Mason later documented his experiences in the book A Hermit’s Wild Friends (1903). A plaque noting the location of Mason’s cabin stands in the park today. The Trustees of Ravenswood Park gave the park property to The Trustees of Reservations in 1993.
photograph © 1945 B. Anthony Stewart Kodachrome, National Geographic
Photo showing Stoddard mural and staircase, Thomas Saunders mansion, now Sawyer Free Library
Witty, prolific Phelps sometimes employed Gloucester setting for her stories. See “Madonna of the Tubs,” and others at the Sawyer Free Library.
Photographs of the Sawyer Free Library’s Gloucester Stoddard WPA murals © Melissa Nicastro. They’re on view at the Sawyer Free Library Saunders House. Stoddard also completed WPA murals and frescoes for the rotunda and mayor’s office of St. Louis City Hall. Here in Gloucester, local artist, Howard Curtis, was hired as Stoddard’s assistant. Curtis played a devoted and important role in Gloucester’s art community for over 50 years.
The Trustees of Reservations: Ravenswood Park, Gloucester, MA
2 pages Printable Kids’ activity sheet