eGuide Poles Hill

Your guide to a Native American Solar Observatory on Poles Hill in Gloucester, Massachusetts, USA

The Landscape

Poles Hill is an Acidic Rocky Summit shrubland. Natural shrublands are among the most endangered ecosystems in the United States. Absent disturbances such as fire or wind, trees eventually overtop the shrub layer.

A number of species are dependent on shrublands and other "early successional" areas such as abandoned fields. These include many bird species and the New England cottontail.

There are several perched wetlands on Poles Hill, including a deep marsh, a shallow marsh, and a shrub swamp. Several of these wetlands and surrounding areas may contain vernal pools.

Native American Presence
Native Americans living on Cape Ann before and during European contact used Poles Hill as a solar observatory, ceremonial landscape, and gateway to the spirit world. Beginning more than 2,000 years ago, the people observed sight lines between certain large boulders and the horizon, shown on the maps. By these sightings, they determined the timing of astronomical events, such as the summer and winter solstices and spring and fall equinoxes. Native Americans used these and other dates to organize their annual calendar of religious observances and economic activities.

Please treat this place with respect.

The Friends of Poles Hill
Today, through community activism and civic pride, Poles Hill is a protected municipal property.

The Friends of Poles Hill formed in 1997 when neighbors and friends learned of a proposal to build 40 houses on this unique coastal heath, based on a development plan approved in 1962. The proposed plan later grew to 110 units of cluster housing, which would have destroyed the ledges, wildlife, blueberries, hiking trails and spectacular views that make Poles Hill a landmark on Cape Ann.

The Friends of Poles Hill worked for nearly two years with one goal in mind: save it all. This work involved mediation with the developer, and educating the public, not only to the beauties of Poles Hill, but to the dangers when open space is lost to over-development: increased run-off to the Annisquam and Mill Rivers below, more traffic on already busy streets, more classrooms for new school students, and the increased cost of fire and police protection and other City services.

Help came from many directions: The Commonwealth of MA awarded the effort a $500,000 grant, the Essex County Greenbelt established and managed an earmarked fund for Poles Hill, and many local citizens and businesses donated money and services. The final chapter was the decision to put the question to the voters: a Proposition 2 1/2 override to purchase Poles Hill was put on the ballot for the 1998 election. On Nov. 3, 1998, every ward and precinct in Gloucester voted to save Poles Hill.

The Solar Observatory

Rock that serves as a reference point for viewing solar events on Pole Hill.

Summer solstice sunrise

A large rock northeast of the gnomon that marks the direction of the summer solstice sunrise.

A photo of the sun rising over this rock does not yet exist due to overcast conditions to date. View of this rock from the gnomon at sunset on the first day of winter. Summer sunrise and winter sunset are at opposite angles.

Summer solstice sunset

A large rock northwest of the gnomon that marks the direction of the summer solstice sunset.

Sun setting over this rock from the gnomon on the first day of summer.

Winter solstice sunrise

Stacked stones that mark the direction of the winter solstice sunrise.

Sun rising on the first day of winter.

Highest point on Poles Hill

Rock with survey marker at the highest point on Poles Hill.

Dr. Babson's flagpole was erected at the highest point on Pole Hill seen in this historic photo looking toward Pole Hill from across the Mill River (Courtesy Frederik Bodin).

Using this App
Make sure your cellular data and data roaming are on. Extended use of this app will reduce battery life. Please email if there is a problem or issue with the app.
Learn more about the Native American solar observatory on Pole Hill.
Cape Ann Trail Stewards help protect and maintain the trail system on Pole Hill.
Report observations of any plant or animal species on Pole Hill.
Report problems that you encounter on Pole Hill.
Pole Hill was first protected from commercial development by Essex County Greenbelt Association.

(Version 1.1 - 15 March 2017)

We are not responsible for any damage, loss, or liability, whether direct, indirect, or consequential, which arises or may arise from the use of this app by any person or entity.