“From the Wrack”
The GM’s Beachcombing Corner
If you've ever strolled along a beach in New England, chances are you've come across an unexpected treasure deposited by the ocean waves.
Sometimes, that discovery can spark a passion that'll launch a lifelong endeavor.
Beachcombing, the act of searching the sands for these treasures, is a healthy outdoor hobby that thousands in New England enjoy engaging in. Because of the rich history of our area and a few wonderful things that have tumbled into place, New England may be the best place in the entire world to do it. (Big claim, I know, but there are a few factors to support this statement.)
You have to start with the beaches. Our beautiful natural beaches. In the early days of our nation's history, New England housed the New World's busiest harbors. At one time, more ships sailed off of our coastline than anywhere else in the world.
While the beauty of these beaches, rocky coastlines, and pristine sands draws you in, the combination also provides a boon to beachcombers. A coastline that is part rock and part sand makes for the perfect weathering on the treasures you will find.
For 150 years, the nation's "highways" were our coastlines. Before trains, automobiles, and planes, boats were the primary method of transporting goods from one place to another. With New England being the economic center of early America, our coastlines shaped the routes ships and boats would take for hundreds and thousands of years. Unfortunately, many ships never made it to their destination, and their contents spilled into the waters off the coast. Locals would gather the lost goods that made their way on land, and thus, early beachcombing began.
Although Europeans settled in the Cape starting in 1620, Native Americans have lived in this area for thousands of years. Tribes like the Nauset, Wampanoag, Pequot, Penobscot and Passamaquoddy, and many more lived and thrived along our coasts. Evidence of their tribes are everywhere, including instruments used in farming and hunting. Art, scallop shell piles, tools made from stone, etc. You just have to know what you are looking for.
Lighthouses, or rather, the lack of them! It's hard to believe now, but for over 50 years, Congress wanted to add lighthouses to Cape Cod and other coastal areas of New England. Yet, locals pushed back, not wanting the large structures. The locals didn't just like the flotsam and jetsam that washed up on their beaches when shipwrecks happened, they needed them. These recovered goods supplemented the limited resources naturally available along the coast.
It took local politicians 50 years to convince the locals that having lighthouses would mean safe, vibrant harbors for visiting ships which would benefit the local economy. They agreed and lighthouses were built. This lack of lighthouses as America expanded in the late 1700’s into the mid-19th century adds to the wealth of treasure recovered from shipwrecks during that time period.
Glass is made from natural and abundant raw materials, including sand, soda ash and limestone, that are melted at very high temperature to form a new material: glass. With all the sand along the coast, New England has some of the biggest and earliest glass companies in America. Notable companies include the historic Sandwich Glass Company, New England Glass Company, and New England Glassworks Portland Glass.
Glass factories create a massive amount of sea glass near the factory. Since sand is the main ingredient in glass, any glass at the factory that is broken, old, or incorrect would be recycled by throwing it into the ocean. This practice generates a lot of sea glass as the glass breaks down back into sand. Because of these "local" glass companies, our area homes are full of glass.
The Ocean's gift. The ocean's natural currents and water transform the sharp glass that occasionally falls into its waters. With enough time, a broken, shattered piece of glass will weather to a soft, rounded gift from the ocean. That pretty piece of green glass you see laying in the sand may pre-date you! It took decades of rolling around in the sand, gliding through the waves, sliding up and down the beach, facing tide after tide, buried and unburied, weathering hundreds of storms, and baking in the sun, to transform into that piece of sea glass.
Because of all of these factors, and more, the beaches of New England are fantastic to beachcomb.
I hope to share photos of treasures discovered on our shores, and provide insight into the history of our coast's catches.
A couple of things to please keep in mind. While beachcombing is a fun adventure, please respect our neighbors, the law, and enjoy your total surroundings. As my wife always says, "You're walking on the beach in such beautiful spots... keep your head up and see that too!" Don't trespass – some beaches are closed to the public – and don't take things off of beaches where it's not permitted (some National Beaches do not allow anything taken off the beach).
Vintage Ink Well
My brother has been a deep sea fisherman off the Coast of New England for almost 50 years. Occasionally they pull up items in their nests that are not fish!! A few years back the boat he was working, the Terry Ann was out at Georges Bank. An incredible fishing spot off the East coast of New England.
As they pulled in their catch of fish they noticed this incredible bottle at the bottom of their net and it had been in the ocean a long time, it had become Sea Glass. What’s great about a find like this is there are websites to help you figure out what you have found. This is an old School Desk Inkwell from 1922!!
I hope the Southern wind is at your back, the sun at the right angle, and you find many treasures to enjoy! Good luck on your Sea Glass Hunts!