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A Local Treasure: The Business of Clamming

Champion Clamdigger
Courtesy of Joseph Carlin.

Because clamming has historically sustained towns like Essex, Ipswich, Rowley, and Gloucester, a shell fishing culture is apparent in those communities. Those who learned to be clammers from their fathers and grandfathers carry a legacy and a pride in this shared heritage.










John Grundstrom

“And then I started going [clamming] by myself. And at that time, there were probably, maybe twenty-five grammar school and high school kids clamming out of Rowley at the time. Everybody had their own boat. So it was more like a picnic, too. You know, everybody went down there, and you’d listen to the old clammers telling stories and kidding with each other. My sister dug clams, too a little bit, and on Friday’s it would be about ten of us. We were making such good money, that we would all walk up to a restaurant in Rowley called Lonnell’s. And they had like boiled lobster, fried lobster, filet mignon, all of that.  And we used to walk in there on Fridays, about ten of us kids—we were all about twelve, thirteen, fourteen—and we’d order top-shelf stuff. The owner, for some reason—we were just talking about this the other day—hated to see us coming! Why, I don’t know, because we always paid cash. We always left tips, but he would be so irritated when we walked in there, probably because we just horsed around, you know. But we used to sit in there, and I remember talking to the other kids who would say—if there were couples near us—would say, 'Are you going to France this weekend for vacation?' 'Yeah, I’m flying to France. Where are you going, Rollie?' 'I think I might go to Australia.'" - John H. Grundstrom

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“A Hardy Soul”

From Frank Goucher's Memoirs

“Back in 1920, we had good clamming in the Essex River,” related Henry Jeff to me. “I found a spot of clams in Bull Island Run, one day and dug nine bushels.” When I landed at the clam house, Joe Peep and Frank N., both Burnhams, were dumping five bushels. I knew, after they watched me bring in nine bushels, they would be tracking me. So, I left my house an hour earlier than usual the next day. As I pulled my boat in, I caught a glimpse of them hiding behind the clam house.

Franklyn E. Goucher
Courtesy of the Essex Historical Society.

After I rowed to Chin Point, I walked up on the marsh and saw them coming after me, rowing double, each with a pair of oars, to make sure I didn’t out distance them. I continued down river, then up Dean’s Channel, past the Bridge Flat, up Horse Bank Run and through the Mud Flat against an eleven-foot tide. I passed Silver Bank, rowed down Castle Neck Channel, up through Hog Island River and again reached the Bridge, which completed the cycle of Hog Island and continued down Dean’s Channel for the second time. As I looked back, I saw them finally give up and start digging on the Bridge.

“You must have been exhausted after rowing those miles,” I said, “did you continue on home?”

“Nope,” said Henry, “I went back to Bull Island Run and dug another nine bushels.”


A Local Treasure: The Business of Clamming