Dave Ryder (left) and Ben Gilley shuck scallops at Gilley’s cottage at South Wharf in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts, in 1950. The old-timers were preparing food for the Allen’s Neck Clambake, an annual summer event that fed fresh seafood harvested from the abundant local waters — not to mention homemade sausages and pies, local corn and sweet potatoes — to as many as 500 guests and 125 workers in its heyday. A cord of hardwood, a ton of rockweed and a ton and a half of round stones made up the ovens.
Those were the days when livings were made fishing in and around Buzzards Bay. The cycle started in the spring with the setting of the herring nets. This was also the time for early-season eeling, oystering and scalloping, which went on year-round. By summer, the fishing began in earnest. Tautog, stripers and blues cruised the coastal waters, and farther offshore were mackerel. In winter, there was flounder fishing, smelting and ice fishing.
Scallops were plentiful. The major beds harvested were in Allen’s Pond, Padanaram and around the estuaries of the Westport River. They were once so abundant that old-timers relate how the migrating shellfish would light up the riverbed with their bioluminescent “eyes” as they moved with the current.
Changes in climate, the destructive consequences of runoff and many other factors have had an adverse effect on the local harvest. The soft-shell clams, quahogs and fish for the feast might not come from these shores — the shellfish may come from Maine or Maritime Canada — but the Allen’s Neck Clambake continues annually on the third Thursday in August, as it has for more than 125 years.
Photo: New Bedford Whaling Museum
April 2015 issue