There are few beaches along the Atlantic from which you can watch the sun set. Herring Cove Beach (formerly New Beach) is one of them. In the 19th century, much of the upland area of the modern-day beach lay under the waters of Lancy’s Harbor. Nearby was a small settlement of fishermen’s huts, called Herring Cove.
Herring were still being trapped there in great quantities into the 20th century. A small pile field on the beach may be a remnant of that era. This remote stretch was not a popular resort until the 1930s, after the completion of the new state highway made it easier to reach.
As the New Beach, it was known as the finest in town for its “white shelving sand and its safe exposure,” the W.P.A. Guide said in 1937. Not all exposure was necessarily safe, however. As early as 1948, the police were chasing and arresting bunches of naked young men at New Beach. “This type of swimming has got to be stopped,” Chief William N. Rogers said. Fruitlessly.
At mid-century, New Beach served as a measured mile course, with three pairs of tall, spindly towers, known as “targets.” They were used by mariners offshore to gauge a precise mile or half-mile. In 1963, the beach officially reclaimed the name “Herring Cove,” though longtime residents can still be heard to call it New Beach, seemingly to distinguish themselves from washashores.
Though there is no strict dividing line, the southern end of the beach skews gay, and the farther from prying eyes, the likelier that a few men may be worshiping more than the sun; a state of affairs that prompted officials in 2008 to warn against public sex. Gay beachgoers typically arrive by bike and trek through the dunes. Closer to the bath house are traditional families and lesbians. “They don’t like to carry things,” Kate Clinton explained. “I’ve seen lesbians get out of the car in the parking lot, look around and say, ‘This looks good right here.'”
At Herring Cove is the eastern terminus of the historical U.S. Route 6, the Grand Army Highway, once the longest in America, running more than 3,500 miles through 14 states until it reaches Long Beach, Calif. — where you can also watch the sun set over the sea.