10-foot public chessboard planned for Rockport Marine Park

Jim Lea Rockport, shown here at a chess board at his home, is working on establishing a 10-foot-square chess board with pieces up to 2-feet tall at Rockport's Marine Park.
Jim Lea Rockport, shown here at a chess board at his home, is working on establishing a 10-foot-square chess board with pieces up to 2-feet tall at Rockport's Marine Park. Buy Photo
Posted May 30, 2012, at 6:03 p.m.

ROCKPORT, Maine — “Chess by the sea” may not be an obvious match, but the game has a long history of being played in public parks, and resident Jim Lea hopes to establish that tradition at the town’s Marine Park.

The town’s select board recently gave its thumbs up to Lea’s proposal to build a 10-foot-square chessboard made of concrete. A company called MegaChess manufactures pieces which would be used there. They range from 18-inches to 2-feet tall, made of a plastic material, Lea said.

Working with Steve Beveridge, the town’s public works director, and Harbormaster Abbie Leonard, Lea found a level place along the road that leads downhill into the park where he hopes the board can be established. He originally hoped to have the board built closer to the water, but the confines of the park made it difficult.

The board will be flush with the grass, so mowing the adjacent lawn will not be difficult. A picnic table and some benches already are located at the site, which Lea and Leonard imagine will be used by players and spectators.

The plan is to store the pieces in a locked metal box near the board, Lea said, and those who want to use them would have to join, at no charge, a chess club. Members would be given the combination to the lock. Visitors to the area would have to ask the harbormaster to unlock the box to play.

“I’ve seen them in Europe,” Lea said, specifically in Zurich, Switzerland. In a park there, a dozen or so boards were built into the ground, with several games under way at once and lots of spectators nearby.

“It’s fun, seeing hundreds of people watching” he said of the large, public games he saw in Europe. “It’s just a wonderful thing to do,” he said.

Harbormaster Leonard agreed.

“It’s just such a beautiful spot,” she said of the park, which lies at the top of the harbor. “Anything that brings people to the park.”

Lea, not surprisingly, has been a chess player for years. He moved to Rockport 42 years ago, and for decades built period furniture. Since 1995, he has built and restored clocks, working with his daughter in a barn attached to his Pascal Avenue home.

The chessboard and pieces will cost about $500. Lea has raised about $250 of that amount to date, but hopes others will contribute. Anyone interested in helping with the project can contact Lea at 542-3025.

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