Marblehead, Massachusetts Guide
What Salem was to merchant ships a century and a half ago, nearby Marblehead is to yachts today.
State Street, Marblehead Massachusetts.
Summer and winter, beautiful, perfectly sheltered Marblehead harbor, 16 miles (26 km) northeast of Boston and 3.5 miles (5.6 km) east of Salem (map), is full of white boats bobbing on the water, or in drydock, or heading out to sea—more than 2000 of them.
Yachts & History
But it's not only yachters who come to Marblehead. This is without doubt one of the prettiest and best-kept historic towns in the country, and people love to come from Boston on the weekend just to walk the streets and window-shop, have a bowl of chowder in one of several good restaurants , and perhaps to stay in one of the town's cozy New England inns.
What to See & Do
They also come for a look at The Spirit of '76, the famous painting that hangs in Abbot Hall, Marblehead's Town Hall at 188 Washington Street. Abbott Hall dominates the settlement from a hilltop, readily visible from most places in the town—you can hardly miss its red-brick clock tower.
Open weekdays and Saturday during business hours, it's open to visitors for free. A volunteer guide is often on hand to explain the features of the historic building and the artifacts and art works it holds.
In the entry hall, for example, are murals painted as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project outlining Marblehead's history as a great fishing and yachting port., and one of the birthplaces of the US Navy. and US Air Force.
Select Board Meeting Room
The Select Board (town council), meeting roomto the left as you enter Abbot Hall, holds Archibald M Willard's marvelous patriotic painting, The Spirit of '76.
The dramatic painting fills most of the far wall of the room. It's now protected behind glass, a necessary security measure.
Painted by Willard in about 1875, it was first exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, which was signed and promulgated in Philadelphia (1776).
After the Exposition, it was taken on tour to several American cities, including as far as San Francisco, California.
After the tour it was bought by General John H Devereux, a native of Marblehead and self-made railroad magnate, who donated it to the town. It was hung in Abbot Hall in 1880.
Archibald Willard's father was the model for the central figure in the painting, the white-haired drummer. General Devereux's son was the model for the boy drummer, and Hugh Mosher, a farmer and veteran of the Civil War, was the model for the fife player.
The Select Board's Meeting Room is a fine small town historical museum, with a gallery of patriotic paintings, historical manuscripts, documents and artifacts on display. Among the paintings is a copy of Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware, an appropriate artifact as it was a regiment of Marblehead soldier-mariners who rowed the general across the treacherous winter waters of the Delaware to fight the victorious Battle of Trenton on Christmas day, 1776.
To the left as you face The Spirit of '76, take a look at the deed (1684) by which the heirs of Great Sachem Nanepashemet of the Naumkeag Tribe of the Algonquin Nation transferred ownership of the 3700 acres (1500 hectares) of land of Marblehead to the British settlers from nearby Salem.
Historic Marblehead, gathered around the harbor, has narrow, winding streets lined with quaint and noble houses, cafes, chowder eateries and shops. This is the Marblehead you come to see.
Parks & Walks
Walking around, window-shopping, enjoying the panoramic sea views of the rugged rockbound coast from Fort Sewall or Crocker Park, visiting a historic house museum, are the best things to do in Marblehead's Old Town by the harbor on a half-day or even a full-day visit.
Marblehead Harbor, with its 2000+ boats. That's Salem on the other side of the harbor.
Bicycling, especially out to the historic lighthouse and park at the tip of Marblehead Neck, or taking a dip in the chilly sea at Devereux Beach are other choices.
After a walk in the "downtown" part of Old Town, make your way down to the waterfront and Crocker Park, on a hill at the western end of Front Street.
Relax on one of the benches and admire the panoramic view of the harbor and the town. Bring or buy a sandwich, and have a picnic here. The view is unforgettable.
From Crocker Park, walk east along Front Street, past its little restaurants, boatyards, and houses built on the rocks, to Fort Sewall, an earthwork fortification built in the 1600s and "modernized" in the late 1700s to include barracks and half-buried buildings, which still remain.
Fort Sewall is right at the mouth of the harbor and offers a commanding view of the water and of Marblehead Neck, at the other side of the harbor's mouth, dominated by a light.
This is another good picnic place, and it's great for children, who will love playing within the fort (where there is little risk of falling into the water).
Fountain Park & Old Burial Hill
When you're ready to leave Fort Sewall, walk back along Front Street, turn right on Franklin, then right again on Orne Street to get to Fountain Park and Old Burial Hill, where the town's first church meetinghouse was built (it's gone now) and where ancient gravestones mark the places of many of Marblehead's earliest inhabitants and Revolutionary War dead. Orne Street east of Fountain Park leads to the beach.
The mansion at 161 Washington Street, at Hooper Street, now owned by the Marblehead Historical Society, was built by a wealthy maritime merchant and furnished with the best things money could buy in 1768—just before the American Revolution.
The three-storey, 18-room house is among the finest Colonial mansions extant, with its original wallpapers and hand-carved woodwork.
The style is Georgian, of course, and the period furnishings, including hand-painted wallpaper and paneling, are from around the world—confirming Marblehead's role as an important maritime port for worldwide trade.
Marblehead's Robert "King" Hooper Mansion (tel 781-631-2608), 8 Hooper Street, more or less across the street from the Jeremiah Lee Mansion, is a smaller house and older.
Built in 1728, with a Georgian façade added in 1747, it has been occupied since 1938 by the Marblehead Arts Association which offers tours of four floors and five galleries for free. The art exhibits change each month; there's a gift shop.
Visit Wednesday to Sunday from 12 noon to 5 pm, for free.
Where to Stay
As befits a beautiful, historic New England seacoast port town, Marblehead boasts several historic New England inns. Staying in one gives you the full Marblehead experience.
The 4-star, 23-room Harbor Light Inn has all the comforts: seasonal swimming pool, restaurant and bar, breakfast buffet, and some guest rooms with fireplaces and spa tubs. The location is the most central of Marblehead's inns, with everything just a short walk away. More...
The 3-star, 11-room Hotel Marblehead on Pleasant Street (MA Route 114) is fairly close to the town center and Devereux Beach. All rooms have private bathrooms, Wifi and flat-screen TVs, and some have kitchenettes, garden views, and outdoor dining areas. More...
Inns in Salem
If you plan to visit nearby Salem, make the detour to Marblehead for at least an hour or two, for a stroll and a meal, or even overnight. You can get to Salem by train, and to Marblehead by train and bus, or bicycle, or car. Marblehead is 4 miles (6.5 km) southeast of Salem (map).
A more direct route, via US 1, is not much faster.
The most direct route, via MA Route 1A, is slowest because it passes through many towns (and many traffic signals) along the way. If you do follow MA Route 1A north from Boston, turn onto MA Route 129 in Swampscott and follow this route right into Old Town, Marblehead.
Note that on the Massachusetts North Shore routes have lots of corners and turns, and signs may be confusing or missing. Don't be afraid to stop and ask for directions.
Train & Bus
If you have your bicycle with you, it's a pleasant 3.8-mile (6-km) ride from the Salem train station to Marblehead (map).
You may also take a Newburyport/Rockport Line train to Lynn, south of Salem, and transfer to MBTA express buses 441, 442, 448 or 449. Buses run to Marblehead about every half hour during rush hours, every hour other times, but note that only bus 442 runs in the evening and on Sunday.
The train ride is about 40 minutes, the bus ride between Lynn and Marblehead about 25 minutes.
From late May through late October, the Salem Ferry operated by Boston Harbor Cruises speeds between Boston's Long Wharf (map) and Salem about five times daily in each direction. The voyage takes about 45 minutes. More...