Perched on a rocky peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, much of Marblehead’s charm lies in its end of the road location.The Lafayette House and the second oldest U.S. Episcopal Church are other spots worth visiting. Fort Sewall is an earthwork fortification built in the 1600s and “modernized” in the late 1700s to include barracks and half-buried buildings, which still remain. Right at the mouth of the harbor, the fort offers a commanding view of the water and of Marblehead Neck, at the other side of the harbor.
Located just 18 miles north of Boston, Marblehead feels worlds away from the urban sprawl. With narrow and winding streets, beautifully preserved clapboard homes, sea captains’ mansions, the seaside Massachusetts town still looks very much as when it was founded as a commercial fishing village in 1629. Its first colonists were fishermen who hailed from Cornwall, England and the Channel Islands.
In the years before the Revolutionary War Marblehead enjoyed rapid growth evolving into one of the biggest towns in the colonies with thriving fishing and shipping fleets. Tall-masted schooners carried the goods of a new nation to and from Europe and the Far East.
One of the prettiest and best-kept historic towns in the U. S., strolling the old neighborhoods you’ll discover one of the town’s biggest draws— the colorful 18th and 19th century homes overlooking the mighty Atlantic. Many of the residences sport nameplates identifying the name and occupation of their original inhabitants.
In the Old Town district you will also find galleries, restaurants and boutiques clustered together in an old-fashioned Main Street setup. It’s a quick hike to the harbor from downtown, and you’ll get to walk past many old sailors’ homes. M F.L. Woods, a nautical supply shop turned clothing store, has operated out of the same building on Washington Street since 1938.
A walking tour takes visitors to the one-of-a-kind Jeremiah Lee Mansion. Built by American craftsmen in 1768, the late-Georgian era house — whose wood siding is scored to look like stone — is extraordinarily well preserved, since Lee’s family was the only one to live there. A wealthy merchant who helped fund the patriot cause, Lee died just as the Revolution was getting underway.
Tour the art galleries in the King Hooper Mansion, the brick-towered Abbot Hall landmark which is the permanent home of the famous painting “The Spirit of ‘76.”
Like many Massachusetts towns, Marblehead contributed greatly to the American Revolution and the Civil War. Old Burial Hill cemetery has been taking in Marblehead’s dead since 1638. Centuries-old stone carving artwork, epitaphs and gravestones mark the places of many of Marblehead’s earliest inhabitants on this scenic hill overlooking the harbor.
With some of the best views of Marblehead Harbor, Crocker Park offers an array of summer concerts. One of New England’s premier sailing capitals, at some points in the summer over 2,000 boats are moored in and around Marblehead Harbor. The town stages the “grand-daddy” of ocean races, the 363-mile Marblehead to Halifax. Dating back to 1905, in the early days it took most crews five days of hard sailing to get to Halifax. The current course record was set by Jim Grundy’s 75-ft Bella Pita at 30 hours, 46 minutes and 52 seconds in ideal sailing conditions in 2011.
Marblehead has a long history of seafaring, fishing and working in harmony with the ocean. Restaurants like The Barnacle celebrate that connection with delicious fare straight from the water. The town’s oldest family restaurant, the chowder was thick and creamy with plenty of potatoes, onion and fresh clams with a nice broth. The lobster roll was a winner, too. Chilled sweet lobster meat on a bed of crisp lettuce topped with chopped celery for a perfect extra crunch.
Start your morning at The Muffin Shop, the heart and soul of the town, where you’ll find groups of residents lingering over breakfast. The Muffin Shop offers Marblehead’s tastiest homemade scones and cookies, a full breakfast and lunch menu, not to mention the largest variety of freshly baked muffins. As the proprietors like to say, “It’s all or muffin.”
The Driftwood Restaurant has been a Marblehead landmark for decades. Its barn-red clapboard exterior is matched inside with red tables and a lunch counter where work by local artists adorns the walls. Doors open at 5:30. Fishermen flock here for coffee, ham and eggs, and to get the low-down on the day’s weather and what fish are running. On weekends, they serve up a Driftwood specialty, fried dough which comes with butter and maple syrup. Joint closes at 2 o’clock, cash only.
The elegantly decorated Harbor Light Inn is an excellent home base. In 1819 the inn expanded the original two-story, four-room house into the three-story, hipped-roof Federal house it remains today. Guestrooms feature king and queen beds, most have fireplaces, some have decks or patios, while others boast double hot tubs. Climb up to the inn’s lofty rooftop walk and gaze upon majestic sailboats gliding past or a working lobster boat chugging in to port. There is a clear view of a lighthouse directly across the channel. You may imagine how it felt to watch and wait for the long ago clipper ships that sailed into this enchanting seaport.