Monday, March 8, 2010

In My Footsteps: Trip 29: Swampscott, Marblehead, Beverly, Rockport, Mass.

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund

Trip 29: Swampscott, Marblehead, Beverly, & Rockport, Mass.
March 6, 2010

            The roughly seventy-five miles of coastline from Boston leading to the New Hampshire border is known as the North Shore.  This area is famous for its historic fishing villages and connections to the dawning of America.  Many of the twenty-two towns which make up the North Shore have immense cultural significance.  Names such as Ipswich, Gloucester, Essex, and Salem have meaning to people who don’t even live in this area.  This trip along the North Shore was a chance to experience these sites for myself and it ended up being even better than I had hoped.
            The journey began by leaving Route 1 for Route 129 and heading east into Swampscott.  This town is one of the most affluent in the state with one of the very first millionaires, Ebenezer Philips, making his fortune here.  Philips learned the process of drying fish from the local Naumkeag Indians which led to greater shelf life for the fish.  First settled as a part of neighboring Lynn in 1629, Swampscott has an amazing view of the Boston skyline(left) sitting twelve miles to the south across Nahant Bay and Broad Sound.  Beaches such as Preston Beach have great views of the many rock islands off of the coast of the North Shore.  These rocks give this area its own identity. 
            An historic spot to visit is the Elihu Thomson House.  Built in 1889 this home is now the Swampscott Town Hall but it was originally built for the noted inventor and industrialist Thomson who cofounded General Electric with Thomas Edison.
            Marblehead neighbors Swampscott and has some spectacular one of a kind areas to visit.  Chief among these is Chandler Hovey Park which is home to the incredible Marblehead Light(right), built in 1832.  Why is it so amazing?  It is the only lighthouse in New England with a skeletal structure as opposed to the classic cylindrical tower that is common.  The next light like Marblehead Light is at Coney Island.  The lighthouse stands tall on a cliff overlooking Marblehead Harbor, its green light visible for seven nautical miles. 
For the daring types you may attempt to scale down one of the rock faces into a sort of gulley that runs down to the edge of the water.  I did undertake this challenge and it was an incredible sight seeing Marblehead Light from down inside the rocks.  The constant crash of the waves on the rocky shore made it well worth any risk.  There are many benches and sheltered areas where one can simply sit and watch the boats entering the harbor, or just listen to the waves crashing on the rocks.
Marblehead, along with Beverly, has lay claim to being the birthplace of the United States Navy.  While both towns may have their own opinions there is no doubting the importance of Marblehead Harbor.  Beginning with the sailing of the Hannah in September, 1775, General George Washington gave orders for the first American vessels to engage the British during the American Revolution.  They were sailed and commanded by men of Marblehead and were the forerunners of the United States Navy.  Thus began the claim by the people of Marblehead that their town saw the birth of the Navy.
Abbot Hall, which is now Marblehead Town Hall as well, is filled with historic artifacts from the area.  Located inside the brick 19th Century building sits, among other things, the original Spirit of ’76 painting by Archiblad MacNeal Willard, the deed to Marblehead signed by the Nanapashemet Indians in 1684, and a painting of Marbleheaders rowing George Washington across the Delaware River.
A few miles north of Marblehead lies Beverly, the other claimant to the birth of the American Navy.  Originally a part of Salem, and named for a town in Yorkshire, England, Beverly can lay claim to a very important moment in American history.  Beverly is the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution which began with the construction of the first cotton mill in 1787 or 1788.  To this day however, Beverly maintains that the first American vessel to engage the British in the Revolution, the Hannah, was built in, and first sailed from, Beverly.  They have so much faith in this that the Hannah is prominently featured on the police department’s patch.   
Another historic spot which is a little off the beaten path is Hospital Point Lighthouse(right).  Hard to find because it sits along side a private residence, this lighthouse takes its name from a smallpox hospital built on the spot in 1801.  A watch house was built on the grounds all the way back in 1711.  The lighthouse looks out over Salem Sound and is clearly visible from the fence surrounding it.  However, it is on private land and thus cannot be seen any closer except on occasions when there are open houses.
The northern most town visited on this trip was Rockport.  Located just past Gloucester, at the tip of Cape Ann, this area is a well known artist colony.  Rockport was a ‘dry town,’ meaning no alcohol was to be sold within its borders, until 2005.  This law goes back to the story of Hannah Jumper.  She led a revolt of 200 mothers, wives, and daughters in 1856 to destroy all of the liquor in town.  The reason for this was the fact that although fishing was a tremendous industry for Rockport, the Northeast’s weather only permitted it for nine months out of the year.  The other three months were spent by the men spending much of their hard-earned money on booze.  Ms. Jumper’s rebellion against the ‘demon rum’ led to Rockport being ‘dry’ for 149 years.
One particularly beautiful area of is Bearskin Neck.  A small corner of Rockport, Bearskin Neck is a collection of former fishing and lobster shacks that have been gradually transformed into shops and art galleries.  The most famous location of the Bearskin Neck is a dark red fishing shack on Bradley Wharf known as Motif #1(left).  It is America’s most painted building and got its name from art teacher Lester Hornby who proclaimed ‘What, Motif #1 again!’ when student after student chose the venerable shack as a subject for sketches.
These are only the tip of the iceberg as far as amazing areas located along the North Shore.  It is not a place that can be appreciated fully during a day trip, take it piece by piece.  The amazing, rocky coastline and many lighthouses keep the rich, fishing tradition alive in any visitor’s mind.  There is so much to see, make it a point to visit the North Shore the first chance you get.  Have fun and happy traveling!

To see video of some of the places listed check out my video at In My Footsteps - North Shore

Directions: Chandler Hovey Park/Marblehead Light: From Rt. 1 heading north, turn right at Essex St.  Continue onto Lincoln Ave. through the rotary.  Turn right at Ballard St.  Turn left onto Rt. 107, right onto Washington Street.  Left onto Rt. 1-A, right at Ocean St., left at Metropolitan Park St., continue onto Humphrey St., continue onto Atlantic Ave.  Turn right on Ocean Ave., left onto Harbor Ave., continue onto Ocean Ave., left at Follett St.
            Preston Beach, Swampscott: From Rt. 1 heading north, turn right at Essex St.  Continue onto Lincoln Ave. through the rotary.  Turn right at Ballard St.  Turn left onto Rt. 107, right onto Washington Street.  Left onto Rt. 1-A, right at Ocean St., left at Metropolitan Park St., continue onto Humphrey St., continue onto Atlantic Ave.  Drive 1 mile, beach is on right just before ‘Entering Marblehead’ sign.   
            Hospital Point Lighthouse: Take Rt. 128 off of I-95.  Take Exit 18, turn right onto Rt. 22.  Turn left at Corning St.  Continue onto Bayview Ave.  Hospital Point Light is on the left at the end.
            Bearskin Neck, Rockport: Take Rt. 128 off of I-95.  Stay on Rt. 128 through two rotaries and turn left onto Rt. 127.  Rt. 127 becomes Broadway, turn left at Mt. Pleasant Street. Bearskin Neck is on the right.

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