Thursday, June 17, 2010

In My Footsteps: Trip 52: Nahant, Mass.

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund

Trip 52: Nahant, Mass.
May 20, 2010

            Most of the places I have visited I have been excited to see, some more than others.  Then there are places that make a trip by being even better than expected.  Still, there have been very few places that I have been very excited to see and then have been even better than expected.  Nahant is one of the few places that hit it on both counts.  It is a true one in a million place to visit.  I have been telling all I know about my love affair with this place since I visited, now it is time to bring you folks in as well.
            Barely more than a mile wide at its greatest, and connected to the mainland by a strip of land a little wider than a two-lane road, Nahant packs a lot of beautiful sites into a very small area.  The name ‘Nahant’ comes from the Native American word meaning ‘the point,’ or ‘almost an island.’  Settled in 1630 and originally used by people from neighboring Lynn to graze cattle Nahant only had three homes on its 1.2 square miles as late as 1800.  Now mainly a residential area Nahant began mostly as a summer retreat.  The first hotel was built here in 1802 and some of the first amusement parks were built here during the late 19th century.  Being a residential community now I believe is what helps make Nahant a one in a million place.
            The first spot I wanted to see was actually the furthest point away from the entrance to Nahant.  Swallow Cave(above, top), located at the end of the road of the same name, is a bit out of the way but its story was what captured my imagination.  The cave itself is said to be haunted by a fortune teller from Salem named Witch Wonderful.  Legend has it that during King Philip’s War in 1675 forty Native Americans canoed from Cape Cod and raided Lynn.  The settlers fought back and pushed the Natives out to Nahant where they eventually lost them. 
The settlers consulted Witch Wonderful and she informed them that these Natives were hiding out in the area now known as Swallow Cave.  She also helped convince the Natives to surrender without bloodshed.  The haunting comes from the fact that Witch Wonderful predicted her own death no more than two weeks later.  She was buried atop a hill overlooking the cave and her ghost is said to be seen walking the rocks and the shore.
I did not see any signs of ghosts when I visited the cave area but it was an incredible sight.  A hard climb, the view from on top of the cave is tremendous as you can see across Broad Sound to the Boston skyline(above, bottom).  This is where I got my looks down into the cave where the tide was filling it with water.  I definitely suggest checking the tides before attempting to enter the narrow cave opening as even a little water makes the rocks slippery and dangerous.
Nearly every spot in Nahant has a view of the ocean so finding a beach or park with access to the water is not hard.  However, there are a few spots that stood out above the rest.  East Point(right) located on Nahant Road is a perfect example of this as this park used to be a coastal artillery site during World War II.  The rocks jutting out on the left and right make you feel like you’re in a bowl with the classic North Shore waves funneling their way inside.  There are a few benches and a small parking area that allow you to sit and enjoy the sights, sounds, and even smells of the shore.  This spot is also right next to the Marine Science Center of Northeastern University.
On the other side of Nahant, not very far, sits Nahant Harbor(left) and Dorothy Cove.  Despite the small size of the town I found it amusing that there is still a golf course located there.  Kelly Green Golf Course is small but still just the fact that Nahant has one at all is pretty neat.  There is a parking lot for the golf course that can be used for Nahant Harbor and Dorothy Cove.  I stood up on the retaining wall and enjoyed the sound of the waves pulling the loose rocks toward the ocean, it reminded me of the sound of marbles being juggled about in one’s hand.  It was a very soothing sound and a soothing place.
On the way out of Nahant there are a few more great places to stop and see.  First is the even smaller neighborhood known as Little Nahant.  It is no more than a few roads sticking out to the east of Nahant Road but it is slightly elevated above the surrounding areas which gives some great views of the northern section of Nahant as well as Egg Rock located off shore.
Finally there is Nahant Beach(right) which runs along Nahant Road as you enter, or exit, the town.  It runs northeast into Lynn Shore which was covered in my Lynn article.  The beach has a great view of Lynn and Nahant Bay while the nearly mile long parking lot means there is almost always a spot open.  As if to put an exclamation point on the trip there is even a Dunkin’ Donuts CafĂ© located in the parking lot of Nahant Beach.   
What was more impressive than the specific sights to see in Nahant was the overall vibe that this tiny landmass has.  It was this vibe that left the biggest impact on me.  Although connected by a narrow strip of land driving out to Nahant is as close as you can get to driving to and island.  Once you pass the ‘Welcome to Nahant’ sign it is like being in a different world.  Every street, every beach, every park is worth seeing, and with only 1.2 square miles of land you can see it all.  I put Nahant one an entirely different level of places to see, there is no reason not to visit this town.  If you don’t go anywhere else I have been do yourself a favor and take in Nahant, you will not be disappointed.  Have fun and happy traveling!

To view a short video of my time in Nahant click here: In My Footsteps: Nahant, Mass.  

My first book, In My Footsteps: A Cape Cod Travel Guide, is now available from Schiffer Books!

DirectionsNahant: From Rt. 3 north take Exit 20B to merge onto I-93 north.  Take Exit 20 toward Logan Airport.  Merge onto I-90 east, continue onto Rt. 1A north, at rotary take 2nd exit to remain on Rt. 1A north.  Continue onto Lynnway, at rotary take 1st exit onto Nahant Rd.  From here Nahant Beach is on left, Swallow Cave is on Swallow Cave Rd., East Point is at the end of Nahant Road, Nahant Harbor is along Willow Rd.
   - Official Site

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