Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In My Footsteps: Trip 79: Swampscott, Massachusetts

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund

Trip 79:  Swampscott, Massachusetts
September 8, 2010

Formerly a getaway for the rich Swampscott still is filled with a wealth of history and natural beauty.  It was originally known as M'squ'ompskut which means ‘Standing Red Rock’ by the Native Americans.  Though not as much of a destination for the wealthy as it was at the turn of the 20th century the town is one of the most affluent in the state.  One of the very first millionaires, Ebenezer Philips, made his fortune here in the late 18th century.  Philips learned the process of drying fish from the local Naumkeag Indians which led to greater shelf life for the fish.  Swampscott became world famous in 1808 when Ebenezer Thorndike invented the lobster pot which revolutionized lobster harvesting.
The view of Boston from Swampscott
First settled as a part of neighboring Lynn in 1629, Swampscott has an amazing view of the Boston skyline as it sits only twelve miles to the south across Nahant Bay and Broad Sound.  A great place to take in the Boston skyline is along Humphrey Street.  I found an area just passed Cap’n Jacks Waterfront Inn with parking on the road, railings and stairs down to the shore.  On a clear day it gives you an amazing view of Boston as well as a classic taste of the North Shore with the many rocks dotting the coastline.  There is a small green park within sight of this area which is close to the Swampscott Yacht Club.  Other beaches such as Preston Beach on Atlantic Avenue give you more great views of the many rock islands off of the coast of the North Shore. 
I particularly enjoyed Preston Beach which is right on the border with Marblehead.  Though the parking area is small there is a lot of stuff to see.  First off there is a really cool sundial with large rectangular stones around a center stone circle.  The longitude and latitude of the area is noted as well as lines where the seasons would change.  Upon closer inspection there were also words inscribed on the sides of the center stone including the words ‘Be Inspired By Love,’ which was a nice touch.
Elihu Thomson House
            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 founded the Thomson-Houston Electric Company in 1880.  This development was important as twelve years later, in 1892, Thomson’s company merged with Thomas Edison’s Edison General Electric Company to form General Electric.  In addition to the enormous achievement of being a cofounder of General Electric Elihu Thomson was a prolific inventor with more than 700 patents to his name.  He also served as president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T) from 1920-1923 before his death in 1937.     
I enjoy checking out the various town and city halls as they normally are surrounded by items of historical significance such as war memorials.  Swampscott’s Town Hall is one of the most impressive, possibly because it was first a private residence.  Only the blue sign near the road gives away the fact that this building is used by the town.
Looking down Monument Avenue toward Nahant Bay.
As is the case with most other town and city halls the area surrounding the Elihu Thomson House was filled with other historic and beautiful spots.  The First Church in Swampscott, Congregational, established in 1845 is one such area just across the street from the Thomson House.  There is also a really nice rural rotary surrounded by flowers.  I enjoyed this spot because of the view you get looking down Monument Avenue toward Nahant Bay. 
John Humphrey House
Another historic home that needs to be seen is the John Humphrey House on Paradise Road.  With the oldest parts of the house having been built in 1637 it is a marvelous piece of early-American architecture.  It is said to have been built for John Humphrey who was the first Deputy Governor of the Massachusetts Colony under John Winthrop.  In addition to the fairly accurate depiction of period furnishings in the house there is also a secret room on the second floor.  This was built in case the family had to hide from an Indian attack, a sort of Colonial ‘panic room.’
Swampscott is yet another North Shore town that will enchant you with its views and historical sites.  The views of Boston from areas such as Preston Beach are amazing and will probably take up most of any visitor’s time.  However be sure to set aside a little time for the historic Elihu Thomson House and John Humphrey House.  They will not disappoint and neither will Swampscott.  Have fun and happy traveling! 

DirectionsPreston Beach: 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.   
            Elihu Thomson House:  From Rt. 1A heading north take the 2nd exit at rotary to continue on Rt. 1A.  Turn left at Market Street, staying on 1A.  Turn right at Broad St., staying on 1A.  Turn right at Elmwood St.  Elihu Thomason House/Town Hall is #22.
            John Humphrey House:  From Rt. 1A heading north take the 2nd exit at rotary to continue on Rt. 1A.  Turn left at Market Street, staying on 1A.  Turn right at Broad St., staying on 1A.  Broad St. becomes Paradise Road, still stays Rt. 1A.  Humphrey House is #99.    


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