The first settlers in 1629 supposedly mistook the granite outcroppings overlooking the Atlantic Ocean for marble and so the nascent fishing village got a name. Enough wealth came from the sea to build the town that grew into one of the ten largest in the English colonies. So abundant were the fish that the King’s Royal Agent, after visiting Marblehead in 1660, returned to England and declared that Marblehead was “…the Greatest Towne for Fishing in New England.”
When revolutionary feelings fomented in the 1770s, Marblehead was in the fray that would break Colonial rule. Marblehead mariners were at the forefront of what would later become the American Navy and it was the first town to send out a private ships to harass and capture British ships. The town paid a heavy price for the war. Many men were lost and those that returned often found their boats destroyed or rotting. Other wealthy merchants loyal to King George fled to Canada.
Marblehead had peaked economically. The fishing revived but a gale at the Grand Banks of Newfoundland on September 19, 1846 destroyed half the Marblehead fishing fleet and claimed the lives of 65 men and boys. Fishing would never be the same again. The fishing industry was replaced in town by shoe-making for a time but fires in 1877 and 1888 closed the factories.
Once again Marblehead turned to the sea for its sustenance. The town became a resort destination and its exceptional harbor filled with yachts from a half-dozen clubs. The familiar sight of vacationers and tourists helped Marblehead recognize the value of preserving its heritage early on. Today more than 200 houses built before the American Revolution and another 800 constructed in the 1800s still line the winding, hilly streets.
The narrow streets are best explored only on foot but there is usually on-street parking to be had around the the town’s most prominent building. At only 130 years years old it is about the youngest building we will encounter on our walking tour...
188 Washington Street
You didn’t always have to risk your life at sea to make a fortune in the shipping trade. Benjamin Abbot was a cooper who built an empire in Boston building shipping containers. He made enough barrels in the 1800s, in fact, to leave his native Marblehead $100,000 when he died in 1872. Salem architects George A. Fuller and George C. Lord were hired to design the new town hall and they delivered an eclectic High Victorian building busy with polychromatic brick and stone patterns, a corbeled brick cornice, sandstone carvings and varied rooflines. The dominating tower, with bell and clock courtesy of James H.G. Gregory, can be seen in Boston. The building with a reading room and library in addition totown offices was dedicated on December 12, 1877. Town hall was able to find such a favorable hilltop spot since this ground was part of the town’s original common where livestock razed and the local militia trained. It was once called Windham Hill and later in a patriotic rush, Washington Square, and stands 60 feet above the waves. Today Abbot Hall still serves its original purpose but also houses a museum whose treasures include the original painting of Spirit of ‘76, the widely-replicated and parodied depiction of the three Revolutionary patriots with fife and drum and bandaged head. Painter Archibald MacNeal Willard had first displayed it at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. Also on display is the 1684 deed recording the purchase of Marblehead from the Nanapashemet Indians.
FACING ABBOT HALL, TURN LEFT AND WALK DOWN THE HILL ALONG WASHINGTON STREET.
Jeremiah Lee Mansion
161 Washington Street
In the years before the American Revolution Jeremiah Lee was considered the wealthiest merchant and ship owner in Massachusetts. His home, built in 1768, is testament to his means as it had few rivals in the British colonies. Said to have cost over ten thousand pounds, it was also expensively furnished. The exterior of the wooden seven-bay Georgian-style mansion is scored as imitation stone ashlar. A commander of the local militia, Lee died early during the American Revolution while engaged in covert activities against the British. The war cost the family its magnificent house but subsequent owners resisted making any fashionable changes. The town’s first bank, the Marblehead Bank, owned the house from 1804 until 1904 when it was acquired by the Marblehead Museum and Historical Society that is headquartered across the street.
TURN RIGHT ON HOOPER STREET.
2 Hooper Street
This triangular intersection was referred to as Bank Square in the 1800s because all three of the town’s banks were located here. The first, the Marblehead Bank, arrived in 1804. This two-story gray granite building was constructed for the Grand Bank in 1831 using some of the first stone to be blasted from the quarries on Cape Ann. The bank was named for rich fishing grounds of the North Atlantic that generated most of the cash in Marblehead; it later was chartered as a national bank and moved over to Pleasant Street in 1962.
King Hooper Mansion
8 Hooper Street
Greenfield Hooper was a candle maker who built the core of this house in 1728. It was three stories with a fine brick cellar below and a gambrel roof atop. His son, Robert King Hooper, became the town’s leading shipping prince in the 1740s and 1750s. He was called “King” for his fair dealings, although his great wealth didn’t hurt. A loyalist, Hooper fled to Nova Scotia in the Revolution but the great esteem in which he was held enabled him to return before his death in 1791. King added the front section of the house in 1745, eliminating the front yard and bringing the house out to the street. The house stayed in the Hooper family until 1819 when it was swapped for the schooner Economy. It is the only private home in Marblehead to contain a ballroom and was used as a basketball court when the house was bought by the YMCA in 1905. The King Hooper Mansion is the home of the Marblehead Arts Association, which includes some 650 plus artist and non-artist members.
FOLLOW HOOPER STREET UP THE HILL AROUND TO THE LEFT AND DOWN THE HILL.
Hooper Street and Union Street
This was what Jeremiah Lee considered a “starter home,” constructed in 1751 and lived in by the Lee family until 1768 when they moved to the landmark mansion on Washington Street. It became a Marblehead landmark of its own when the corner of the first floor was removed. Legend has it that the Marquis de Lafayette’s carriage was too large to pass by the house when he visited Marblehead in 1824, so the corner of the house was removed. Actually, the corner was built that way for a retail shop entrance. It was common for merchants to sell wares from their houses; this remained partly a retail operation until the 1860s.
BEAR RIGHT ON FRONT STREET AND WALK DOWN TO THE HARBOR.
Boston Yacht Club
1 Front Street at Marblehead Harbor
The Boston Yacht Club was founded in 1866 with 90 original members who sought yacht racing that would provide “that spirit of comradeship, of courtesy and chivalry, of sympathetic joy in a common sport.” The first clubhouse was constructed in 1874 at City Point in South Boston and by 1910 was operating from six different stations, including Marblehead that started in 1902. Today, Marblehead is the sole station for the club’s 500 members and 400 yachts.
FOLLOW FRONT STREET AS IT CURVES TO THE LEFT AND TAKE THE FOOTPATH TO THE RIGHT UP INTO THE PARK.
Front Street at Marblehead Harbor
This was Bartoll’s Head, one of the highest points of land on the coast, until 1886 when Uriel Crocker deeded the rights to this headland to the town and it became Marblehead’s first recreation area. The view here commands the entire harbor and Marblehead Neck.
CONTINUE ON THE FOOTPATH BACK DOWN TO FRONT STREET.
2 Crocker Park at Front Street
When artist Waldo Ballard was looking to design his new house in the 1920s he didn’t bother with any architectural pattern books. Instead he and his wife Joan sailed to northern Europe to study castles. he finally hatched a plan based on Norseman Erik the Red’s castle in Brattahlid, Greenland. Ironically, Erik the Red’s castle had been leveled centuries earlier and Ballard wound up sketching his design from books that described the castle in detail. But no doubt the Ballards had more fun traveling Europe than scouring library shelves. The castle was built in 1926 from rocks blasted from the surrounding hill and piled into four-foot thick walls. In 1945 the Ballards sold the castle to L. Francis Herreshoff, son of noted yacht designer Nathanael Herreshoff. Yachts created by Herreshoff, an original member of the Boston Yacht Club, defended America’s Cup eight times. The castle is now a bed and breakfast.
TURN RIGHT ON FRONT STREET. TURN RIGHT AT STATE STREET.
end of State Street
Marblehead residents have been using this public wharf since 1660. Early mariners did not have the crane to help them lift their boats in and out of the water, however.
RETURN TO FRONT STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Three Cod Inn
84 Front Street
This public house, portions of which may have been built as early as 1680, gained a measure of notoriety in 1775 when the British frigate Lively fired several shots into Marblehead in 1775 as a reminder of British rule. One was said to have slammed into the front of the tavern although the explosion actually occurred in a storehouse on an American ship. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend...
TURN LEFT ON GLOVER SQUARE.
John Glover House
11 Glover Street in Glover Square
John Glover grew up fatherless and began work early as a cobbler. He eventually carved a place in Marblehead’s elite as a merchant and was a major in the militia when the Revolution erupted. He became commander upon the death of the colonel and led a detachment of some 600 Marblehead fishermen and seamen in the country’s first regiment of military mariners, the ancestors of today’s marines. Glover executed two crucial water transports of men that influenced the outcome of the war. First he ferried 9,000 men, oxen and cannon across the East River in the dead of night to save Washington’s army from certain destruction after the disastrous Battle of Long Island. The, a few months later his troops rowed Washington’s men across an ice-choked Delaware River in Durham boats to score a critical Patriot win in Trenton, New Jersey. Glove, who left service a general, built his beautifully proportioned Georgian house in 1762. It features a fine pedimented doorway and a gambrel roof; the house is a single room deep.
RETURN TO FRONT STREET AND TURN LEFT.
141 Front Street
Lovis Cove was a favorite harbor for pirates through the centuries which gives rise to its alternate name - Screeching Lady Beach. The lady in question differs in various tellings but all agree that an English woman was murdered by Spanish pirates on the beach or nearby and that on the anniversary of her death you can still hear her chilling cries rising from the pebbly beach.
end of Front Street
Fort Sewall was first established in 1644 as an earthen breastwork on Gale’s Head, one of this area’s rocky headlands. The fort was enlarged in 1742 for defense against incursions by the French and in 1794 a magazine and barracks occurred in 1794. In use again during the War of 1812, the fort was named for Judge Samuel Sewall, a town leader andlater a Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court. The old garrison saw its final duty during the Civil War and in 1890 the federal government gave the spectacularly sited land to the town which opened a park here.
WALK BACK DOWN FRONT STREET TO FRANKLIN STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Hearth And Eagle
30 Franklin Street
In the mid-1940s, the celebrated historical novelist Anya Seton set out on a journey of discoveryin search of here ancestors. She found one in Marblehead, a place she described as “a sea-girdled town of rocks and winding lanes and clustered old houses.” She also found a setting for her fourth novel which she called the Hearth And Eagle, which is what this house has been known as ever since. Built in 1715 with a single gable window in the roof, the house was significantly enlarged in 1750.
Ambrose Gale House
13 Franklin Street
Parts of this house were built by an early merchant Ambrose Gale in the 1680s and it is a contender for “Oldest House in Marblehead.” History can not say for sure. After being altered through the years it picked up a makeover to a guess at what it may have looked like in the 1600s. At the least the shape - early wooden homes were not painted and the boards weathered to a dark brown.
Engine House #2
Although the Marblehead Fire Department was officially organized on July 1, 1829 it actually received its first fire engine in 1751, presented to the Town Robert “King” Hooper. This is the second fire department established, M.A. Pickett No 1, in May of 1866. The Victorian firehouse was later absorbed into the Marblehead Fire Department. Across the street was once the site of the Mary Alley Hospital, donated in 1904. It was the only in-town hospital in Marblehead and operated until the 1960s.
TURN LEFT ON WASHINGTON STREET.
Old North Church
41 Washington Street
The congregation was Marblehead’s first, founded in 1635. This meetinghouse was the third used, constructed in 1824 from stone blasted from the ledge behind the church. Gray stone blocks were used for the street-facing gable and fieldstone for the other sides. The two-stage white steeple is surmounted by a gilded copper codfish more than four feet long. It is believed to have been crafted in the early 1700s but its artisan is lost to history.
Elbridge Gerry House
44 Washington Street
Elbridge Gerry was born in Marblehead, the third of twelve children, in 1744. He went to Harvard with the intention of becoming a doctor but went into his father’s shipping business instead. His vociferous opposition to taxes launched a political career that landed him in Philadelphia as a member of the Continental Congress. Gerry signed the Declaration of Independence but a decade later he was one of three men who refused to sign the Constitution because it did not then include a Bill of Rights. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives under the new national government, and served in Congress from 1789 to 1793. Back in Massachusetts he ran unsuccessfully for governor four times before winning two one-year terms in 1810 and 1811. He was defeated in 1812 but departed for a larger stage as the fifth Vice-President of the United States under James Madison. Elbridge Gerry became the first Vice-President not to run for President when he died in office at the age of 70 in 1814. He is best remembered for the political practice of“gerrymandering,” a term coined when the Massachusetts legislature redrew the boundaries of state legislative districts to favor Governor Gerry’s party. Gerry ran his political career from a house in Cambridge and wouldn’t recognize his old house today. In the 1840s it received a third floor and a Greek Revival appearance that became popular after he died.
Major John Pedrick House
52 Washington Street
John Pedrick had his own Paul Revere moment two months before the British marched on Concord from Lexington in April 1775. The British target was supplies in Salem and when the force landed Pedrick mounted his horse and galloped to Salem with the news. He was said to be allowed to pass on the road only because the British colonel was courting his daughter. The action helped mobilize resistance and the onset of the Revolutionary War was delayed. His house sports the imitation rusticated blocks to present the appearance of expensive stone - but only on the street-facing facade. Pedrick lost everything in the fight for freedom and returned from the Revolutionary War penniless.
Captain Russell Trevett House
65 Washington Street
Sea captain Russell Trevett was the patriarch of a shipping dynasty in 18th century Marblehead. He had this splendid example of a Georgian house constructed around 1715. It was later lived in by his son, Samuel Russell Trevett, who commanded an artillery company during the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775 at the age of 24.
The stylish Town House was constructed in 1727 to serve as both the town hall (upstairs) and a market(downstairs). It is highly decorated with fashionable corner quoins, dentil blocks along the roofline and a distinguished entrance. It is one of the oldest municipal buildings still in use in the United States.
TURN RIGHT AND WALK A FEW STEPS UP SUMMER STREET.
St. Michael’s Church
As it approaches its fourth century, St. Michael’s is the oldest Episcopal Church in New England still standing on its original site and worshiping in its original building. It was constructed in 1714, originally with a 50-foot steeple that was removed in 1793 because it was thought to be rotting. The church was considered a caldron of support for King George and when the Declaration of Independence reached Marblehead, patriots intoxicated with freedom broke into the church and rang its bell until it cracked. It was replaced in 1802 and that bell would be taken down and recast by Revere & Son in 1818. The building was substantially renovated in 1833 with pointed-arch clear windows, slip pews, and the pulpit and altar gathered together on the north wall. Victorian stained-glass windows came on board in the 1880s.
RETURN TO SUMMER STREET AND TURN LEFT.
The Brick Path
145 Washington Street
Thomas Robie built this three-story, side-facing brick house in the mid-1700s. Few houses were built of brick in Marblehead until the 1800s as it was thought that making bricks in the damp climate would promote lung diseases. Robie was as fiercely loyal to the British Crown as patriots were to the cause of independence and his house became a meeting place for Loyalists during the Revolution. He eventually was forced to flee to Nova Scotia with his family. The house takes its name from a gift shop that operated here for many years.
BEAR RIGHT TO STAY ON WASHINGTON STREET AND WALK UP THE HILL TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.