8 Great Things to Do in Marblehead, MA


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There are so many things to do in Marblehead MA, whether you’re just visiting or sticking around for awhile.

A Quick History of Marblehead

Once you’ve visited Marblehead, it is easy to understand why it is considered one of the top places to live in Massachusetts. This close-knit community was started in 1629 by English colonists from the Channel Islands and Cornwall. The indigenous Algonquian tribe deeded the town to the colonists in 1684, but unfortunately the tribe was plagued by smallpox and did not survive.

Although Marblehead began as a fishing village, prior to the American Revolutionary War, this “village” quickly grew into one of the largest towns in the colonies. Their fishing and shipbuilding industry grew so large that in 1774 it actually replaced Boston as the main port of entry for goods.

Marblehead residents have had many claims to fame including the claim of being the birthplace of the United States Navy. This claim was the result of the residents of Marblehead owning and manning a ship named Hannah. In 1775, the Hannah had become the first vessel to be converted to a warship for use during the American Revolution.  Although often disputed by the nearby town of Beverly, it was Hannah’s conversion to military service that gave Marblehead bragging rights to allege being the birthplace of the United States Navy. In addition to the Hannah, another Marblehead schooner, the Lee, was credited with capturing the Nancy in November of 1775. The Nancy proved to be an extremely valuable British ship and once again showed the commitment of Marblehead as a strategic United States Navy port.  

Following the War of 1812, the British Navy had set up blockades, cutting New Englanders off from the sea. This resulted in the townspeople seeking work inland and turning their attention to manufacturing goods such as shoes, ropes, glue and paint. It was during the 19th century that Marblehead became the epicenter of yachting. For many generations, this town served as the location for the start and finish port for international races. Today, Marblehead boasts several yacht clubs, catering to all ages, with the oldest dating back to the late 1800s.   

 

Visiting Marblehead MA

Marblehead is now known as a beautiful seaside resort town that is perfectly situated on a jutted peninsula. Its proximity to Boston, about a 35 minute drive, makes it a great option for commuters and visitors alike. The town is loaded with national historic landmarks and well-preserved 17th and 18th century architecture.

Marblehead’s laid-back quintessential New England style and gorgeous rocky coastline makes it a perfect place to visit during any season. It has even been listed in Vogue as “New England’s Best-Kept Seaside Secret.”

The residents of this town are very friendly and helpful, with some of them having family ties that go back several generations, so you shouldn’t hesitate to ask for directions or inquire about the town’s history. Marblehead is a great destination if you wish to avoid the crowds of Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod or Nantucket.

Top Things to Do in Marblehead, MA

Historic home walk

My favorite thing to do in Marblehead! There are over 300 historic homes that date from the 17th and 18th century. Each old home is inscribed with the year that the structure was built and the original inhabitants. What I find most interesting are the professions that are also listed on the plaques. Professions vary from fishermen, captains, merchants, and sailmakers to cobblers and merchants. 

 

One example is that of the home of General Jonathan Glover. General Glover was a native of Marblehead and the owner of the home shown below. His house was constructed in 1762 and is located at 11 Glover Square.

He led the first regiment of military mariners in our country’s history, which became a precursor for the modern day Marines. His men were the soldiers that ferried General George Washington and his men across the ice-filled Delaware River in December 1776. By doing so, Washington and his men were able to successfully attack the Hessian troops (British allies) in Trenton.

General Glover also earned fame in 1776 when the Continental Army underestimated the British command under General William Howe who had flanked the American forces on both sides. George Washington wanted to pull the trapped American militia back to the Brooklyn side of the East River but did not have the transport ability to do so.

During the night of August 29th, General Glover relocated over 9,000 soldiers, weapons, horses and wagons across the East River and into Manhattan under a dense fog by use of his ships. The army was never detected by enemy forces and by morning everyone was safely out of reach of General Howe’s men. After returning home from his duty in the Revolutionary War he was in poor health and became a shoe cobbler. This is just one of many fascinating stories that you can find in this delightful little town. 

Helpful Hint: The best place to park is at Abbot Hall or Bank Square, both of which are located directly inside the Historical District. Walking maps and information can be found at the following places: 

Old Burial Hill 

As odd as it is to say, New England has some of the most beautiful cemeteries. The Old Burial Hill in Marblehead is no exception. There is a bit of a steep climb to get up to it, but the view from the top is worth the hike. It overlooks the harbor and part of the town. The graveyard was established in 1638 near the site of the city’s first meeting house and contains the graves of “600 Revolutionary heroes” including that of General Jonathan Glover.

Also interred here is “Old Black Joe”, a slave who served in the American Revolution. A pond located near Gingerbread Hill is named after this man and is famous for the huge frogs that lived here during the 19th century. 

Unfortunately, only a few graves are actually marked but they are well preserved for their age Soldiers were not the only ones who are interred here.  The hill also contains the graves of sea captains, fishermen and their families. 

Another grave of particular importance is that of Wilmot “Mammy” Redd, the only citizen of Marblehead to be executed for witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Her cottage is near Redd’s Pond, obviously named after her. 

Also located on the hill are two obelisks. The first commemorates Captain James Mugford and the crew on the ship Franklin for their bravery in the Revolutionary War. The second is the Fishermen’s Monument which is dedicated to sixty-five fishermen who lost their lives during a hurricane off the coast of Newfoundland in 1846. The monument states that they left behind “43 widows and 155 fatherless children”. This terrible tragedy actually ended the town’s commercial fishing industry as the principal trade.

Helpful Hint: There are three entrances to the cemetery. The main entrance is on Orne Street and is discernable by a historic marker. The other entrances are located on Pond Street and by Redd’s Pond. More information can be retrieved at The Town of Marblehead Massachusetts website.

Another note: This cemetery is also one of the filming locations used in the film Hocus Pocus. You can see our post on all of the Hocus Pocus filming locations here.

Fort Sewall

The fort started as rough fortification barriers built by the British in 1644 known as Gale’s Head. It was established to protect and defend Marblehead and its fishing ships from pirates and other invaders. In 1742 the grounds and fort were improved into an actual fort which was used during the American Revolution and War of 1812. It was later renamed Fort Sewall to honor the Marblehead native and Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice, Samuel Sewall. It is one of the oldest pre-Revolutionary forts still standing.

The fort is best known for an incident that occurred on April 3, 1814 when the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides”, being chased by two British frigates, made its escape into the harbor under the protection of the fort’s cannons. Fort Sewall has not been used since 1814. In 1892 the fort was repurposed as a public park for all citizens to enjoy and provides a serene space that offers an incredible view of the harbor. During your visit, be sure to check out the bunkers and underground chambers that were once used to hold prisoners and soldiers.  

Helpful Hint: The fort is located at the very end of Front Street.

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Marblehead Lighthouse

The lighthouse you currently see is not the first lighthouse built in Marblehead. The original was constructed in 1835 out of white stone and was only 23 feet tall. The structure contained a kitchen and two bedrooms. The ten beacon lamps were powered by whale oil and first lit on October 10, 1835. 

During the history of the lighthouse, there have been only nine head keepers of the light. The first was Ezekiel Darling who was a former gunman on the USS Constitution. He maintained the lighthouse for a quarter of a century before retiring at almost 70 years of age. The second keeper was a woman, Jane Martin, who had gained experience in lighthouse keeping while assisting her father at Baker’s Island Lighthouse nearby. There have been 80 females known to have worked as lighthouse keepers in our country’s history, nine of which served in Massachusetts.

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Once larger homes were built around town, it became increasingly difficult to see the light. The original lighthouse was taken down and a 105 foot iron one was put in its place. This is an unusual lighthouse because it is constructed out of an iron skeleton, most likely due to costs. A new stone lighthouse would have cost over $45,000 to build but the iron tower was only $8,786. The iron lighthouse was first lit in 1896 and stands in Chandler Hovey Park. It was owned by the federal government until 1948 when a Marblehead resident, Chandler Hovey, purchased it and donated it to the town. The original keeper’s house was demolished in 1959. The general consensus about the lighthouse seems to be that you either love it or hate it.

Helpful Hint: At the end of Highway 129 in Marblehead turn onto Ocean Ave and follow it onto Marblehead Neck. It will end at Follett Street, turn left onto Follet and that will lead you to the lighthouse. The grounds are open but the actual tower is closed. Many cool stories about the lighthouse and its history and keepers can be found here, https://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=482

Crowninshield Island

Most people do not know that there is a small five acre island off the coast of the town that visitors can either walk or wade over to during low tide. A kayak, canoe or paddleboard could be utilized when the water is higher. 

If you enjoy hiking, several trails make it easy to walk around the tiny island. Children will enjoy the easy paths and nearby swing set. Diving is also a possibility from certain places on the island. There are saltwater and tidal pools that are full of shells and sea creatures. Be sure to check out the sandy beach to enjoy a warm summer day.

Helpful Hint: The island is located opposite of Beacon Street and Crowninshield Road. 

Eat at Little Harbor Lobster Company 

  • 3 Beacon Street
  • Marblehead, MA 01945
  • (781) 639-1961

*This company is over 100 years old and serves locally caught fresh seafood. They source directly from local fishermen as much as possible. I absolutely love the lobster roll and they do not skimp on the lobster; it is loaded! The oysters are also very tasty and always fresh! You truly cannot go wrong with this place!

Stay at Harbor Light Inn

  • 58 Washington Street
  • Marblehead, MA 01945
  • (781) 631-2186

*This romantic inn has everything! Twenty beautifully appointed rooms, a lovely bar area and cozy living room surrounding a warm fireplace create perfect places to relax after a day of exploring. The breakfast each morning is freshly prepared, delicious and filling. During my stay at this luxurious place, I have enjoyed its proximity to the historic areas, the harbor, shopping and…well, everything!

Go shopping at F.L. Woods

  • 76 Washington Street
  • Marblehead, MA 01945
  • (781) 631-0221

*This unique shop is located in the same building that it was originally started in over 75 years ago. The shop is well known for their selection of beautiful and luxurious items. Probably the most unique item is their Mariner’s Jacket that was designed with seafarers in mind. The original sketch of the garment and a quote from the owner and designer of the store is actually on the catchall patch pocket of every jacket. The shop itself is super interesting and filled with nautical memorabilia.


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