On a warm summer night, the winding streets of Old Town Marblehead are a haven for peace and quiet. Life slows its treadmill pace and is conducive to just being. Flower boxes attached to vintage clapboard homes overflow with geraniums and trailing vines, and the rosy glow of Maxfield Parrish sunsets invite daydreaming.
A major part of Old Town’s charm is its lack of tourists, even at the height of summer. 4th of July is the season’s highlight with its renowned Arts Festival. Writers, sculptors, painters, woodcarvers and other artisans enter a competition for best of show. Face painting, lobster rolls and jazz concerts on a grassy knoll above the sea are all part of the four-day celebration.
Even if you can’t make it here for the big Independence Day celebration, this town is worthy of a day trip. Though parking is limited in Old Town, it is free and space can be found at the base of Washington Street or on nearby streets.
After parking, start your exploration by heading halfway up the gentle incline on the right side of Washington Street to Abbot Hall where Archibald Willard’s original painting of the “Spirit of ’76” hangs in the selectmen’s room. The building is the seat of the town’s government and was built in 1876 on the former colonial militia training field. Many artifacts of the town’s history are on display, including the original deed to Marblehead, dated 1684 and signed by the descendants of Chief Nanepashemet.
Just around the corner is Old Town House, built in 1727. The building predates Boston’s Faneuil Hall and is known as Marblehead’s Cradle of Liberty. The finest architecture and building materials were used in these homes to outlast several generations.
Washington Street continues its curvy path into the heart of Old Town, and soon gives way to art galleries and boutiques, waterfront restaurants and antique shops.
A short distance away is State Street, which leads to Front Street and Fort Sewall, a magnificent park built in 1742 to defend against the French. The astounding view looks out over America’s version of England’s Land’s End. On a breezy night, the wind-whipped white sails and boats bobbing in the harbor have the power to hypnotize.
Marblehead is considered the yachting capital of America and its harbor moors over 1,600 boats every summer. Dozens of sailing competitions are held here, including the Commodore’s Cup Team Races, the Marblehead-Halifax Race, the NOOD Regatta, the Friendship Sloop Regatta and the Sonar Atlantic Coast Championship.
In summer, a visit to Flynnie’s on the Beach (at the foot of Devereux Beach) is a must. Take-out burgers, fried clams, onion rings and fruit smoothies are only a few of the menu items. For an eye-pleasing dessert, take a drive over the causeway at the end of Ocean Avenue and view Old Town from Chandler Hovey Park at the end of Marblehead Neck.
Boasting 23 rooms, the Harbor Light Inn on Washington Street is a romantic, inviting place to stay while in Marblehead. Restaurants worth visiting are the Barnacle and the Landing, both waterfront restaurants on Front Street.
Gen. George Washington made a special point to visit Marblehead on his presidential tour of New England in 1789. According to a visitor’s guide and map of Marblehead, he wrote in his diary that “…it was four miles out of the way, but I wanted to see it.”
Old Town might be off the beaten path, but it’s one out of the way place that’s worth navigating. Follow America’s founding father’s lead and make a special point to visit while in Boston. It’s only 15 miles north of the city as the crow flies.
What & Where:
Abbot Hall (188 Washington St)
Old Town House (1 Market Sq at Washington St)
Flynnie’s on the Beach (Ocean Ave; 781-639-2100)
Chandler Hovey Park (located at the end of Follett St, off Ocean Ave)
Harbor Light Inn (58 Washington St; 781-631-2186)