Driving/Walking Tour of Old Marblehead
by Serene Figueroa and Bill Purdin
Much has been written about our fair town over its 325-year history, so little else remains to be said or reiterated. This walking tour is not meant to be exhaustive in Marblehead’s history and legends, but is intended merely to provide the casual visitor or even the tenth-generation ‘Header with a step-by-step procedure through the public and private “wayes” of the Old Town. If covered in its entirety, it should require about four hours’ time. (The writer recommends LUNCH somewhere in your travels, and brown bags do show up frequently around noon at Crocker Park or Fort Sewall.) The tour may conveniently be terminated at the intersections of Franklin and Washington Streets, or at Old Burial Hill, and completed on another day. But Do Complete It!!! Failure to do so will result in missing some of the most picturesque locations of the Old Town and its adjoining streets.
Above all, this tour MUST be taken entirely on foot. Park your car at Abbot Hall or on Bank Square and be prepared to hoof it! And ASK QUESTIONS. Marbleheaders love to retell the history of their town, and will probably provide their own color version of the stories on these pages.
Good luck, and happy wandering!!
Begin your tour by exploring Washington Square. Originally called “Windmill Hill” in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this is the highest point of land in Old Town, sitting 60 feet above the sea. Always an open public “common,” the early colonists came here to draw their water and to meet their neighbors.
During the Revolutionary War “Windmill Hill” became “Training Field Hill,” and the many troops sent to assist Washington were drilled and marched by General Glover over and over the spot where the “Spirit of ’76” now hangs. After the War was won, the “Square” was more formally laid out, and it was named after George Washington.
Most prominently situated on Washington Square is Abbot Hall, successor of the old 1727 Town House further downtown. In 1872 Benjamin Abbot, a native-born Marbleheader who had made his wealth in Boston through humble beginnings in the cooper industry, bequeathed to the town $103,000 “for the public good.” As is typical of Marblehead town meeting today, the meaning of “the public good” was argued again and again, until in 1876 Â almost on the centennial of our country’s Declaration of Independence the cornerstone of the new Town Hall was set in place. Built to serve three purposes: a library, a vault for the safekeeping of town records, and a public auditorium for the assembly of town meetings, Abbot Hall serves as an unmistakable reminder that the Victorian period once passes through Marblehead.
- Abbot Hall. Inside the building one should not miss the 1680 deed to the Town (the original and present 4.3 square miles were purchased from the Indians for a mere $80), the bust of Vice-President Elbridge Gerry, the 1924 bell of the US naval cruiser Marblehead, the town flag was its seal, and, of course, Archibald M. Willard’s most famous painting, “The Spirit of ’76.” This 8’x10′ oil on canvas was donated to the people of Marblehead by General John Devereux in 1880. Upstairs the newly redecorated auditorium seating 1,200 is worth the climb. In the tower the town curfew bell still tolls the hours, and wakes downtowners early on Washington’s Birthday and Independence Day the birthdate of this building as well. In the summer Abbot Hall is open weekdays 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Saturdays 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and Sundays 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
- Washington Square. As one walks the perimeter of Washington Square, he will note that most of these houses appear to be in the Federal style (1790-1825) with a hint of Greek Revivals (1830-1850), for many of these homes were either built or redesigned Colonel William R. Lee house at 185 Washington Street, originally built in 1743. It is believed that the great architect of the Federal period, Charles Bulfinch, may have redesigned the faÃ§ade, and perhaps added the entire front section of the house as well. Note that the exterior is decorated with hand-cut wooden blocks, which were painted a slate-grey mixed with beach sand, giving the rough texture of stone.
- Lookout Court. (Leave 185 Washington Street, walk across the lawn of Abbot Hall, and turn left walking down Tucker Street to “Lookout Court” on your right. Turn into the Court and walk down this narrow public way until you get a good view of Marblehead Harbor. Affording a wonderful view of the harbor and even a glimpse of the sea beyond, #5 (right is the original “Lookout House.” The highest room on the third floor was used in the local customs officer, as he watched for cargo-laden ships entering the harbor. A system of flags on a pulley alerted the town landing that a ship was soon to be unloaded and that no duty was to be overlooked.
- The Boston Yacht Club. (Continue down the steps of Lookout Court a public way for Marbleheaders for over 300 years until you reach Lee Street at the foot. Turn left, and you will soon see the large brown stained building of the Boston Yacht Club on your right-hand side.) The BYC is the oldest yacht club in New England and the country’ second oldest, after the venerable New York Yacht Club. Founded in Boston Harbor in 1866, the club opened a Marblehead branch in 1890 right next to the own landing. That location was moved to its present site in 1956. Though yacht clubs have come and gone and merged with others in the past 145 years of pleasure boating in Marblehead, the BYC remains strong.
- The Lafayette House. (Continue walking down Lee Street until you are facing a house without a corner.) Here at the intersection of five streets is the legendary “General Lafayette House.” Legend has it that in August of 1824, when the Marquis de Lafayette and his son George Washington Lafayette visited Marblehead for purely social reasons, the General’s white and gold French carriage was too wide to make it around the corner en route to the Lee Mansion, where he was to be entertained at a lavish dinner. This fact being known in advance, the homeowner chopped off the corner of the house so that Lafayette’s carriage could pass more easily. While this legend may be more fun to relate, history tells us that wagons filled with barrels of rum also took the same route. Since some of that rum may have been sampled by drivers before delivery to the many taverns and inns in that section of town, the corner of the house probably was accidentally removed without respect to the owner’s wishes long before the Marquis’s visit in 1824. In any case, the house remains as such today.
- Shitting Hill. This the ‘Headers’ name for the hill you walk down (Union and Water Streets) to the bottom, with the BYC on your right, will find the semi-hidden entrance to Crocker Park.)
- Crocker Park. Probably the best place in town to view the entire length of the harbor, Crocker Park has been in the public domain since 1886. Known in Colonial times as “Bartoll’s Head,” it was one of the many locations of “fish flakes,” or drying racks, on which filleted cod were laid for exposure to the sun. Here you will find a plaque commemorating Marblehead’s claim as “Birthplace of the American Navy.”
- The Herreshoff Castle. Leaving Crocker Park by the opposite exit, one can’t help but notice “The Castle,” constructed in 1926 by Waldo Ballard after the plans for a Viking castle in Greenland, once owned by Eric the Red. Like any other castle, this one stands complete with dungeon, a secret staircase, and medieval banquet hall. (Turn left on Front Street, immediately right on Darling Street, and walk one block to Washington Street. Here turn left and you are in “Bank Square.”)
- Bank Square. As its name implies, “Bank Square” was once home to four Marblehead banks, including the granite 1831 Grand Bank building, the only financial institution in the world ever to be named after a fishing territory. Since the banks have long disappeared and four dentists have taken over where the (National) Grand Bank used to be, the location is more often called “Tooth Square” today.
- The King Hooper Mansion. Situated just ahead on the left is the Robert “King” Hooper Mansion (1727), the only private home in Marblehead to contain a ballroom. Located on the third floor, that ballroom was used as a basketball court when the house was bought for use by the local YMCA in 1905. Today this fine mansion is owned by the Marblehead Arts Association, and it is often the scene of art exhibits, including the Marblehead Festival of the Arts held annually in early July. The Hopper Mansion is open Tuesday through Sunday 1:00 to 4:00p.m. (small fee required)
- The Jeremiah Lee Mansion. Turn to the right and walk a few paces up Washington Street. On the opposite side is the Colonel Jeremiah Lee Mansion.) Built in 1768 at a cost of $50,000, the home of Jeremiah and Martha Lee is one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the entire country. Lee and Robert “King” Hooper were the two most prosperous men in eighteenth-century Marblehead. The Colonel gained his great wealth through shipping and financial speculation. Although he died shortly before the Revolution, his wife Martha lived until 1791, at which time the home was sold to a banking institution. Today only two side chairs and a comb and a fan that belonged to Mrs. Lee remain of the original furnishings. An excellent tour of the mansion is given by members of Marblehead Historical Society, and it is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 daily, mid-May to Columbus Day weekend (small fee). No walk back through Bank Square and continue farther downtown on Washington Street.
- The Old Brick Path. On your left at #137 is the house known as the “Old Brick Path.” Since bricks were scarce and had to be imported from England, it is one of the very few brick houses surviving from Colonial days. Once the home of the extreme Loyalist Thomas Robie, anti-Revolutionary meetings were held in this house often in deep secret during the times surrounding July 4, 1776. (Turn left onto Summer Street. On the right you will see historic St. Michael’s Church.)
- St. Michael’s (Episcopal) Church. Built in 1714, has the distinction of being the second oldest Episcopal Church building still in continual use in North America. Once much more Colonial in appearance, St. Michael’s added a balcony and an exquisite candle-lit chandelier in 1732, and subsequent generations saw further enlargements and remodelling of the original structure, including the installation of stained-glass windows in 1880. With the reading of the Declaration of Independence in Boston on July 18, 1776, St. Michael’s bell was rung and rung until it cracked, only to be recast by Paul Revere and sons in 1818. As the direct representative of the Church of England in America, however, St. Michael’s nailed its doors shut for several years during the Revolution. Although it is not officially open to the public, access to the church is available by appointment, and a knowledgeable parishioner will be glad to show you old and new edifices alike. St. Michael’s is one of the very few churches in New England with a crypt or sepulchre below the building. As this space was eventually outgrown, members were buried in the adjoining small graveyard. Although headstones have long been rearranged into neat straight lines, they bear the names of some of Marblehead’s early Loyalist families. (Continue down Washington Street to Market Square, where the old yellow Town House sits in the middle of the roadway.)
- Market Square. Originally built on ground level in 1727, the building was raised by the addition of a granite foundation in 1830 so that it is now three stories high. This square was the center of all town activity during the eighteenth century. Situated here were the old jail, the pillory and the stocks, as well as the everyday public market.
- The Old Town House. Used for 150 years of town meetings, this ancient Town House, often referred to as Marblehead’s “Cradle of Liberty, ” was the scene of many heated debates pertaining to our heavy involvement in the Revolutionary War. Elbridge Gerry, Azor Orne, and Jeremiah Lee spoke here. Though still in use today, it was replaced by Abbot Hall as the Town Meeting site in 1880. (Turn right down State Street, leading toward the harbor.)
- State Street. This beautiful street leading to the harbor was known before the Revolution as “King Street.” After all vestiges of the Royal Crown were eliminated in1776, “King” and “Queen” streets all over the new country became “State” and “Federal” streets. (Almost at the foot of State Street turn left into Glover Square; walk down to #11.)
- The General Glove House. In this 1762 house lived the legendary General Glover, who is credited with the establishment of the American Navy. It was on September 5, 1775, that Glover’s ship, Hannah, sailed from Beverly to challenge the British warship Lively. It was General John Glover and his Marblehead Regiment who successfully rowed Washington and his troops across the Delaware to surprise the British at Trenton on December 26,1776. Broken both in health and in finances, Glover returned to this house after the War to take up his first occupation that of a shoe cobbler. (Turn right down Glover Square, walking toward Wells Yacht Yard.)
- Three Cods Tavern. On your left at 82-84 Front Street is the historic “Three Cods Tavern,” believed to be three hundred years old, which served as a popular eating, drinking and lodging place in the 1770’s. Many plans dealing with the Revolution were discussed openly in its front tavern rooms. The plaque on the outside recounts how the British ship Lively fired several rounds at this tavern from the harbor. A few cannonballs and shots remained embedded in the wooden clapboards until discovered during repair work in this century. (While at this point, walk around the corner to the public landing.
- State Street Landing. Also known as the State Street Wharf, and recently named after a former Marblehead harbormaster, Philip T. Clark. There are several good restaurants in this area, if lunch or dinner ii now in order. (Continue walking down Front Street, past Wells Yacht Club on your right. Pass Picket Street on your left, and turn left into Circle Street.)
- Circle Street. This street is appropriately named, since it makes a complete ellipse, or half-circle, and rejoins Front Street at Lovis Cove. Undoubtedly the most famous resident of Circle Street was Skipper Benjamin (better known as Floyd, or “Flud”) Ireson. This sea captain was immortalised in John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, “Skipper Ireson’s Ride,” an inaccurate account of how Ireson, unjustly accused of not aiding a sinking ship at sea, was “tarred and feathered and carried in a cart by the women of Marblehead.” The erroneous reporting of this incident ruined his maritime career, and he died in near-poverty and blindness some years later, never knowing that the true story would come out after his death. (Continue walking toward the harbor where Circle Street meets Front Street.)
- Lovis Cove. You are standing in front of Lovis Cove, often referred to as “Oakum Bay,” and known even better as “Screeching Woman Cove.” Since this beach area has long been associated with tales of pirates and privateers (including Captain Kidd), the story is told of how a young English woman, daughter of a sea captain, was barbarously murdered one hot July night on this very shore by bloodthirsty pirates. Every year on the anniversary of her death, the same bloodcurdling cries can be heard by the present-day residents of this area. (Turn left and walk down Front Street, past the Barnacle Restaurant and past #151 Front Street and then there will be only water on your right. At the very end as the roadway curves to the right you will find historic Fort Sewall.)
- Fort Sewall. This point of land cautiously guarding harbor and town has been a fort for more than three hundred years. Originally constructed by the British as a rough earthenworks, it is one of the oldest pre-Revolutionary forts still in existence. It protected Marbleheaders during the Revolution, and again during the War of 1812. Alternately in the possession of the federal government and he Selectmen of the Town of Marblehead, this bulwark was named for Samuel Sewall, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court. Though not used as a fort since 1814, it was formally dedicated as a public park for the enjoyment of all citizens in 1892. Walk the (not handicapped accessible) perimeter of the Fort and enjoy the full length of the harbor. (Walk back down Front Street in the direction of Lovis Cove and turn right on Franklin Street.)
- Franklin Street. One of the oldest public “wayes” in town. Franklin Street has had many notable residences, a few of which are described below.
- The “Hearth and Eagle House” (#30 Franklin Street) This home was built in 1727 by the father of Vice-President Elbridge Gerry. A command post for Fort Sewall during the War of 1812, this home was the setting of Anya Seton’s New England novel, “The Hearth and Eagle.”
- The “Devereux House” (#16 Franklin Street on the right) is the ancestral home of the donor of the “Spirit of ’76.” It is a fine example of Georgian style architecture with a Greed Revival doorway added later.
- The “Ambrose Gale House” (#17 Franklin Street on the left) is believed by some to be the oldest house still standing in Marblehead. The most original portions can be traced back to 1660.
- The “Parson Barnard House” (#7 Franklin Street on the left), another fine Georgian example, was built expressly for that most distinguished gentleman in 1716. Rev. John Barnard served as the second minister of Marblehead’s “Old North Church” for fifty-five ears, and was most influential in the fishing and commerce community during the peak years of the eighteenth century.
- The “Mary A. Alley House” (#6 Franklin Street on the right) was willed to the town by Miss Alley, a Marblehead schoolteacher, for use as an emergency hospital. It served that purpose from 1920 until 1954 when a new, more modern facility was built on Widger Road. (At this point you may turn left onto Washington Street and complete the walking tour in a few minutes, or turn right onto Orne Street and continue following the description below.)
- Home of Azor Orne. On Orne Street one will find the home of Colonel Azor Orne (#18 Orne Street on the left). This house shows traces of its Colonial, Federal, and even Greek Revival heritage. A revolutionary hero and a patriot, Orne is remembered as a prosperous merchant and town benefactor. He was elected in 1773 to the Continental Congress along with Jeremiah Lee and Elbridge Gerry. Active in the Committee for Safety, Orne was also chosen to serve in the first Provincial congress in1775 and both houses of the Massachusetts General Court (State Legislature) as well.
- The Old Spite House. Further along Orne Street is the “Old Spite House” (#39 Orne Street on the right), more than three hundred years old. There are several theories as to how this haphazard-looking affair derived its strange name. Some believe that the spiteful owner built it in this location in order to cut off a local tavern’s view of the sea. More probably, each of the three brothers who first lived there built his own section. Behind the Spite House is a public way down to Gas House Beach.
- The Agnes Surriage Well. Halfway up the hill on the right is the site of the Agnes Surriage Well. It is named after a beautiful but poor scullery maiden at the Fountain Inn who was admired by a wealthy and prominent young English nobleman. The full story is one of the greatest romances ever told on either side of the Atlantic. Let it suffice to say that her lover, Sir Harry Frankland, did not marry her until thirteen years later after Agnes saved his life by digging him out of the rubble of an earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal.
- The Old Brig. Further up the hillside is the “Old Brig” (#42 Orne Stfeet on the left). Here lived the legendary Wizard Edward Diamond and his granddaughter Moll Pitcher. Both had extraordinary powers and could predict the future, as well as interpret the past. The house is reported to have been built from timbers salvaged from a brigantine, which washed up on the shores of Marblehead in 1654.
- Fountain Park. On the right at the top of the hill is “Fountain Park,” known as “Bailey’s Head” during Colonial times, and used as a fort during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Affording a magnificent view of Little Harbor and the ocean beyond, it was donated to the town by James J.H. Gregory, the “Seed King,” in 1888 for use as a public park.
- Old Burial Hill. The visitor will want to spend some time walking around this lovely and ancient cemetery. Here are buried “600 revolutionary heroes,” as noted on the historic sign at its entrance, including Revolutionary War heroes such as Col. James Mugford, General John Glover, and Marblehead’s own “Old Black Joe,” a slave who served in the Revolution. Marblehead’s first church/meetings house was erected here in 1638, and Old Burial Hill was simply its church yard. The largest monument is an obelisk commemorating the loss of ten ships of Marblehead fisherman off the coast of Newfoundland in 1846. The inscription informs us that sixty-five men were lost at sea, and thus the commercial fishing industry was forever dead in this town.
- Redd’s Pond. Adjacent to Old Burial Hill is Redd’s Pond. Once the town’s fresh water supply, it is a popular skating pond in winter, and much used for model boat races in spring and summer. This tiny body of water is named for Wilmot (“Mammy”) Redd, whose humble cottages stood nearby. She was the only Marbleheader to have been hanged for witchcraft in the Salem-area crucible of 1692. (Walk down Pond Street, turning left on Beacon Street at the bottom of the hill. Follow Beacon along the water as it meets Norman Street on the left, and continue until coming to “Gingerbread Hill” on the left.)
- Gingerbread Hill. The ambitious explorer should be willing to take in the entire length of Gingerbread Hill as it narrows, twists and turns, and finally meets Norman Street. The most interesting home is a red Colonial saltbox (no number; look for a signpost) which served as a tavern in the early 1800’s. Originally built in 1691, it was here that “Black Joe” and his wife “Aunt Crese” entertained all of Marblehead during festive May’s “‘Lection Week.” Black Joe fiddled for dancing while Aunt Crese baked “Joe Froggers” (huge ginger cookies, see our official recipe) and ‘Lection buns, and brewed homemade root beer. Further down Gingerbread Hill was another tavern run by Aunty Bowen, known to all as “Ma’am Sociable.”
- Black Joe’s Pond. Do not fail to linger on Gingerbread Hill for nearby is “Black Joe’s Pond” on the right, a picturesque spot famous for its huge frogs at the turn of the nineteenth century. (Upon completing the length of Gingerbread Hill, turn right on Norman Street; then bear left still on Norman, and left again on Pond Street, with Redd’s Pond and Old Burial Hill continually on your left-hand side. Following the water and the cemetery will bring you back to the “Old Brig” on your right. Turn right on Orne Street, and walk back downhill to the foot of Washington Street.)
- Washington Street. Long know as one of the busiest streets n Marblehead, Washington Street has undergone several name changes in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It has always been the street for shopping, conducting business, and meeting friends and neighbors. (See Harry Wilkinson’s famous series “Walking Down History on Washington Street.”) Following Washington Street will take you back to Abbot Hall, where you began the walking tour.
- The Alley Steps. Almost immediately on the right are the Old Alley Steps, named after the family of town benefactress, Mary Alley. For over three hundred years they have provided a public passageway to High Street, formerly “Back Street.”
- The Old North Street. Further along on the same side one cannot help but notice the imposing facade of Marblehead’s “Old North Church.” The direct descendant of the original meeting house constructed on Old Burial Hill in 1648, this present building was erected in 1824-5, though the first congregation was assembled in 1638. Note the golden codfish atop the weather vane. While the cod has always been sacred to Massachusetts and particularly to Marblehead, the fish was the symbol of Christianity in the first century A.D. Thus we have a common unity of church and state on the very pinnacle of this historic building.
- Elbridge Gerry House. Opposite the Old North Church is the Elbridge Gerry House (#44 Washington Street on the left) built in 1742. It is assumed that the fifth Vice-President of the United States was born here in1744. Elbridge Gerry was a member of the Continental Congress, the only ‘Header to sign the Declaration of Independence, one of the framers of the Constitution, twice Governor of Massachusetts, and finally Vice-President of the United States under James Madison firm March 1813 until his death in Washington in November of 1814. His surname lives on in the politically oriented proportionment of voting districts called “gerrymandering.”
- John Pedrick House. A little further up Washington Street at the corner of Pickett is the Major John Pedrick House (#52 Washington Street on the left). Like General Glover, Pedrick was a patriot completely devoted to the cause of revolution. During the War he too lost his wealth and many ships, and returned home penniless. Today his family home is an inn.
- Samuel Dana House. The large white house (#54 Washington Street) next to the Pedrick home is a masterpiece of early Colonial architecture. Its most famous resident was the Rev. Samuel Dana, sixth minister of the Old North Church.
Although there are many other notable homes and commercial buildings along Washington Street, this brings us to the close of the walking/drving tour. As you re-enter the twenty-first century, we hope you are still exhilarated from your tour through Marblehead memories and the history of America.