Town Focus: Hamilton & Wenham
Two quintessential New England towns maintain their historic perspectives.
In 1643, the community of Wenham split off from Salem, forming its own town. In 1793, Hamilton incorporated as its own town, no longer just a district within Ipswich. Today, centuries later, the areas around them have been transformed by time and technology, but the two towns still bear a remarkable similarity to the places they were when they first became independent. Stone walls line open fields, horseback riders are a common sight, and centuries-old homes are the norm.
“The Hamilton-Wenham community is beautiful, quaint, picturesque,” says Chris Keohane, a board member with the Greater Beverly Chamber of Commerce and the operator of the historic Wenham Tea House. “We have flowing trees over the roads, winding roads interspersed with colonial buildings, white churches with steeples.”
Both towns are defined by a thriving sense of history and community and their bucolic settings. “It’s got a very pastoral feel with lots of open space,” says Wenham town administrator Peter Lombardi. “We’ve managed to retain that where a lot of other communities have been built out over the years.”
History is woven into the fabric of Wenham. At the Wenham Museum, displays feature antique dolls, model trains, and costumes and textiles. Museum admission includes tours of the Claflin-Gerrish-Richards House, one of the earliest dwellings on the North Shore.
Across the street, the Wenham Tea House serves breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea; this local institution was established in 1912, which makes it one of the oldest tea houses—perhaps the oldest—in the country. The building is owned by the Wenham Village Improvement Society, a community group founded in 1893 and still active today, providing services to the community and scholarships to local students.
Wenham Lake, a peaceful body of water that greets visitors driving into town from adjacent Beverly, was famous in the 19th century as the source of ice reputed to be the finest in the world; Queen Victoria was an ardent fan and imported Wenham Lake ice to England.
Hamilton also takes pride in its history, as well as its open space and parks.
The town’s Patton Park boasts a newly rebuilt playground, free concerts, and a planned public pool. It is named for World War II hero General George Patton; in his honor, the park displays a tank sculpture that doubles as a play structure for children to climb on. A few miles away, Green Meadows Farm cultivates organic produce, raises heritage meats, and hosts farm-to-table feasts on land once cultivated by Patton.
Tradition thrives in Hamilton. The annual Memorial Day parade is one of the biggest in the area, says Scott Maddern, chair of the Hamilton Board of Selectmen. At Myopia Polo, the oldest active polo club in the country, weekly polo matches and an annual fox hunt are open for public viewing, drawing on the region’s equestrian heritage.
Even as history is integral to both towns, both places also foster a sense of community that make them appealing for present-day residents. Locals grab coffee and breakfast at Henderson’s Café, right on the line between the two towns, and gather for drinks and dinner at 15 Walnut Tavern in Hamilton. Locally owned shops sell flowers, jewelry, art, and gifts; an independent pharmacy conjures a time before the domination of chain stores. Community House in Hamilton, founded in 1921, hosts kids’ activities, holiday events, and educational classes.
The towns are close enough to the ocean that the beach is always in reach, and also within an easy drive of the malls in Peabody and Danvers. At the same time, they are never inundated with tourists or shoppers. Extensive walking trails crisscross the area. The library shared by the two towns is widely praised, and the regional school district is consistently praised as one of the best in the state. “It’s pretty much everything that you might like in a small town,” Maddern says.
Date of settlement
Date incorporated as a city
Hamilton- 14.9 square miles
Wenham- 8.1 square miles
Hamilton- 01936, 01982
Buker Elementary, Cutler Elementary, Winthrop Elementary, Miles River Middle School, Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Paul Harding, General Geroge S. Patton, actor David Morse, This Old House host Kevin O’Connor