With history at every turn, and the ocean always a stone’s throw away, it’s easy to take the North Shore for granted. But after just about 30 seconds in a rocking chair on the porch of the Emerson Inn in Rockport, even the most jaded native will relax into the charming coastal vibe that draws visitors from around the world year round.
The porch overlooks a manicured lawn—dotted with boulders—rolling down to the rocky coast that is virtually unchanged since the days when Ralph Waldo Emerson visited to escape the heat of inland summers and draw inspiration from the peaceful views.
Then as now, guests of the inn gaze out at the water, or work on a jigsaw puzzle, or stroll the coastal path that Emerson is said to have walked with Henry David Thoreau. Similarly the common areas inside retain the dignity of a centuries-old estate, with original woodwork, beautiful antiques, and the welcoming “Parlor” for sitting or enjoying a cocktail or a light bite at the carved wooden bar.
The setting makes it easy to mentally turn back the clock, but a recent renovation by Migis Hotel Group, which acquired the property last summer, provides subtle modern amenities while preserving the overall experience. Migis, which owns or manages several historic luxury properties throughout New England, shuttered the inn last winter, and spent about $700,000 to freshen up the rooms, add flat panel TVs, upgraded bathrooms and climate controls, as well as WiFi throughout.
The result mixes luxury with historic charm, with an emphasis on modern cuisine, in a way the hotel group is well known for.
As is often the case in historic buildings, the main house was expanded over the decades, yielding charming adaptations in ceiling heights and nooks and crannies to explore. Most of the 36 rooms are small and spare, but comfortable, adorned with historic prints and luxurious linens on queen-size beds. Many of the ocean-view rooms have spa tubs, and two top-floor rooms offer Juliet balconies.
The inn was opened in 1856 by William Norwood, who is said to have become a hotelier after his popular Pigeon Cove Tavern was destroyed by zealous Prohibitionists, who smashed every liquor bottle in the drinking establishment. When Prohibition was repealed, Rockport was slow to embrace the change, which explains the lack of bars in town to this day. In fact, Rockport was a dry town until 2005, and until recently, restaurants weren’t allowed to serve drinks to patrons unless they were also dining—putting Emerson Inn’s new Pigeon Cove Tavern, named for Norwood’s ill-fated spot, in a unique position to take advantage of the recent regulation change. Now the law states that food has to be available, but people aren’t required to eat. In a sly nod to Prohibition days, the bar offers the Ha-Ha Hannah Collins, a cocktail named for Hannah Jumper, who is rumored to have led the enthusiastic destruction of the original Pigeon Cove Tavern.
The Migis group hired Doug Papows (the lauded former chef at Foreign Affairs in Manchester-by-the Sea) to oversee the new spot’s upscale casual cuisine. The evolving menu offers a mix of creative small plates, alongside seafood and gastropub fare. The restaurant has already proven popular with locals and visitors alike, adding a welcome option to the dining scene.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the full American breakfast included for overnight guests. Gail McDonald has presided over the kitchen in the mornings for 15 years, pleasing guests with favorites like scrambled eggs Emerson-style, laden with chives and cream cheese, and rich cornmeal and molasses– flavored Anadama French Toast.
The inn is a popular spot for weddings and family reunions—its size, the heated outdoor pool, and large private waterfront yard make it suitable for a wide variety of social functions. For those seeking a change of scenery, the charms of downtown Rockport are just over a mile away, from the artist’s community (and tasty seafood) on Bearskin Neck to music at the Shalin Liu Performance Center.
Just set aside some time to enjoy a rocking chair.
Emerson Inn will be open year-round, with September rates ranging from $229 plus tax to $429 plus tax per night. Ocean view rooms start at $329. Call for special fall and winter packages.
1 Cathedral? Avenue, Rockport