Even early on a Saturday morning, Marblehead bustles with activity: runners, cyclists, kayakers, boaters, fishermen—it’s a town where everyone makes the most of the outdoors all year round. Given that water comprises 15.2 of Marblehead’s 19.6 square miles, the title “Yachting Capital of the World”—in addition to its rich history as a fishing village and maritime port—makes sense.
“Marblehead’s picturesque, glittering harbor is unmatched, inviting sailors from across the globe,” says Beth Ferris, executive director of the Marblehead Chamber of Commerce. Its six yacht clubs is evidence that sailing has long been a pastime—and a way of life—for many residents. Many of the yachts in the legendary America’s Cup race were built in town at Graves Boatyard, and the 1974 Cup winner, Ted Hood, was a longtime Marblehead resident, establishing Hood Sailmakers in 1950. Marblehead Race Week has been going strong since 1889 and brings over 200 boats into the harbor every July.
The town’s economy has always thrived on the sea. After a visit in 1660, the King of England’s agent returned home, declaring Marblehead “…the greatest towne for fishing in New England.” The waters were teeming with cod, mackerel, haddock, herring, and bass, and word soon spread to enterprising fishermen who began to send vessels to Marblehead during the summer months, when the men could catch and cure fish to transport back home.
“With all of the change that takes place, there is also so much that remains,” says Ferris. Even today, from lobstering to boatbuilding, Marblehead welcomes visitors from around the world, who come for the unparalleled views and fantastic seafood. Favorite restaurants and bars include The Landing and The Barnacle, both on the water, as well as the iconic Maddie’s Sail Loft. “With creativity and adaptability, Marblehead’s business community is, as always, historically strong and diverse,” says Ferris.
Originally part of Salem, Marblehead—also called “Marvill Head” or “Marble Harbor” by settlers who mistook the granite ledges for marble—was granted independence in 1649. When European settlers first arrived in the area, the land was controlled by the Naumkeags. Heirs of the tribe’s leader, Nanepashemet, later sold 3,700 acres for 16 pounds to the governing Board of Selectmen, who still oversee Marblehead to this day.
Rich with stories of naval and wartime history, Marblehead is also the birthplace of the American Navy and Marine Corps Aviation. During the Revolutionary War, Hannah was the first commissioned Navy vessel to carry a crew from Marblehead. Under the direction of General John Glover, the men escorted George Washington to victory during the Battle of Trenton in 1776. Painter Archibald Willard’s famous work The Spirit of ’76 hangs in Abbott Hall, also home to the town’s Maritime Museum.
A visit to the Old Town section is a walk through time, with 17th- and 18th-century houses and buildings nestled together among a maze of narrow streets and cobblestones. Seasonally planted window boxes bloom brightly in the summer and spread holiday cheer come winter. All of this adds to the allure of a town that takes care of its historic marvels. Including Fort Sewall, Marblehead has seven buildings on the National Register of Historic Places: Old Town House, St. Michael’s Church, Abbot Hall, the King Hooper Mansion, the General John Glover House, the Jeremiah Lee Mansion, and the Elbridge Gerry House. What is now Washington Street was once called Ye Queen’s Highway, and State Street was known as King Street until the town voted to change them in 1824.
Located 18 miles north of Boston, Marblehead became a bedroom community for Bostonians after World War II. Trains began running as early as 1839, and at one point, there were four stations around town. Devereux Station stayed in service for 85 years until train service to Marblehead stopped in 1959. The tracks made way for what is now the Marblehead Rail Trail, a much-loved biking and running path for residents.
Marblehead is the kind of place where kids can walk to school and ride their bikes to Devereux Beach for ice cream in the summer. The family-friendly town vibe is one of the top draws for residents. Ferris agrees: “There is outstanding community spirit; we have neighbors that take care of their own in so many amazing ways. Mix in a strong business community and great schools, and we have a grand recipe for a special town to live in.”
Another highlight of living in and visiting Marblehead is the vibrant arts culture. Kristine Fisher, executive director of the Marblehead Arts Association (MAA), says Marblehead’s natural beauty has long been a draw for those seeking creative inspiration, whether it be painting, crafts, writing, or photography. “Its remoteness only adds to its allure.”
For over 90 years, the MAA has created a year-round haven to showcase artists’ work via gallery shows, classes, and events, drawing large crowds from all over the region. “Our programs bring a dimension of vitality and connection to MAA artists and art lovers. Every year we celebrate the arts by collaborating with other cultural organizations and the Marblehead High School National Art Honor Society, enriching the greater North Shore community,” says Fisher.
Every Fourth of July, Marblehead celebrates its role in American history with a show-stopping fireworks display that illuminates the harbor. Independence Day also corresponds with the annual Festival of the Arts, which celebrated its 50th year this past July. From the lobster roll lunch at St. Michael’s Church to the outdoor concerts at Crocker Park, the days-long extravaganza is one of the best times to enjoy all Marblehead has to offer.
Come winter, the town resembles a Dickensian postcard. A light snowfall brings out the town’s historic charms, and Redd’s Pond freezes to become the town ice skating rink. The 45th annual Christmas Walk is the highlight of the season. “It is a magical weekend for residents and visitors alike with town-wide festivities,” says Ferris. “After lighting the tree, welcoming Santa to town in a lobster boat, and a spectacular parade, the magic spreads throughout town.”
Though she refers to the MAA as being one of New England’s bestkept secrets, Fisher also touches on what makes Marblehead so special. Yes, it can be hard to get to, but locals love Marblehead for this very reason. There’s nothing like driving home every day and feeling like you’re on vacation.