Blink when you drive through the center of Wenham and you might just miss the whole thing. But if you take it slow, it’s easy to see why the locals work hard to maintain the tranquility and charm of this small North Shore town.By Karen Sackowitz
Enjoy The Silence:
“Our church, fire station, police station, town hall, and post office are all in our town center,” chuckles Wenham native Catherine Tinsley, “It’s like Cheers where everyone knows your name-except we don’t have any bars! No mallsÂ… in fact, no business district!”
What Wenham does offer, however, is rural living that hearkens back to the good old days when community meant just that-folks working together to care for their town and each other. Throw in acres of open space, a top-ranked college, a highly involved citizenry, and a 20-mile commute to Boston, and the appeal of Wenham comes into focus.
Local shop owner Harper Della-Piana had to make quite an adjustment when she moved here after living and working in New York City for 15 years. She agrees that Wenham has predominantly been known by outsiders as a town you pass by on the way to somewhere else, but she says that tide seems to be slowly turning.
“The town is attracting younger residents, the type who own their own business or who can work remotely via computer,” Della-Piana says, “The web is a big factor. Eighty percent of my customers find me online and travel here to shop.”
Four years ago, Maria Lekkakos bought the former Hebert’s Candy building on Main Street to house her salon and day spa, M.Lekkakos.
“Throughout the entire renovation process, the town was great to work with,” she says, “That isn’t always the case in other towns.”
For some residents, balance is professional and personal. Elissa Della-Piana is a gallery owner whose downtown business thrives. She is also a Wenham native whose house sits on former farmland owned by her father. Hers is one of many meticulously restored properties. She credits the preservation efforts in Wenham for maintaining the traditional feel while welcoming some change.
“Our Preservation Society is quite active in town,” she says. “They are diligent but not overbearing.”
Although the town of Wenham covers only eight square miles, it contains hundreds of acres of designated open space, including historic and picturesque Wenham Lake.
Of the just over 5,000 residents in town, approximately 3,000 are students attending Gordon College. Others are descendants of the town’s original families, dating back generations.
“It’s a great town, but you have to invest yourself in it,” says John Clemenzi, a member of the Board of Selectmen, “We currently have 165 residents volunteering on any number of committees.”
“Civic involvement truly runs the town,” agrees Catherine Tinsley, “Time devoted to the town is well recognized and appreciated.”
Photo Gallery:Two of a Kind?:
Some roll their eyes. others wave a dismissive hand. “It will never happen,” is the general response when Wenham locals are asked about the seemingly real possibility of a merger between their town and neighboring Hamilton.
It is a well-worn discussion, but one which has recently gained momentum
due to unprecedented involvement on the state level. This winter, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue’s Division of Local Services conducted a study to determine whether combining the two towns makes economic sense. Their report will include the most comprehensive information on the topic to date.
“We’ve already run the numbers on combining police and fire services, and there didn’t really seem to be any notable savings,” says John Clemenzi, a member of the Wenham Board of Selectmen for the last three years. “This study is investigating new options.”
Among those options is the regionalization of services among several area towns, not just Hamilton and Wenham.
“We are exploring whether a more expanded combination of services, almost on a county level, might make more sense,” Clemenzi explains. “Rather than combining our two towns as a whole, we would regionalize services in the way we currently do with our schools.”
The drawback, however, would be that services such as police, fire, and public works would then become separate entities, not under the control of the town or its taxpayers. It is a stumbling block already well known within the Hamilton- Wenham Regional School District, where only limited input from the town’s residents is allowed on crucial matters, such as budget allocation.
“We’ve got over 350 years of culture built into these communities,” Clemenzi says, “If there is a financially beneficial plan that can leave the identity of the individual towns in tact, let’s find it.”
When In Wenham…
The Exchange at Wenham Tea House
A local gem which opened in 1912,the Wenham Tea House is the oldest continually-running tea house in America. Owner Emma Roberts raised a few eyebrows last year when she adjusted the liquor license to offer dinner on Friday evenings, but the results have been well received. Still, most visitors come for breakfast, lunch, or to enjoy some afternoon tea and conversation. Don’t leave without checking out the bakery/gourmet shop, always stocked with baked goods, cocktail foods, to-go meals, and unique hostess gifts. 4 Monument St., 978-468-1398, wenhamteahouse.com.
The Wenham Museum
What started out as an international doll exhibit donated to the Wenham Village Improvement Society in 1922 is now the vibrant Wenham Museum. Learn about the ways New Englanders have lived, worked, dressed, and played from the 17th century to today by checking out an ever-changing schedule of exhibits, programs, and events. Kids will get a special kick out of the trains, as well as the toys and books available in the museum shop. 132 Main St., 978-468-2377, wenhammuseum.org.
Brides-to-be and women seeking one of-a-kind formal wear will travel any distance to browse through the creations in this fabulous boutique. Owner/Designer Harper Della-Piana stocks her own pieces as well as those purchased directly from other designers. Have something specific in mind? Talk to Harper. Chances are she’ll be able to create that unique piece that will have people talking wherever you go. 152R Main St., 978-473-3398, seamstheshop.com.
The Gallery Della Piana
Creativity runs in the Della-Piana family.Next door to Seams is The Gallery Della-Piana, owned by Elissa Della-Piana (Harper’s mother), a local artist and long time Montserrat professor. Visitors are treated to a variety of media and topics, explored through an ever changing selection of pieces. Keep an eye out for monthly “call-for-entry” programs. 152R Main St., 978-468-1944, gallerydellapiana.blogspot.com.
M.Lekkakos Salon & Spa
This full service salon and day spa is the only one of its kind in the area. You will more than likely be greeted by owner Maria Lekkakos herself, whose infectious personality will make you feel immediately welcome. After being styled and pampered, be sure to ask herabout the addition of the new boutique, which offers everything from handbags to belts to jewelry. 154 Main St.,978-468-9540, mlekkakos.com.
Date of Settlement: 1635
Date of Incorporation: 1643
Zip Code: 01984
Total Area: 8.09 square miles
Median Household Income: $90,524
Public Schools: Bessie Buker Elementary School
Private Schools: Gordon College
Notable Residents: Maria Lekkakos
(Miss Massachusetts 2004), Bob Stanley
(former Red Sox pitcher)
Price: $649,000; 86 Cedar St.; 3 bedrooms; 2 bathrooms; 2,509 square feet; 2.25 acres; pool. Listing Agent: Peggy McNamara, Keller Williams Realty.
Price: $3,700,000; 143 Grapevine Rd.; 6 bedrooms; 8.5 baths; 6 fireplaces; 6,780 square feet; 6.96 acres. Listing Agent: Lanse Robb, Landvest Realty.