On a rocky headland jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean just 26 km (16 miles) from downtown Boston stands Marblehead. Founded in 1629 the first European settler was Joseph Doliber and the settlement was originally named Massebequash. It quickly became a commercial fishing centre with its early settlers coming primarily from the West Country.of England. Settlers began to call it Marblehead because the granite stone found around the town looked like marble. It was a town that lived and breathed seafaring together with the trades that supported the industry such as carpenters, rope-makers, sail-makers, and ship’s block-makers. Marblehead grew rich from abundant supplies of fish and timber; by the 1760s it was one of the ten largest towns in the colonies. In the early stages of the Revolutionary War, the sailors of Marblehead formed the forerunner of the US Navy. The sailing skills of the Marblehead Regiment were crucial for rescuing the Continental Army after defeat at the Battle of Long Island and for getting the Continental army across the Delaware River to launch the surprise attack on Trenton. After the Revolutionary War, Marblehead continued as a major fishing port but by the 1880s it was in decline. For a time in the late 19th century Marblehead also became a centre for shoe making, but it was the growing use of the harbour for yachting that set the course for the future. Nowadays Marblehead is a major tourist and yachting centre and home for many who commute into Boston.
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Captain Samuel Trevett House
Although never as wealthy as Jeremiah Lee, the Trevett family became a prominent Marblehead shipping dynasty. In 1717 merchant Samuel Russell had this house built as a gift for his sister Elizabeth Trevett and her husband Captain Benjamin Trevett. The house passed to their son Russell Trevett and then on to his son Captain Samuel Trevett. So why is the house named after the grandson of its original owners? Look no further than the Revolutionary War. Captain Samuel Trevett led the Marblehead artillery company in Boston at the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. The house is a private residence not open to the public.
Jeremiah Lee Mansion
By 1768 Colonel Jeremiah Lee had become the wealthiest merchant and ship owner in the Province of Massachusetts Bay, so he had an opulent mansion built in Marblehead. This large Georgian style mansion looks as though it was built of stone but it it is actually a timber building with imitation stone facades. The mansion is now owned by the Marblehead Museum and Historical Society who have preserved it nearly in its original state. The house is furnished with a collection of early American furniture, including examples made by cabinet-makers from Boston, Salem and Marblehead itself. Guided tours of the Jeremiah Lee Mansion are available June to October. Sadly, photographs are not permitted in the house even without flash, hence no picture of the historic furniture.
Marblehead from Fort Sewall
The close relationship between Marblehead and the sea made it very rich, but also left it vulnerable to attack from the sea. Defensive positions were built in 1644 on Gale's Head to protect the settlement. The fort was enlarged in 1742 to defend Marblehead against the French. In 1794, after the Revolutionary War, it was extended with a magazine and barracks. During the War of 1812 the fort helped to protect the USS Constitution from attack by British frigates. In 1814 it was named Fort Sewall after local Judge Samuel Sewall. Massachusetts troops were garrisoned at Fort Sewall during the Civil War together with a few Confederate prisoners. In the 20th century as Marblehead transformed itself into a yachting and tourist centre, the fort became redundant. In 1922 the fort was given to the town who turned it into a public park with superb views of the Marblehead waterfront. Click Tab 2 to see the remains of Fort Sewell.
Old Town House
A long, long time has passed since Marblehead was founded. One sign of this is the layout of the roads. No neat grid system here, instead the road layout seems as random as in an English town. Another sign of the antiquity of the town is the many historic buildings. Wealthy merchants and sea captains build mansions in Marblehead and they also funded the construction of public buildings, such as the Old Town House built in 1727. The town hall was on the upper level while the lower level was originally used as a market. The market was at ground level, but in the building was placed on a raised granite plinth in 1830. The building was Marblehead’s Police Station between 1853 and 1961. The lower floor is now Marblehead Police Museum and the upper floor houses a Civil War Museum. The Civil War museum typically opens twice a month in season, but the Police Museum is only open occasionally by chance.