A Walking Tour of Marblehead, Massachusetts

The first settlers in 1629 supposedly mistook the granite outcroppings overlooking the Atlantic Ocean for marble and so the nascent fishing village got a name. Enough wealth came from the sea to build the town that grew into one of the ten largest in the English colonies. So abundant were the fish that the King’s Royal Agent, after visiting Marblehead in 1660, returned to England and declared that Marblehead was “…the Greatest Towne for Fishing in New England.”

When revolutionary feelings fomented in the 1770s, Marblehead was in the fray that would break Colonial rule. Marblehead mariners were at the forefront of what would later become the American Navy and it was the first town to send out a private ships to harass and capture British ships.The town paid a heavy price for the war. Many men were lost and those that returned often found their boats destroyed or rotting. Other wealthy merchants loyal to King George fled to Canada.

Marblehead had peaked economically. The fishing revived but a gale at the Grand Banks of Newfoundland on September 19, 1846 destroyed half the Marblehead fishing fleet and claimed the lives of 65 men and boys. Fishing would never be the same again. The fishing industry was replaced in town by shoe-making for a time but fires in 1877 and 1888 closed the factories.

Once again Marblehead turned to the sea for its sustenance. The town became a resort destination and its exceptional harbor filled with yachts from a half-dozen clubs. The familiar sight of vacationers and tourists helped Marblehead recognize the value of preserving its heritage early on. Today more than 200 houses built before the American Revolution and another 800 constructed in the 1800s still line the winding, hilly streets.

The narrow streets are best explored only on foot but there is usually on-street parking to be had around the the town's most prominent building. At only 130 years years old it is about the youngest building we will encounter on our walking tour...

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