Sunday, August 29, 2010

Marblehead, Massachusetts (Part 1)

Marblehead, Massachusetts was founded in 1629 as a fishing operation.  "In 1660, in an official report to the English king, Marblehead was acclaimed as 'the greatest Towne for fishing in New England."  A vigorous shore-based industry of rope-makers, sail-makers, ship’s block-makers, carpenters, and others supported the fishing and shipping fleets from the mid-1600s through the mid-1800s." (Excerpts from VisitMarblehead.comToday, Marblehead has over 200 homes in "Old Town" dating before the Revolutionary War.

According to Google Maps, Marblehead is 19 miles from the Urban Cottage so I'm embarrassed to admit that I've never visited before.  For lovers of old houses and the ocean, Marblehead is like DisneyWorld.  I thought that it would be fun to pair these photos with my original preview photos.  But impeccably maintained antique homes, quaint shops, beautiful gardens combined with glimpses of the rocky coast and sea, make Marblehead more charming that pictures can show.

This preview photo belongs to...

The William Sandin house built in 1714.  It appears that you're looking at the house through some kind of fisheye lens, and I'm sure the house is somewhat warped after nearly 300 years, but upon closer inspection, the left one-third of the house turns at a slight angle.  Warping and all, I love this house.  

I wanted to point out the chimney.  In Cambridge, some of the pre-Revolutionary homes have chimneys painted white with a black band.  It's referred to as a "Torrey chimney" and legend has it that it was a secret message used to indicate the homeowner was loyal to the British crown.

This photo goes with...

...this beautiful house on Lookout Court.  This house has been beautifully restored and is presently for sale.

Look at this view from the back deck!  The listing can be found here and it's definitely worth a look.  They've modernized the house while maintaining the colonial feel.

Lookout Court, as you've seen, is a wonderful vantage point from which to see Marblehead harbor.  One of the homes is called "Lookout House" from which the local customs officer watched for cargo-laden ships to enter the harbor.  A system of flags on a pulley alerted the town that a ship was arrived and would soon need to be unloaded.

At the end of Lookout Court is a narrow public right-of-way that meanders along private backyards and between properties down to the water.  I wouldn't have known about the secret path but I learned of it from Marblehead Magazine's Walking Tour.  Without this inside information, I would have felt I was trespassing.   Down at the waters edge, it's only a short walk to Crocker Park which provides...

...these stunning views of the harbor.

I walk along the water for a while and back into town...

...where the indigo-colored Lafayette house sits on a steep hill at the corner of five streets.

There are various legends about the missing corner of the house including a visit from the Marquis de Lafayette whose carriage was too wide to get around the sharp ess curve and drunken carriage drivers delivering rum down to the waterfront taking out the corner of the house.  But another source explains that it was formerly the corner entrance to an olde shoppe.  Personally, I like the drunken carriage drivers story.

Right nearby... this pottery studio.  I love this little building.

I also love the color combination...

...on this old house...

...with the neat wrought iron railing.

And immediately next door... this handsome dark blue house with a door exactly like I was once looking for with bullseye glass in the top two panels.   Notice the gold cod over the door and the sign next to the door.  Almost every house has a gold cod, a gold or black whale or a gold shell at the front door.

These beautiful hand carved sculptures are available from the Arnould Gallery and Framery right in town...

...and the little signs give the name of the first owner of the home, their occupation and the date the house was built.  Isn't Tabitha Stevens the daughter from Bewitched?  I'll bet you didn't know she lived in Marblehead:)

So, that's the first part of the Marblehead tour.  Next time we'll visit the Old Burial Hill, trespass into someone's backyard for a gorgeous view of the harbor and Marblehead Neck and more great old houses.


  1. hi steve,

    i love this post. what a great idea to take a pic of a snippet of the house and then show the whole thing. brilliant. i love that indigo house. i'm curently in love with all things indigo. and i love the fish/shell thing that people put on their houses. that is so cool. did you see mrs. kravitz?


  2. What a gorgeous place! I love the history of the place. It's so nice when home owners take care to preserve the history of their houses.

  3. You have no idea how glad I am to find your brilliant blog. The east coast has ALWAYS been on the top of my list for destination spots and I have yet to visit. Now I can live vicariously through you..woohoo! I'm adding you to my "blogs I love list" right away! I'll be back...

  4. I love Marblehead. Getting to know you through this blog - I bet you found yourself in paradise there. The history, the architecture! One day last Fall I was wondering around the town at dusk and discovered Crocker Park and was blown away by the views as the sun was setting. Truly magical. Looking forward to your next post!

  5. Your pictures keep getting better and better! The architecture and details and stunning. But, can you imagine living with those views everyday!
    It's so amazing the difference in culture, age, architecture....between different parts of the country. We don't even know age here in the midwest!

    I love the broken shutter photo -

  6. I have lived in Massachusetts my entire life and the beauty of our small state still amazes me. Gloucester,Ipswich,Manchester-By-The Sea,Cape Cod and The Islands.Your photos of Marblehead captures our architectural history so nicely. Thanks for sharing your day .

  7. Dear Urban Cottage,

    I stumbled upon old Marblehead several years ago as a tourist visiting Boston and absolutely fell in love. I returned to Boston last September to conduct research at the Massachusetts Historical Society-I'm working on a PhD in history at the University of Washington-and made it a point to make a side trip out to Marblehead just so I could walk the streets of the 17th and 18th century once again. You are right when you referred to old Marblehead as a Disneyland for history lovers. If I could live anywhere else in the world besides Washington State, it would probably be in Marblehead. Provence, however, is nice too. Thanks for sharing these great pictures.