Marblehead, Massachusetts

Marblehead is a coastal New England town in Essex County, Massachusetts. Its population was 19,808 at the 2010 census.[2]

Marblehead, Massachusetts
Marblehead harbor viewed from the lighthouse
Marblehead harbor viewed from the lighthouse
Official seal of Marblehead, Massachusetts
"Where History Comes Alive"[1]
Location in Essex County and the state of Massachusetts
Location in Essex County and the state of Massachusetts
Coordinates: 42°30′00″N 70°51′30″W / 42.50000°N 70.85833°W / 42.50000; -70.85833Coordinates: 42°30′00″N 70°51′30″W / 42.50000°N 70.85833°W / 42.50000; -70.85833
CountryUnited States
 • TypeOpen town meeting
 • Total19.6 sq mi (50.7 km2)
 • Land4.4 sq mi (11.4 km2)
 • Water15.2 sq mi (39.4 km2)
65 ft (20 m)
 • Total19,808
 • Density4,501.8/sq mi (1,738.2/km2)
Time zoneUTC−5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−4 (Eastern)
ZIP Code
Area code(s)339/781
FIPS code25-38400
GNIS feature ID0618300

A town with roots in commercial fishing and yachting, Marblehead was a major shipyard and is often referred to as the birthplace of the American Navy, a title sometimes disputed with nearby Beverly. Marblehead was once the fishing capital of Massachusetts. It is also the origin of Marine Corps Aviation. Three US Navy ships have been named USS Marblehead. A center of recreational boating, it is a popular sailing, kayaking and fishing destination. Several yacht clubs were established here in the late 19th century, which continue to be centers of sailing.

It is home to the Marblehead Light, Fort Sewall, Little Harbor, Marblehead Neck Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary, Crocker Park, and Devereux Beach. Archibald Willard's famous painting The Spirit of '76 currently resides in Abbot Hall.



Marblehead was originally called Massebequash after the river which ran between it and Salem, the land was inhabited by the Naumkeag tribe of the Pawtucket confederation under the overall sachem Nanepashemet. But epidemics in 1615–1619 and 1633, believed to be smallpox, devastated the tribe. Numerous shell mounds and burial sites have been found throughout the town's history, along with foundations of multiple villages and forts.[3] On September 16, 1684, heirs of Nanepashemet sold their 3,700 acres (15 km2); the deed is preserved today at Abbot Hall in the town.

European settlers and fishingEdit

Marblehead's first European settler was Joseph Doliber in 1629, who set up on the shore near what is now the end of Bradlee Road. Three years earlier, Isaac Allerton, a Pilgrim from the Mayflower, had arrived in the area and established a fishing village at Marblehead Little Harbor. In May 1635, the General Court of Massachusetts Bay established the town of Marblehead on land that belonged to Salem. Marblehead residents, who never saw eye-to-eye with their more devout and conservative neighbors, were delighted, but less than a year later, the lawmakers reversed themselves. Marblehead finally became independent of Salem in 1649.[4][5]

Marblehead, watercolor, Maurice Prendergast, 1914. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

At times called "Marvell Head", "Marble Harbour" (by Captain John Smith) and "Foy" (by immigrants from Fowey, Cornwall), the town would be named "Marblehead" by settlers who mistook its granite ledges for marble. It began as a fishing village with narrow crooked streets, and developed inland from the harbor. The shoreline smelled of drying fish, typically cod. These were exported abroad and to Salem.

The town had one accused individual during the Salem Witch Trials, Wilmot Redd. She was found guilty of witchcraft and executed by hanging on September 22, 1692.

The town peaked economically just before the American Revolution, as locally financed privateering vessels sought bounty from large European ships. Much early architecture survives from the era, including the Jeremiah Lee Mansion.

Revolutionary WarEdit

A large percentage of residents became involved early in the Revolutionary War, and the sailors of Marblehead are generally recognized by scholars as forerunners of the United States Navy. The first vessel commissioned for the navy, Hannah, was equipped with cannons, rope, provision (including the indigenous molasses/sea water cookie known as "Joe Frogger" )—and a crew from Marblehead. With their nautical backgrounds, soldiers from Marblehead under General John Glover were instrumental in the escape of the Continental Army after the Battle of Long Island. Marblehead men ferried George Washington across the Delaware River for his attack on Trenton. Many who set out for war, however, did not return, leaving the town with 459 widows and 865 orphaned children in a population of less than 5,000.

Marbleheaders rowing Washington across the Delaware

The community lost a substantial portion of its population and economy, although it was still the tenth-largest inhabited location in the United States at the first census, in 1790.[6]

When George Washington visited the town during his presidential tour of 1789, he knew the sailors of Marblehead well; they had served him honorably in the war. He observed that the town "had the appearance of antiquity."[7]

Fishing industryEdit

In the 75 years from the American Revolution to the middle of the nineteenth century, Marblehead experienced a golden age of fishing. The War of 1812 brought disruption similar to during the American Revolution, with fishing grounds being blockaded, and fisherman heading off to war, with over 500 Marbleheaders being imprisoned by the British.[8] After the war, and later into the 19th century, wealthier citizens wanted a new bank to finance vessels, and to serve the town's fishermen and merchants. On March 17, 1831, with a capital of $100,000, they founded the Grand Bank. The name was changed to National Grand Bank on October 3, 1864.[9]

Eleven Marblehead ships were lost, painting by William Thompson Bartoll

The town's fishermen had 98 vessels (95 of which exceeded 50 tons) putting to sea in 1837, where they often harvested fish off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. However, a gale or hurricane in that area on September 19, 1846, sank 11 vessels and damaged others. With 65 men and boys lost in the storm, the town's fishing industry began a decline. The storm is depicted in Fireboard: The Great Gale of 1846, c. 1850 by William Thompson Bartoll. A copy of the book is held by the Peabody Essex Museum.

Civil War—first in '61Edit

Starting in 1861, and until the end, 1,048 Marblehead men went to war, joining both the Army and Navy. 110 were lost, Another 87 were wounded, many of who died later of their injuries. During the war, Marblehead's would raise almost $100,000 to supplement the war effort, an incredible effort for a town of 8,000 that relied mainly on the fishing for income. Marblehead would be the first regiment in the state to answer the call for troops.[10] A Grand Army of the Republic veterans organization was formed after the war, and established headquarters in the old town house, were it still displays artifacts from the Marblehead regiments that served.

Shoemaking, aeroplanes and yachtingEdit

Burgess aircraft in Marblehead Harbor
Marblehead Harbor with yachts
Marblehead Harbor 1916

During the late 19th century, Marblehead had a short-term industrial boom from shoe-making factories. At the same time, the exceptional harbor attracted yachting by wealthy boat owners, and some yacht clubs established centers there. It would become home to the Boston Yacht Club, Corinthian Yacht Club, Eastern Yacht Club, Marblehead Yacht Club, Dolphin Yacht Club, and the oldest junior yacht club in America, the Pleon Yacht Club.This also caused numerous "summer homes" of wealthy Boston residents to be built on Marblehead Neck. The building boom would cause Marblehead Light to be replaced in 1896 with a new iron structure, since the light of shorter tower was becoming blocked by the large new homes.

Marblehead was also the site of the Burgess & Curtis Aircraft Factory, where it was the first licensed aircraft manufacturer in the United States.William Starling Burgess designed and flight tested most of the aircraft that were manufactured at the two plant sites in town. On August 20th 1912, Alfred Austell Cunningham became the first Marine aviator, taking off from Marblehead Harbor in a Burgess Model H seaplane given to him by the Burgess Company. His flight was the start of United States Marine Corps Aviation.[11]

Post-war suburban communityEdit

After World War II, the town enjoyed a population boom, developing as a bedroom community for nearby Boston, Lynn, and Salem. This boom ended around 1970, when the town became built out. Marblehead today continues to be a sailing and small town tourism destination in the summer months.

Geography and transportationEdit

Marblehead Light, at the northern tip of Marblehead Neck

Marblehead is located at 42°29′49″N 70°51′47″W / 42.49694°N 70.86306°W / 42.49694; -70.86306 (42.497146, −70.863236).[12] According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 19.6 square miles (50.7 km2), of which 4.4 square miles (11.4 km2) is land and 15.2 square miles (39.4 km2), or 77.61%, is water.[13]

Marblehead is situated on the North Shore of Massachusetts along Massachusetts Bay and Salem Harbor. The town consists of a rocky peninsula that extends into the bay, with an additional neck to the east connected by a long sandbar, now a causeway. This ring of land defines Marblehead's deep, sheltered harbor. Marblehead Neck is home to a bird sanctuary, as well as Castle Rock and Chandler Hovey Park at its northern tip, where Marblehead Light is located. The town was once home to three forts, Fort Miller at Naugus Head along Salem Harbor, Fort Washington (Fort Bailey) at present day Fountain Park, and Fort Sewall, at the west edge of the mouth of Marblehead Harbor. The town land also includes several small islands in Massachusetts Bay and Dolliber Cove, the area between Peaches Point and Fort Sewall. The town is partially divided from Salem by the Forest River, and is also home to several small ponds. Keeping with the town's location, there are four beaches (one in Dolliber Cove, one in Marblehead Harbor, and two along the southern shore of town), as well as six yacht clubs, one public kayaking center[14] and several boat ramps.

Marblehead old Train Depot

Besides Marblehead Neck, there are three other villages within town, Old Town to the southeast and Clifton to the southwest. Given its small area, most of the residential land in town is thickly settled. Marblehead's town center is located approximately 4 miles (6 km) from the center of Salem, 16 miles (26 km) northeast of Boston and 12 miles (19 km) southwest of Cape Ann. It is bordered by Swampscott to the south and Salem to the northwest. (As Salem's water rights extend into Massachusetts Bay, there is no connection between Marblehead and the city of Beverly across Beverly Harbor.)

Marblehead is home to the eastern termini of Massachusetts Route 114 and Route 129, which both terminate at the intersection of Atlantic and Ocean avenues. Route 114 heads west into Salem, while Route 129 heads south along Atlantic Avenue into Swampscott towards Lynn. There are no freeways within town, with the nearest access being to Massachusetts Route 128 in Peabody and Beverly.

Two MBTA Bus routes – the 441 and 442 – originate in town regularly with service to Boston, with weekend service to Wonderland in Revere. The former Eastern Railroad Marblehead Branch began service in1839 and had lines connecting through Swampscott and Salem was discontinued in the late 1950s. The track routes were converted to bike trails and the three train depots were torn down.[15] The Newburyport/Rockport Line of the MBTA Commuter Rail passes through neighboring Swampscott and Salem, with service between the North Shore and Boston's North Station. The nearest air service is located at Beverly Municipal Airport, with the nearest national and international service at Boston's Logan International Airport. Seasonal ferry service to Boston can also be found in Salem.

Marblehead Harbor Morning


Old Bowen House c. 1905

Source: United States Census records and Population Estimates Program data.[16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25]

As of the census[26] of 2010, there were 19,808 people, 8,838 households, and 5,467 families residing in the town. The population density was 4,373 people per square mile (help/km²). There were 8,906 housing units at an average density of 1,966.3 per square mile (759.1/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 97.6% White, 0.4% Black or African American, 0.1% Native American, 1.0% Asian, >0.1% Pacific Islander, 0.2% from other races, and 0.7% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.9% of the population.

There were 8,541 households out of which 31.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 56.5% were married couples living together, 8.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.5% were non-families. Of all households 28.7% were made up of individuals and 10.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.37 and the average family size was 2.94.

Abbot Public Library

In the town, the population was spread out with 23.9% under the age of 18, 3.5% from 18 to 24, 28.0% from 25 to 44, 29.0% from 45 to 64, and 15.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42 years. For every 100 females, there were 89.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 84.3 males.

According to a 2009 estimate,[27] the median income for a household in the town was $97,441, and the median income for a family was $129,968. Males had a median income of $70,470 versus $44,988 for females. The per capita income for the town was $46,738. About 3.2% of families and 4.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 5.7% of those under age 18 and 4.6% of those age 65 or over.


Marblehead Public Schools oversees eight schools: the Bell(recently closed), Coffin, Eveleth, Gerry(closed), and Glover elementary schools; the Village School (grades 4–6); Marblehead Veterans Middle School; and Marblehead High School.[28] The town is also home to the Marblehead Community Charter Public School, the first Commonwealth charter school to open in Massachusetts. In 2018, Marblehead School Committee announced that Gerry School will be permanently closing.

Town songEdit

The Town of Marblehead has the unique distinction of having an official town anthem "Marblehead Forever". It is performed at most major town events and commemorations. It was written by Reverend Marcia Martin Selman to the music of the hymn tune "The Lily of the Valley", from a melody by J. R. Murray, "Songs of Rejoicing", 1888.[29]

Points of interestEdit

Marblehead Light
Abbott Hall
Fort Sewall
Model Yacht Racing on Redd's Pond

Historical sites and MuseumsEdit


Devereux Beach is located on Ocean Avenue just before the causeway; Marblehead's most popular beach offers more than five acres of sand, public picnic tables and a playground. It is a popular spot to observe fireworks on Fourth of July. Lifeguards are on duty once the beach opens for summer in late June. During summer months, non-residents must pay $5–$10 to park between 8 am and 4 pm. Marblehead residents must have a facility sticker or they will be charged the non-resident rate. Two pavilions with grills are available for rental during the non-winter months. Open beach fires during summer months (May - September) are not allowed.[35] Other smaller beaches include those in Little Harbor, along with Trustees of Reservations-owned Crowninshield Island and Gerry Island(Priest Island).

Yacht clubsEdit

There are six active yacht clubs in town:

Name Founded Current Club House Current

Club House


Burgee Notable Events
Boston Yacht Club 1866 1950s
Eastern Yacht Club 1870   1881
Marblehead Yacht Club 1878 1878
  • Downeast Challenge

Marblehead to Boothbay

Corinthian Yacht Club 1885   1885
  • Marblehead Race Week (Founder)
  • Corinthian Classic Yacht Regatta
Pleon Yacht Club

(under 21 only)

1887 2010s
  • Junior Race Week
Dolphin Yacht Club 1950 1955

Notable PeopleEdit

Politicians and military


Architects and yacht designers

Businessmen and entrepreneurs

Writers and journalists

Arts and entertainment

Notable visitorsEdit

Politicians and royalty


See: Arts, Films section for actors who came for location shooting.



Castle Rock Marblehead, Alfred Thompson Bricher
Marblehead Harbor, Maurice Brazil Prendergast
On Deck of the Yacht Constellation, John Singer Sargent
First International Yacht Race off Children's Island, M.H. Howes
Mrs Jeremiah Lee, Martha Swett, John Singleton Copley

Notable paintings & artists depicting Marblehead scenes and figures:


Pride of the Clan, filmed at Castle Rock

Movies filmed in Marblehead include:


Cheers, set in Boston, made three references to the town. Sam mentions sailing to Marblehead in Season 1, Episode 6. Diane mentions Sam having taken her to a bed and breakfast in Marblehead in Season 4, episode 15. Sam says that he will sail to Marblehead for relaxation in Season 5, Episode 1.

Marblehead Manor (1987) was a sitcom about a wealthy Marblehead resident that ran for one season on CBS.

In Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, Aunt Hilda makes reference to Marblehead in the sixth episode of the second season, titled, "Sabrina, the Teenage Boy."

The Crossing (2000) TV movie has General Washington(Jeff Daniels) speaking to Col. Glover(Sebastian Roché) about the men of Marblehead rowing across the Delaware.

The West Wing Season 4 episode 18 "Privateers" has Mrs. Marion Cotesworth-Haye of Marblehead denouncing the first lady's(Stockard Channing) membership of the Daughters of the Revolution when they learn that her distant relative was more pirate than patriot.

The Handmaid's Tale mentions Marblehead in Season one episode 7 called "The Other Side" on the streaming service Hulu.


Set in Marblehead, or based on local figuresEdit

  • Marblehead by Joan Thompson: The town appears in the eponymous book debuting in 1978.
  • The Hearth & Eagle, by Anya Seton, traces the history of Marblehead from early settlement in 1630 to modern times through the story of one family, originally from Cornwall, who eventually ran Marblehead's Hearth & Eagle Inn.
  • Agnes Surriage, by Edwin Lassetter Bynner
  • The Fountain Inn, by Nathan P. Sanborn
  • 'The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by novelist Ben Sherwood set in Marblehead and features the Waterside Cemetery. A film adaptation was made in 2010.
  • General John Glover and His Marblehead Mariners by George Athan Billias (1960)
  • The Wizard of Orne Hill and Other Tales of Old Marblehead, by Dorothy Miles
  • At the Point of Cutlass by Gregory Flemming, tells the story of Marblehead's "Robinson Curusoe" Philip Ashton based on his memoirs.
  • Hidden Silver, by Georgene Faulkner, Relates the story of a Marblehead family during the American Revolution
  • Azor of Marblehead Series (1948–1960), by Maude Cowley
    • Azor
    • Azor and the Haddock
    • Azor and the Blue-eyed Cow
    • Tor and Azor
    • Pringle and the Lavender Goat
  • Remembering James J. H. Gregory: The Seed King, Philanthropist, Man, by Shari Kelley Worrell
  • Marblehead from HollyHocks to Hot Top, articles by John D Hill, Morrill S. Reynolds, Phyllis Masters, Percy L. Martin
  • Ashton's Memorial: An History of the Strange Adventures of Philip Ashton, Jr. (1725)
  • Marblehead's First Harbor: The Rich History of a Small Fishing Port, by Hugh Peabody Bishop & Brenda Bishop Booma
  • The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
  • A Guide to Marblehead, by Samuel Roads Jr. (1881)
  • History and Traditions of Marblehead, by Samuel Roads Jr. (1880)
  • In the Time of Worms: An Ancient Tale of Marblehead, Kenelm Winslow Harris
  • Under the Golden Cod, by 350th Anniversary book Committee, book detailing the history of the congregation of Marblehead Old North Church from 1635–1985.
  • 'Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling mentions Marblehead in the story .
  • The Autobiography of Ashley Bowen (1728-1813), by Ashley Bowen
  • Red On Black, A Marblehead Story, by Eben Weed
  • Where Away: The Story of USS Marblehead, by George Sessions Perry & Mabel Leighton
  • Ten Hours Until Dawn, by Michael J. Tougias
  • Marblehead: The Spirit of '76 Lives Here, by Priscilla Sawyer Lord (1972)

Literature influenced by MarbleheadEdit

  • Rabbi Small by Harry Kemelman, wrote about a mysteries place in the fictional town of Barnard's Crossing, a place based on Marblehead. Kemelman lived in Marblehead for 50 years.
  • The Jesse Stone novels; Robert B. Parker supposedly based the fictional town of Paradise, in which the novels take place, on Marblehead. Both Paradise and Marblehead are on the coast in Essex County, Cape Ann is visible from them, and each has an annual Race Week yachting event.
Influence on H. P. LovecraftEdit

Horror and fantasy writer H. P. Lovecraft derived great inspiration from Marblehead. Following his first visit in December 1922, he retroactively reconfigured his fictional Kingsport in its own image. As of 1920, Kingsport was an unspecified location on Rhode Island, only mentioned in passing. The name most probably a slight alteration of Kingstown, R.I. Seven years later, Lovecraft described the 1922 impressions of his first experience of Marblehead:

"...the most powerful single emotional climax experienced during my nearly forty years of existence. In a flash all the past of New England—all the past of Old England—all the past of Anglo-Saxondom and the Western World—swept over me and identified me with the stupendous totality of all things in such a way as it never did before and never did again. That was the high tide of my life.".[71]

Lovecraft had it that his recurring character of Randolph Carter, popularly considered an idealized version of Lovecraft himself, grew up in Kingsport. He used Kingsport as a setting for his short stories "The Terrible Old Man" (1920, published 1921), "The Festival" (written 1923, published 1925), and "The Strange High House in the Mist" (1926, published 1931). The poignant conclusion to one of his Randolph Carter stories, the fantasy novella The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (written c.1926, published posthumously in 1943) takes place here.

Contemporary photographs of MarbleheadEdit

External linksEdit


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