Many of the houses in Marblehead’s Old Town have stood since before the Revolutionary War, when this was a center of merchant shipping. Two of these historic homes are open to visitors. Allow at least a full morning to visit Marblehead, but be flexible, because you may want to hang around. A stroll through these winding streets invariably leads to shopping, snacking, or gazing at something picturesque, be it the harbor or a beautiful home. Be sure to spend some time in Crocker Park, on the water off Front Street. Especially in warm weather, when boats jam the harbor, the view is breathtaking. The park has benches and allows picnicking. The view from Fort Sewall, at the other end of Front Street, is just as mesmerizing. The ruins of the fort, built in the 17th century and rebuilt late in the 18th, are another excellent picnic spot.
Just inland, the Lafayette House is a private home at the corner of Hooper and Union streets. Legend has it that one corner of the first floor was chopped off in 1824 to allow Lafayette’s carriage to negotiate the turn. In Market Square, on Washington Street near State Street, the Old Town House has been a public meeting-and-gathering place since 1727.
By car or on ambitious feet, follow Ocean Avenue across the causeway to look at the swanky residential community of Marblehead Neck. Veer right at Harbor Avenue to stay on Ocean Avenue. A counterclockwise loop of about 3 miles will lead you past the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary (tel. 800/AUDUBON [283-8266] or 978/887-9264); look for the tiny sign at the corner of Risley Avenue. Admission is free. You can make another stop at Castle Rock for rocky coastline views or continue to the end of “the Neck,” at Harbor and Ocean avenues, where Chandler Hovey Park has a (closed) lighthouse and a panoramic view.
Marblehead Gets Festive
The Marblehead Festival Of Arts, held the weekend before and including July 4th, includes art contests, live entertainment, fireworks, and a satirical kids’ costume parade called “The Horribles.” Sailing regattas take place all summer. The National Offshore One Design (NOOD) Regatta, or Race Week, falls in mid- to late July and attracts yachting enthusiasts from all over the country. During the Christmas Walk, on the first weekend in December, Santa Claus arrives by lobster boat and Santa and Mrs. Claus serenade Old Town from an upstairs shop window.
Architectural Details -- On the hill between the Jeremiah Lee Mansion and Abbot Hall, notice the private homes at 185, 181, and 175 Washington St. Like the Lee Mansion -- and hundreds of other residences in the tiny downtown area -- these are good original examples of the architecture of the colonial and early national period.
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