Category Archives: Factoids

North of Boston Historical Figures – Crossing the Atlantic

Many incredible historic figures called the North of Boston region home.  From celebrities like “Lily the Pink” and the “Circus Queen” to the infamous Hatchet Gang and Informer of the Deer, we’ve come across quite a few colorful characters in reading up on local history.  This week, we’re bringing you the stories of two brave adventurers from Gloucester who, despite some personal obstacles, each crossed the Atlantic Ocean alone a combined total of three times – Alfred “Centennial” Johnson and Howard Blackburn.

1876 was a big year for the United States.  The anniversary of the country’s centennial, there was much hoopla and cause for celebration.  To celebrate this milestone, a 29-year old fisherman from Gloucester, Alfred Johnson, sought to do what no man in recorded history had done before – a solo sail across the Atlantic Ocean.

Centennial JohnsonÕs dory will be discussed in the tour titled ÒCrossing the Atlantic Alone 1876-1980 Ð The Single-Handed Transatlantic Journeys of Alfred ÔCentennialÕJohnson, Howard Blackburn and Philip Weld,Ó at the Cape Ann Museum this weekend.

The Centennial dory. Photo credit –

Allegedly, Johnson and his friends were playing cards and began to discuss whether anyone could cross the ocean alone in a small, open boat.  Spurred by this his friends’ disbelief that such a feat could be possible, Johnson declared that not only could it be done, but he would be the one to do it.  He purchased a 16-foot dory, named it “Centennial” for the country’s milestone birthday, and set sail on June 15, 1876.  After a stop in Nova Scotia, Alfred “Centennial” Johnson sailed into open water on June 25th.

Local fishermen, who heard of Johnson’s proposed trip, thought it a hoax.  Passing ships were concerned to find the solo man sailing a small boat in open water and attempted to rescue Johnson  who politely refused (much to the crews’ confusion).  A German passenger ship even threw Johnson a few bottles of brandy (this he accepted).

On August 12, Johnson arrived in Abercastle, Wales where he rested for a few days.  On August 21, he arrived (to much hullabaloo)  in Liverpool.  And so, Alfred Johnson completed the first solo sail across the Atlantic Ocean.  When later asked about the trip, Johnson replied “I made that trip because I was a damned fool, just as they said I was.”


Howard Blackburn. Photo via Cape Ann Museum

Johnson’s feat was the stuff of legend until he was overshadowed by the “Man of Iron” himself, Howard Blackburn.  Blackburn crossed the Atlantic twice – he sailed from Gloucester to England in just 62 days in 1899 and then proceeded to break that record by crossing the Atlantic again when he sailed to Portugal in a mere 39 days.

Did we mention that Blackburn had no fingers?  He had lost them in a winter storm while fishing for halibut.  His mittens fell overboard, leaving Blackburn to curve his freezing hands to allow him to hold the oars and row back to shore (a feat which took five days with little food, water, or sleep).  His hands were severely frostbitten and Blackburn lost all of his fingers, both thumbs to the first joint and a toe.

So, as he managed to cross the Atlantic Ocean TWICE without fingers or thumbs, Howard Blackburn became (and rightly so) a symbol of adventure and bravery.  “Centennial” Johnson never stood a chance against a story like that and was quietly swept into historic obscurity.

Alfred Johnson’s Centennial | Dory Man
Johnson Wanted to prove that he could do it alone | Greg Cook


Shine Bright: The Lighthouses of the North of Boston Part III

This month, we’ve introduced you to a few of the North of Boston region’s 12 lighthouses – Salem’s three structures and the lighthouses of Rockport.  This week we bring you three more lighthouses from the southern part of the region – “the ugly duckling” lighthouse, “the heartbreaker,” and the “Lost Light of the North of Boston.”

Marblehead Light (1896)
Chandler Hovey Park (Follett Street) | Marblehead, MA

Marblehead LightIn 1834, four acres of Marblehead Neck were purchased for $375 and were to serve as the location for a new lighthouse to signal the town’s increasingly busy harbor.  This 23-foot brick (or stone, depending on your source) tower was first lit up in October 1835 and was a great asset.  In 1889 alone, the lighthouse keeper was credited with saving 17 lives.

This success, however, was diminished by Marblehead’s affluent residents who started building large houses on the land around the lighthouse.  These tall mansions blocked the flashes of light from the station and a lantern hoisted up a tall mast planted into the ground was a poor substitute.  In 1895, a 100-foot structure was in order and the town could choose between a $8,700 skeletal structure and a $45,000 brick tower.  At nearly $40,000 cheaper, the town went with the skeletal structure (which was completed in 1896).  This current structure was equipped with electricity in 1922 and then fully automated in 1960. Today, the town of Marblehead receives sporadic requests to paint the structure a more becoming white.

Marblehead Light is one of the lighthouses in the region that visitors are welcome to walk right up to.  Chandler Hovey donated the land around the lighthouse in 1947 to Marblehead with the understanding that it would be turned into a public park.  Today, Chandler Hovey Park bears its donor’s name and is a wonderful spot to visit the lighthouse and look over the water.

Hospital Point Light Station (1872)
Bayview Avenue | Beverly, MA |

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Beverly’s Hospital Point Light Station was the third lighthouse built in a series of three structures erected to light Salem Harbor.  The Derby Wharf and Fort Pickering Light Stations were completed in 1871 and Beverly’s lighthouse came the following year.  Hospital Point’s light itself was pulled from a temporary station erected during construction (which includes one of five original Fresnel Lenses still active in Massachusetts).

Hospital Point Light Station probably rivals the Thacher Island Twin Lights for the most unfortunate naming circumstances – it was originally named for a smallpox hospital located on the site that the lighthouse was built.  According to, it is often speculated that:

“Many a Beverly maid’s heart was lost and found on the rocks beneath the faithful light.” But whether this was because Hospital Point was a local lovers’ lane or because women waved goodbye and waited there for their men to return home from sea is unclear.

As the light station is an active Coast Guard navigation aid, it is not readily accessible to the public.  However, during certain events such as Beverly Homecoming (August) and Trails and Sails (September), the station is open for tours.  The light station can be seen in from Bayview Avenue or in the distance from the Salem Willows pier.  The best way to see it, though, is by boat (Mahi Mahi Cruises offers a great Lighthouse and Foliage tour which features Hopital Point Light).

Egg Rock Light (1856/1897)
Egg Rock | Nahant, MA |

There aren't a whole lot of photos available of a lost lighthouse...

There aren’t a whole lot of photos available of a lost lighthouse…

The “Lost Lighthouse” of the North of Boston region, Egg Rock Lighthouse was constructed at the request of Swampscott fishermen to guide them in and out of the Swampscott/Lynn harbor.  This first lighthouse, built in 1856, was burned down in 1897.  A  new one (pictured) was a keeper’s house/light station hybrid built in its place.  For unknown reasons, the light was discontinued and this lighthouse was abandoned in 1922.  It had served as a training site during World War I and was even outfitted with a telephone at the turn of the century, making it seem even stranger that the lighthouse would simply be abandoned.

The lighthouse and cottage were sold for a whopping $5, under the condition that they had to be removed from the island.  Unfortunately, during the move, one of the ropes that was to lower the building onto a barge gave way and the structure crashed into the water.  Apparently, the second Egg Rock Light was just as unlucky as the first.

Bad luck aside, Egg Rock Light did have some lighter, more adventurous moments.  Milo, a dog owned by the first lighthouse keeper, would bark warnings to passing fishermen and even rescued several children during his time at Egg Rock.  The second lighthouse keeper, whose wife was in labor, managed to navigate from Egg Rock to the mainland Nahant during a storm to pick up a midwife.  On the way back, their boat capsized but even then, the expectant father and midwife of them made it back in time to deliver the baby.  A third, most likely apocryphal tale, is of a keeper whose wife died during bad weather.  Unable to leave the island, he put her in cold storage until he was later able to bring her to Nahant for burial.  While in Nahant, he managed to pick up a second wife and bring her back with him.

Shine Bright – The Lighthouses of the North of Boston Part II


The lighthouses of Rockport. Photo via

Dotted along the coast of the North of Boston region are 12 wonderful lighthouses.  We recently introduced you to Salem’s three structures.  This week, we’re bringing you the lighthouses of Rockport.

Straitsmouth Island Light (1896)
Straitsmouth Island | Rockport, MA |

Straitsmouth Island Light. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Straitsmouth Island Light. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Overseeing Rockport’s Straitsmouth Island is the Straitsmouth Island Lighthouse.  A 37-foot stone structure, the lighthouse is the third in a series of unlucky light stations to be built on the island to mark the entrance into Rockport Harbor.  The first lighthouse, built in 1834, was a 19-foot structure erected in the wrong spot.  The location picked was more convenient for the contractor, but was misleading for sailors and other navigators.  The second lighthouse, built in 1851, was an octagonal structure built 87-yards from the first location, was further away from the light keeper’s house, but better-placed for accuracy.  Unfortunately, this one fell into disrepair and was torn down.  The current, third installment, was built upon its foundation. (*Fun Fact: In 1932, the color of the light was converted from white to green.  The current green light flashes approximately every six seconds).

While the lighthouse itself is owned by the town of Rockport, Straitsmouth Island is a bird sanctuary owned by the Mass Audubon Society.  Both the island and the lighthouse are closed to the public, but the lighthouse can easily be seen from Bearskin Neck.

Thacher Island Twin Lights (1861)
Thacher Island | Rockport, MA


Thacher Island Twin Lights. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The only operating twin lighthouses in the United States, the Thacher Island twin lights are a unique feature in Rockport.  Originally sighted by the likes of Champlain and Capt. John Smith, Thacher Island itself got its name from a shipwreck on the island in 1635.  The only survivors were Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Thacher who were “awarded” the island by the General Court as consolation for having lost their children and friends in the wreck (…we don’t know why that was considered a good idea either…).

In 1771, the Island was sold back to the government and two 45-foot lighthouses were erected (the last lighthouses to be built under British rule in the US).  These lighthouses were replaced by the current 123-foot structures in 1861.   An aid to sailors, the structures point to “true north,” allowing navigators to check/adjust their compasses.

Today, Thacher Island is owned by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and is protected wildlife refuge.  However, the island is open to the public June through mid-September and you are welcome to visit via the Thacher Island Association’s launch or your own kayak or boat (there are three guest moorings available).  Depending on the weather, the North tower itself is open to explore.  Camping is also available during “operating” months (amenities are basic as there are no showers, fireplaces, or electricity available).  Be sure to take a tour of the Thacher Island Museum during your visit!

Shine Bright – The Lighthouses of the North of Boston

The North of Boston region is home to 12 lighthouses.  Each of these structures offer wonderful photo opportunities and each has a unique story behind it.  This week, we’re featuring Salem’s three lighthouses…

Bakers Island Light Station (1820)
Bakers Island | Salem, MA |


Photo via Essex Heritage

Salem’s Bakers Island has a colorful history leading up to the 47-foot lighthouse we know today.  Legend has it that the 55-acre Bakers Island was named after a man who was killed by a falling tree.  While there is no evidence that said fatal accident occurred on the island, a man named Baker was killed by falling lumber in Salem in 1640.  If legend is to be believed, the island was thus (morbidly) named in his memory.  Which, in hindsight, probably wasn’t the best of ideas.

In the late 1700’s, a lighthouse was erected on the island.  Call it “the curse of Baker,” but this light station wasn’t terribly effective and there were a number of shipwrecks attributed to the lighthouse.  The Salem Marine Society, believing that two lighthouses would be more effective, lobbied to have a second lighthouse built on the island in 1820 and the lighthouse we know today was erected.  The two lighhouses were referred to as “Ma and Pa Baker.”  In the 1920’s,  however, “Ma Baker” (the original lighthouse) was discontinued and torn down.

Meanwhile, Bakers Island had become a posh summer getaway and visitors flocked to the hotel on the island during the summer months…which burned down in 1906 (the “curse of Baker” strikes again!).  Even without the large hotel, Bakers Island, with its 55 cottages remains a popular summer destination.

However, as Bakers Island is private property, lighthouse enthusiasts were not allowed to visit the light station until very recently when the Bakers Island Light Station was transferred from the US government to Essex Heritage.  With money raised via Kickstarter, Essex Heritage restored the lighthouse and is now inviting the public to access the island and visit the light station via their new landing craft, the Naumkeag.  This two-hour trip includes an hour-long tour of the 10-acre light station and ample photo opportunities.  You can learn more about visiting Bakers Island Light on Essex Heritage’s website.

Fort Pickering Lighthouse (1871)
Winter Island
50 Winter Island Road | Salem, MA


Photo via Wikimedia Commons

In the mid-1800’s, $30,000 was allocated for the construction of three lighthouses in the Greater Salem area – Derby Wharf Light Station (Salem), Hospital Point Light Station (Beverly), and the Fort Pickering Lighthouse.  These small lighthouses were strategically placed to allow ships to enter Salem Harbor at all times of the day.  Today, visitors are welcome to visit Winter Island Lighthouse.  Winter Island, with its public beach, campsites, gift shop, picnic and recreation areas, and events, is a popular Salem destination.  Compared to the larger Baker’s Island Light, Fort Pickering Light appears rather underwhelming but the beautiful scenery of Salem Harbor and Winter Island make for great backdrops for photos of the light station.  Fun fact – for most of it’s “life,” Fort Pickering Light was painted a brown or red color, not the white color we see today.


Derby Wharf Light Station (1871)
Derby Wharf | Salem, MA


Photo via Wikimedia Commons

A “sister lighthouse,” if you will, to Fort Pickering Light, the Derby Wharf Light Station was one of the three light stations built in the 1870’s to aid merchant ships pulling into Salem Harbor.  This uniquely square-shaped station is also, much like Fort Pickering, easily accessible to visitors.  Originally lit via an oil lamp, Derby Wharf Light is completely solar-powered today and flashes a red light approximately every six seconds.

Ipswich and the Revolution

We love sharing about the North of Boston’s vast, rich history.  In honor of Independence Day, we’re going back to the birth of our country and the key role played by the North of Boston region…

We tend to associate the beginning of the American Revolution with Boston, but did you know that the Revolution actually had its roots a little further north?

In 1683, Reverend John Wise was appointed the minister of Ipswich’s Chebacco Parish (which was later to become Essex).  Wise had a the reputation of being confident and outspoken and soon gained immense respect from his congregation. It was also said that he was one heck of a wrestler and allegedly threw a horse over a fence, but that doesn’t have anything to do with this story.


Sign in Ipswich. (Photo:

Horse wrestling aside, a few years after his appointment, Reverend Wise earned his place in history.  In 1689, Sir Edmund Andros was appointed Royal Governor of Massachusetts.  Andros immediately put a “Province Tax” into order, collecting money from each town.  Reverend Wise argued that this tax violated citizens’ rights as Englishmen and that they should not be taxed without representation – a sentiment that was later echoed by outraged colonists leading up to the American Revolution.  Wise led a protest (which included fellow Ipswich-ite Samuel Appleton) and the group was arrested and tried in Boston, imprisoned, and fined for their misconduct.  The town of Ipswich paid Wise’s fines and people in Boston, now outraged and inspired by Wise, had their own uprising and saw to it that Governor Andros was arrested.  Wise had unknowingly started a small spark that would soon lead to the Revolution.

Later on in his memoirs, Reverend Wise wrote:

““The first human subject and original of civil power is the people. For as they have a power, every man over himself in a natural state, so upon a combination they can and do bequeath this power unto others, …and when they are free, they may set up what species of government they please…The end of all good government is to cultivate humanity and promote the happiness of all, and the good of every man in all his rights, his life, liberty, estate, honor, etc., without injury or abuse done to any.”

Sound familiar? Thomas Jefferson was inspired by Wise when he wrote the Declaration of Independence.  Perhaps “WIse” was more than just the good Reverend’s name…

Ipswich History Mural by Alan Pearsall for EBSCO, 2006 Local color dabbed into mural -- "Residents star as characters in painting of historic scenes" By David Rattigan,  Boston Globe ,  January 14, 2007

Ipswich History Mural by Alan Pearsall for EBSCO, 2006
Local color dabbed into mural — “Residents star as characters in painting of historic scenes”
By David Rattigan, Boston Globe , January 14, 2007



The Rev. John Wise of Ipswich

Rev. John Wise


Flowers - Stevens-Coolidge Place, North Andover

Stevens-Coolidge Place, North Andover


Earlier this month, we introduced you to one of the North of Boston region’s best hidden treasures – its numerous gardens!  As we get further into the spring and closer to the peak garden season, here are three more floral gems to visit as you navigate the region’s living history…

Photo by Leah Jones

Photo by Leah Jones

Ropes Mansion Garden
318 Essex Street, Salem
Gardens open year-round

Behind the Colonial Revival-styled Ropes Mansion in Salem’s McIntire Historic District lies a not-so-hidden secret: a formal garden.  Originally built in the Georgian style in 1727, the mansion underwent a Colonial Revival-inspired renovation in 1894.  In 1912, a garden was laid out to reflect the home’s new style.  Surrounding a central sundial, the paths of the garden lead you through grounds displaying a vast array of roses, hydrangea, and delphinium, as well as plenty of benches to relax on and a stocked koi pond.  Fun Fact – Don’t be surprised if the Ropes Mansion looks a little familiar upon your visit.  It was filmed as one of the characters’ homes in the movie “Hocus Pocus.”  (Thank you to the Salem Inn for additional information on this garden).

Atkinson Common fountains - NewburyportAtkinson Common
390 High Street, Newburyport

A popular backdrop for weddings, proms, and family photos, the gardens at Atkinson Common are a Newburyport staple.  In the 1870s, an open field off of High Street was left to the City of Newburyport.  The local families of the Belleville neighborhood worked to convert this blank canvas into a public park and garden and thus the Belleville Improvement Society was born.  For over 100 years, the Society has continued to preserve, maintain, and improve Atkinson Common, with its winding walkways, elaborate gardens, historic gazebo ,and lily pond.

The Common also features a Civil War statue and Soldier and Sailors Tablets to commemorate Newburyport’s Civil War veterans as well as a 50-foot stone observation tower.

Garden - Stevens-Coolidge Place, North AndoverStevens-Coolidge Place
137 Andover Street, North Andover
Gardens open daily, year-round, 8am-sunset.
Home closed to public with the exception of special tours and events

Inspired by the luscious gardens of Europe, the property formerly known as Ashdale Farm transformed into a chic, elegant estate under the care of Helen Stevens.  In the family since the early 1700s and farmed for generations, the property was inherited by Ms. Stevens and underwent a long transformation after she and her new husband, John Gardner Coolidge, made the farm their summer home around 1914.  Stevens, from one of North Andover’s founding families, and Coolidge, a descendant of Thomas Jefferson and the nephew of Isabella Stewart Gardner, were inspired by their travels around the world.  The country house, redesigned by Joseph Chandler (who, as we mentioned in our earlier post, had previously laid out the Seaside Gardens at the House of the Seven Gables), featured art and furniture from the couple’s trips around the world (Coolidge served as a diplomat in Mexico, Nicaragua, Europe, and Asia).  For the gardens, though, Helen Stevens and Joseph Chandler looked specifically towards France.

Featuring numerous perennials, roses, informal shrubs, herbs, fruit trees, and potted greenhouse plants, the gardens recall a French Chateau.  Organized into outdoor “rooms,” the gardens were meant to have a feeling of  “…simplicity and an indescribable air of peace,” according to Chandler.

Upon Helen Stevens Coolidge’s death in 1962, the property was left to the Trustees of Reservations who renamed it the Stevens-Coolidge Place to honor its former owners.  Admission to the property is free (on-site donations welcome).  While visiting the gardens, you may catch a glimpse of the many butterflies and birds attracted to the wide array of plants and flowers.  Foxes, owls, hawks, and frogs have also been known to visit the property as well.  On Fridays and Saturdays, in July and August, visitors are invited to purchase bouquets in the pick-your-own Cutting Garden.

April Showers and May Flowers: The Gardens of the North of Boston (Part I)


Visiting the North of Boston region this spring and summer?  We’ll let you in on a little-known secret – one of the region’s best hidden treasures may be right under your feet.  And now that spring is (finally) here, and the snow is melting away, we can once again enjoy these beautiful, scenic, and incredibly photogenic gems – gardens!  Scattered throughout the North of Boston, these gardens reflect the history and beauty of the region.  Each garden has a unique story to tell, so while you’re in the region this spring, why not visit…

Willowdale garden - Topsfield, MA. Photo by Kristina SmithWillowdale Estate
24 Asbury Street, Topsfield MA

Set in the center of the North of Boston region, the Willowdale Estate is a 4-acre estate located in the spacious Bradley Palmer State Park.  Constructed in 1901 as the summer home of Bradley Palmer, Willowdale is a gem of subtle elegance and great charm.  It is a marvelous venue for weddings and its beautiful garden makes for the perfect backdrop for your outdoor event.   Maintained by the extremely talented Kim, the garden is a picturesque butterfly-attracting wonderland.  Willowdale offers a series of great events; including cooking classes, a Halloween party, and free house tours; throughout the year.  While you are visiting the estate, be sure to take a walk through the garden

Gables flowersSeaside Gardens – The House of the Seven Gables
115 Derby Street, Salem MA
Open year-round

The House of the Seven Gables is a literary and historical landmark that attracts visitors from around the world, but it’s the Gables’ Seaside Gardens that invites visitors to stay a little longer after their tour.  The Gardens reflect four centuries of planting schemes and hearken back to plantings of the Colonial era.  The garden beds were laid out by a landscape architect, Joseph Chandler, hired by the Gables’ founder Caroline Emmerton in 1909.  Emmerton wanted the gardens to be an “oasis of beauty” enjoyed by all and was fastidious in regards to the gardens’ maintenance (these high standards are still in practice today).  The gardens feature a rose trellis, delphinium, sweet William, chrysanthemums, impatiens, lavender, santolina, a Wisteria Arbor, and many more beautiful plants, herbs, and flowers.  Most prominent are the lilacs whose unobtrusive color and lilting scent set the serene environment of the garden.

Gate in Long Hill garden - BeverlySedgwick Gardens – Long Hill
572 Essex Street, Beverly MA
Open daily, year-round, 8am-5pm.  Guided tours offered in the spring, summer, and fall.

Long Hill is a 114-acre property purchased by publisher Ellery Sedgwick in 1916.  Sedgwick’s wife, Mabel, was a talented gardener and horticulturist with an ambitious green thumb who designed a whimsical landscape which continues to inspire 100 years later.  The Sedgwick Gardens are laid out very much like a house – each section is a separate “room,” if you will, with its own distinct features and decoration.  After Mabel Sedgwick’s death in 1937, the gardens were enhanced by the second Mrs. Sedgwick who had an extensive knowledge of rare and exotic plants (Mr. Sedgwick had a thing for green thumbs, apparently…).  Fun Fact: Does the last name sound a little familiar?  Ellery Sedgwick’s older brother’s (Henry Dwight Sedgwick) great-granddaughter is actress Kyra Sedgwick.  And thus, Long Hill is only a few degrees away from Kevin Bacon.

lynch park garden-CH-SUMMER OF 2008 007Rose Garden – Lynch Park
Beverly, MA
Open daily, Memorial Day through Labor Day, 8am-10pm

The 16 acres known today as David S. Lynch Memorial Park were originally known as Woodbury’s Point.  With its seven-gun battery, the fort at Woodbury’s Point was an important location to keep Beverly’s port safe and secure – after the British troops closed Boston Harbor, the coastal town of Beverly had become an important port from which to cut off British supply lines.  By the 20th century, Beverly had become a posh location for Boston’s wealthy to spend their summers.  Many luxurious summer homes were built and Woodbury’s Point became Burgess Point.  The Evans family built one of the finest summer estates on the North Shore on Burgess Point and one of their cottages was rented by none other than President Taft during the summers of 1909 and 1910.  Apparently, Mrs. Evans was not fond of the hoopla and bustle surrounding her celebrity tenant and informed the President that the summer of 1910 would be his last on her property as she was taking down the cottage and putting an Italian rose garden in its place.  President Taft moved to a summer home on Corning Street, the cottage was moved to Marblehead, and the rose garden, with its gorgeous imported plants and shrubs, still stands today.

But wait, you may ask, who was David S. Lynch and where does he come into this story?  Lynch never actually lived at Burgess Point – he was the owner of a leather factory who wanted to make sure that everyone in Beverly had a beautiful outdoor place to visit and enjoy.  When he died in 1942, he left $400,000 to the Lynch Park Board of Trustees to buy and maintain a public park.  At that time, Burgess Point was owned by Beverly Hospital, who found the land expensive to keep up and happily sold it to the LPBoT for $50,000.  The hospital was happy to have the land off its hands and the city of Beverly had a splendid piece of land for everyone to enjoy.


North of Boston Historical Figures – Hatchet Hannah and the Demon Rum

Between 1856 and 2005, Rockport was a dry town.  While its neighbor Gloucester, with its distilleries, breweries, and numerous restaurants, embraced libations, Rockport cast a fearful eye to the past and recalled memories of angry wives and hatchets,

Much as it is today, Rockport in 1856 was a quiet little town.  A fishing village, many of Rockport’s men were fisherman who were only able to work for part of the year.  So how did they spend their free time? Idling and drinking.  Rockport was pretty much isolated from the hustle and bustle of cities like Salem and Newburyport and there was not much else for the men to do with their free time.  Since this mandatory vacation occurred during the harsh New England winter, the men were stuck within the confines of their homes with their increasingly irritated wives who, we assume, didn’t particularly enjoy spending 3 months inside with a drunk fisherman retelling the same story about the fish *this big* they nearly caught 10 years ago.

The mid-1800s saw the rise of the temperance movement so instead of blaming the issue on boredom and lack of productivity, the women of Rockport pointed an angry finger at alcohol.  Meeting in secret, under the guise of dark, the women made plans to rid Rockport of the “demon rum” and marked the lawns of their targets with small, white crosses.


Beneath that snood and calm demeanor is probably a hatchet…

Most irritated and infuriated was Hannah Jumper, a 75 year old seamstress.  Jumper was skilled with a needle and had a talent for making medicines from her herb garden.  She was also enthusiastic, outspoken – a natural leader for Rockport’s prohibitionettes.

On the morning of July 8, 1856, Hannah and her Jumpettes unfurled their large banner decorated with a large black hatched painted on it and red tassels.  The “Hatchet Gang,” as they were known, marched down the streets, toward their targets (homes and businesses where, they suspected, liquor was stored, served, or sold).

The banner wasn’t all that threatening – no one was going to dump all of their liquor because a mild-mannered group of women led by an elderly seamstress said so.  The Hatchet Gang, though, was prepared for this and from beneath their delicate shawls came actual hatchets.

They destroyed every bottle, jug, keg, and cask they could find.

The women raided at least 13 different establishments to the angry threats of the owners.  Not one Jumpette, though, was arrested.  The people of Rockport stood in awe, mouth agape.  Shop owner Jim Brown did try to sue the women on three different occasions.  And three sympathetic juries ruled against him, only to have the verdict overruled twice by higher courts.  The third time, however, was the charm and the jury’s verdict stuck – the women were innocent and Jim Brown had to pay their court costs (which amounted to $346.25).

In 2005, Rockport’s prohibition ended.  The first business to receive a liquor license was, in a strange twist of fate,  the Emerson Inn by the Sea – a hotel that had started out as a tavern but was converted when alcohol was outlawed in town.

(On a side note, any North of Boston historical figure named “Hannah” should probably be avoided…she most likely wields a hatchet and an axe to grind…)


Massachusetts Must-Trys – Candlepin Bowling


This looks inherently wrong to us… (

The internet has introduced us to a world of unknowns – we’ve learned some great things and even more scary ones.  Most importantly, though, the internet has taught us that there is a big, wide world out there where people bowl rather strangely.  This is something we learned first-hand on our first trip to Kings in Lynnfield- alongside the fantastic food and fun atmosphere is a version of bowling not well-known in Massachusetts.

You see, bowling is a little different here…

In post-Civil War America, bowling became very popular  There were many different pin types and shapes to suit a bowler’s preferences.  Shockingly, most bowlers preferred the fatter, bottle-shaped pins which were easier to knock down.  Easier bowling meant that the game easily became boring, so around 1885 billiard room-owner Justin White (of Worcester, MA) sought to make the game a little more interesting by using thinner “candlestick” pins (pictured below) and a smaller, 4-inch ball.

Another Worcester man, John J. Monsey loved the idea and ran with it.  He upped the ball size to 4.5 inches (today’s standard ball size) and popularized the new “version” of bowling throughout the city.  Candlepin bowling quickly spread throughout New England.  According to one source, candlepin bowling tended to be confined to dark basements of buildings.  In the 1950s, a 12-lane alley (with a rollers skating rink) opened in Newburyport.  It was bright, fun, and utilized the new automated pin setting technology.  Other bowling proprietors saw this bowling alley and used it as a model for building similar establishments.  Today, candlepin is played throughout Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Canada’s Maritime Provinces – New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.  It’s a Northeast thing.




So what makes candlepin bowling different from “big ball” (as we call “tenpin”) bowling?  Well, for one, it’s harder. Much, much harder.  The game is played with a smaller, solid ball (a little larger than a softball) and the tall, thin pins are spaced farther apart.  “Wood,” or pins that have been knocked down during your frame, is not removed between each time you bowl (they’re quite helpful in knocking down more pins).  The player bowls 3 times per frame, not 2 as in tenpin, and the maximum score is 300.  The highest recorded score in candlepin bowling is 245 (set in 1984 and matched in 2011).  We average a 60. On a good day.

So, if you are visiting the North of Boston region and are up for a challenge, we highly recommend you try your hand at candlepin bowling. It’s a lot of fun and, in our opinion, one of those hidden gems in the treasure chest of Yankee tradition.


We all scream for…Ice?

When it comes to luxury goods, connoisseurs demand the best-of-the-best.  For the best watch, you buy a Rolex.  The best jewelry? Tiffany’s, Cartier, or Harry Winston. And for the best ice you go to…Wenham?

From circus queens to marketing mavens, deer informants, and the shady history of seafood, we consider ourselves fairly well-versed in the strange history of the North of Boston region.  But even this fun fact had us surprised.  Apparently, in the 19th century, Wenham Lake was the premier place to go for ice.

Mind you, these were the days before refrigeration.  One did not simply “make” ice as we do today – ice had to be “harvested” from, well, frozen water supplies.  Wenham Ice was the first transatlantic ice shipment to arrive in England, thanks to New England’s “Ice King,” Frederic Tudor.  According to one source, when the ice arrived in 1844, the customs crew was so perplexed by the shipment, that the ice completely melted while the crew stood around, most likely scratching their heads and wondering why the heck anyone would import ice.  By most other accounts, only around 75% of the ice was lost in shipment.


We find the similarities quite astounding (Photos: |

Whatever the true story, Wenham Ice was a hit in the UK.  It was considered to be the “purest” as it was crystal clear – a feature taken full marketing advantage of when a block of it was placed in a window display with a newspaper behind it to show that the ice was so pure you could read through it (which a [very bored] group of people did).  Sir Charles Lyell, a noted geologist, upheld this claim of purity when he visited the lake and wrote in 1849 that “The water [of Wenham Lake] is always clear and pure,” he wrote, “and the bottom covered with white quartz-zose sand. It is fed by springs, and receives no mud from any spring flowing into it…”


Pictured: Subpar ice you can’t read through (

And thus, due to its superior quality, Wenham Lake Ice was established as a luxury good.  In 1845, it was written in Wilmer and Smith’s European Times that “the Wenham Lake Ice [is] coming into vogue as a luxury among the aristocracy…”   It was even said that Wenham ice was the favorite ice of Queen Victoria herself.  In fact, Wenham Lake’s ice was so luxurious that in Norway, the name of Lake Oppegard was changed to “Lake Wenham” to cash in on the Wenham ice’s reputation (this was also the first, and we assume last, case of knock-off ice).  To take advantage of its status, the Wenham Lake Ice Company also:

“sold “American Refrigerators or miniature ice-houses” so that the ice might be better preserved by the purchasers. These refrigerators, so ran the advertisement in the Times, “by the aid of a half cwt. of ice weekly, furnishes a provision safe, under the same lock, and at the same temperature, as a wine cooler, where provisions may be preserved for a long time, and wine kept always ready for use, as, undergoing no change of temperature, it may be left for weeks in the refrigerator, without the slightest deterioration.”” (Source)


A futuristic concept for Victorians and the death of the lake ice trade. (

So, what happened?  Why isn’t Wenham known as the booming ice capital of the world?  In 1873, a large fire burned down the ice houses of the Wenham Lake Ice Company.  The total loss estimated around $100,000 and the company wasn’t quite able to recover.  A second blow came with the advent of refrigeration in the late 1800’s, which made the entire ice-harvesting industry seem antiquated, time-consuming, and generally unnecessary (although a few people held on to the belief that lake ice lasted longer).  There was still some ice harvesting from Wenham Lake into the 20th century, but that died out around the 1940s.  And so came the end of the great ice empire of Wenham.

Life in the Victorian Kitchen… (by Karen Foy)
QI: Quite Interesting – Ice
Crystal Blocks of Yankee Coldness
Commercial use of ice – Fresh Pond
Historical Collections of the Essex Institute

Thanksgiving miscellany: The Whipple Pin-up

As we’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, the North of Boston region has a very rich history.  From great literature, to visits from George Washington and military firsts, it’s no wonder that in the 1940s, Life Magazine photographer Walter Sanders was inspired to capture the region’s historical significance.  In summer 1944, Sanders (and model Rose-Ellen Cameron) staged a historic-inspired photo shoot at the Whipple House in Ipswich.  This was the result:

Photo by Walter Sanders

We can only assume that 1944 was a very different time.

According to the article published in the October 2, 1944 issue of Life:

“During the late summer heat wave in Massachusetts LIFE Photographer Walter Sanders took pictures of the Whipple House, historic landmark in Ipswich.  Powers Model Rose-Ellen Cameron, posing as a young Purtain, sweltered under a very modest and heavy dress.  The low, antique ceilings and white-hot floodlights made matters worse.  When the ordeal was finally over, Rose-Ellen was delighted.  “I’m so happy I could jump out that window and kick sky-high,” she remarked.  She did and the pictures below are the result.”

We won’t post the aforementioned pictures below as it becomes painfully obvious that Miss Cameron, well, didn’t have much else on under her “modest and heavy dress.”

We’re still not entirely sure what the purpose of this photo shoot was or whatever happened to the “serious” photos of a demure Puritan girl modeling in a historic home, but we like think that this bit of Thanksgiving “cheesecake” boosted the morale of a soldier or two stationed abroad fighting World War II.  Who needs Betty Grable when you can have Pilgrim Girl?


Looks like we spoke too soon about Walter Sanders and Betty Grable… Photo:

You can check out the full Life article here –

A bit of North of Boston Military History Part III

As we’ve discovered in past blog entries, the North of Boston region has a rich military history dating back to the early settlement days.  But did you know that this history continues on even today?  In honor of Veteran’s Day, we’re bringing you a bit of modern military history intertwined with a beautiful patch of land in Hamilton – Green Meadows Farm.   And where better to get this story than straight from the horse’s mouth?  A very special thank-you to this week’s guest blogger, Green Meadows Farm.  

1The property known as Green Meadows dates back to the 1700’s. The country-style Homestead, just down the street from today’s existing farm, was purchased by Gen. George S. Patton Jr. and his wife Beatrice in 1928 and served as a family vacation spot for many years.  With the start of World War II, Beatrice moved to the Homestead permanently while her husband led his troops across North Africa and later commanded the Third Army to victory across the European Theater. Gen. Patton’s untimely death from an auto accident in 1945 put an end to his plans to retire to Green Meadows after the war. Beatrice continued to live at Green Meadows until her death.

In 1980 Major General George S. Patton, son of World War II’s Patton, his wife Joanne and their five children moved to the Homestead permanently.  Major General Patton had followed in his father’s footsteps, graduating from West Point and then going on to his own distinguished 34 year career in the US Army before retiring to Green Meadows. He was twice awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for valor. His combat service included commands in Korea and Vietnam.

George and Joanne, the daughter of a career Army Officer herself, looked forward to putting down roots. Once settled Gen. Patton decided that the land should no longer be used strictly for leisure. He wanted it to be a community asset for everyone.   Green Meadows Farm was born.

The fact that Gen. Patton knew nothing about farming was not seen as an obstacle by Patton.  He sought out experts, and was eager to learn. While still considered an “amateur” farmer, Patton took his first crop (blueberries) on the road and sold them from the back of a truck at the Topsfield Fair grounds. He hired a farm manager, added crops and started selling from his farm property. This very modest beginning grew over the years to the bountiful Farmstand and CSA you see today at 656 Asbury Street in Hamilton, on the Topsfield/Hamilton line.

More crops were planted, greenhouses added and new fields were plowed. Gen. Patton named each of his fields for fallen heroes with whom he had served in Vietnam – men he never forgot. Beginning with Yano Field in 1984, honoring Sgt. R.J.T. Yano of the Air Cavalry, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, seven fields now honor fellow veterans.

Blackhorse Field is named for the 11th US Cavalry – Maj. Gen. Patton’s Regiment. Wickham Plot honors Corporal Jerry Wickham, killed in Vietnam in 1968, a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor for gallantry in action. Hays Field honors Capt. John Hays, killed in action in 1968.  Hays was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for “exceptional valor.”

GMF Fall

Pilot Field pays tribute to Maj. Gen. Patton’s heroes: the helicopter pilots of the Air Cavalry Troop of the Blackhorse Regiment – men who were key to rescue operations in Nam. The General named his favorite Labrador retriever “Pilot.”

Michelin Field is named after the rubber plantation in Vietnam that was the site of many significant battles involving the Blackhorse Regiment.

After her husband’s death Joanne Patton named a new Green Meadows Field for Operation Troop Support, the Danver’s-based nonprofit that provides care packages, cards and holiday gifts to US troops serving in war zones and across the country.  OTS also conducts a monthly family support group.

The large outdoor display at the Farmstand lets you read about the heroes and see where their fields are located.

2Sadly, Major Gen. George S. Patton passed away in 2004. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. His partner and widow, Joanne Holbrook Patton, keeps his memory alive by her continued stewardship of Green Meadows Farm, his beloved second career.

In 2002 Green Meadows Farm became a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) offering members (shareholders) access to locally-grown organic produce, heritage meat, eggs and flowers direct from the farm in a new way. Members pay for a share of the anticipated harvest. The general public is also welcomed to buy a wide array of produce at the Farmstand. Drop in to see the chickens or try some of the delicious organic soup.

Thirty years after those first blueberry bushes Green Meadows Farm stands alone as the oldest, family-owned certified organic farm, farmstand and education program in the region. We invite you to join us at the Farmstand, in the fields, and at GMF festivals and special events.  Bring the kids for craft time or bring your whole classroom for an educational farm tour; inquire about our Farm Apprentice Program; dine on gourmet organic food thoughtfully prepared at one of GMF’s Farm to Table dinners; join an Elder Hostel eco-tour or book us for an unusual wedding venue and reception. With the holidays fast approaching wreaths, all natural pies, gift baskets will be featured.

Green Meadows Farm salutes Veteran’s and their families on Veteran’s Day and throughout the year.

GMFarm LogoGreen Meadows Farm
656 Asbury Street, Hamilton 01982

flag at farm

Quoth the Raven “Salem, MA”

SalemMA_Graveyard Fall Foliage_credit Teresa Nevic Stavner

Setting a spooky scene – Salem graveyard. Photo by Teresa Nevic Stavner (courtesy of Destination Salem)

Salem, Massachusetts and Halloween go together like chocolate and peanut butter – both are terrific alone and irresistible when they come together.  So, it’s only fitting that we reach into Salem’s rich history for this spooky Fun Fact Friday.

When we think about literature and Salem, Nathaniel Hawthorne usually comes to mind.  But did you know that the master of horror himself, Edgar Allan Poe, was inspired by the seaside city?

In 1830, the grisly murder of the prominent Captain Joseph White swept the nation.  As the trial progressed, it was revealed that  John Francis Knapp had hired Danvers residents Richard and George Crowninshield  to kill White.  John and Joe Knapp (because, it apparently takes 2 sets of brothers to commit a horrible crime), believed that if the immensely rich Captain White died without a will, his money would be thus left to his relatives – most importantly, a Mary Beckford who also happened to be Joe Knapp’s mother-in-law. The idea was that when Mrs. Beckford died, her daughter, Mrs. Joe Knapp would come into the money and the Knapp brothers would be living on Easy Street.

But why bother to kill White?  Wouldn’t his fortune be left to his family anyway?  Well, it wasn’t that simple.  White’s will favored his nephew Stephen.  Were White to die of old age, the bulk of his fortune would be Stephen’s and Mary Beckford’s cut would be much, much smaller.  On a side note, can’t help but wonder how poor Mrs. Beckford felt about all of this.  What was to stop her son-in-law from killing her once she inherited a fortune from her relative’s estate?

Anyhow, to make sure that the will was never found, Joe Knapp stole it from Captain White’s chest…and didn’t realize that people don’t tend to keep very important legal documents just lying around their homes.  The real will was locked away in White’s lawyer’s office.  And Stephen got his money a little sooner than expected.

Ravaged by guilt for what he and his brother had set forth, Joe Knapp wrote a long confession.  Richard Crowninshield (who by now probably realized that $1,000 wasn’t worth killing someone) committed suicide, which authorities took as sign of a confession.  The Knapp brothers and George Crowninshield were brought to trial where they were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.


Webster was a…serious man. (Photo:

During the trial, the nouveau riche Stephen White asked close friend and legal bigwig Daniel Webster to aid in the prosecution.  And by “asked,” we mean he paid Webster $1,000.  He could afford it now.

Webster was a sort of 19th century Johnny Cochran.  He was a passionate showman and a great legal mind.  His dramatic orations and recreations of the crime captivated the courtroom audience and, when published in newspapers, readers from around the country.  One of his more popular orations went a little something like…

“Deep sleep had fallen on the destined victim . . . A healthful old man . . . The assassin enters . . . With noiseless foot he paces the lonely hall . . . and reaches the door of the chamber. Of this, he moves the lock, by soft and continued pressure, till it turns on its hinges without noise; and he enters, and beholds his victim before him . . . The face of the innocent sleeper . . . show[s] him where to strike. The fated blow is given! . . . It is the assassin’s purpose to make sure work . . . To finish the picture, he explores the wrist for the pulse! He feels for it and ascertains that it beats no longer! The deed is done. He retreats, retraces his steps to the window . . . and escapes. He has done the murder. No eye has seen him, no ear has heard him. The secret is his own, and it is safe!  Ah! Gentlemen, that was a dreadful mistake. Such a secret can be safe nowhere . . . True it is, generally speaking, that “murder will out” . . . the guilty soul cannot keep its own secret.”

Sound familiar? The sleeping victim, the madman assassin who would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for his meddling conscience.  We know we’ve heard this story before…

Poe was a little less serious, anyway... (Photo:

Poe was a little less serious, anyway…

And it was called “The Tell-Tale Heart.”  Scholars now note the similarities between case and fictional story and cite that Webster’s oration was a big influence on “The Tell-Tale Heart.”  The crime and story both center on a sleeping old man murdered in the night by a cool, calm, confident assassin.  Both Knapp and the unnamed narrator were also compelled to clear their consciences and admit to the crime due to their weighing guilt and the belief that others could see the wrongdoings even in just their demeanor.

During his oration, Webster also dared “painters and poets” to “Let him draw, rather, a decorous, smooth-faced, bloodless demon; a picture in repose, rather than in action; not so much an example of human nature in its depravity.”  After reading over the widespread and frequently republished speech, Poe could very well have accepted this challenge and met it with his own story that portrays the murderer as a passive narrator who is clearly mad, but not a depraved and inhuman caricature.

The White case also intrigued and inspired Salem resident Nathaniel Hawthorne who closely followed the grisly case that shook his hometown.  Tiptoeing around a big spoiler, one of Hawthorne’s novels features a person normally viewed as pure in thought and deed (a “smooth-faced…picture in repose”) who is consumed with guilt over something they had done and ultimately feels the need to purge him/herself to absolve their conscience.  Reverend Dimmsdale in “The Scarlet Letter.” *Phew* sometimes it feels better to confess and be honest…. (Congrats on finding this Easter Egg, by the way!) 

For more information on the White Trial, check out this article from the Smithsonian Magazine“A Murder in Salem.”  It gives an in-depth overview of the trial and how both Hawthorne and Poe were influenced by it in their writings.  And, for some fun, quick Halloween reading, a copy of “The Tell-Tale Heart.”


But do they have moats? Part 2

We recently delved into the history behind one of the North of Boston’s 4 castlesHerreshoff Castle in Marblehead – an imposing structure inspired by Erik the Red’s Greenland castle and built in the 1920s.  Did you know, though, that nearly 40 years earlier another castle was built on the opposite side of the region in Haverhill? 


Winnekenni Park sits atop a hill off of Kenoza Ave in Haverhill which looks over the scenic Kenoza Lake  and Basin.  The winding road leading to the park will bring you to a strange sight indeed – a medieval castle.  In 1861, chemist, agriculturist, and future-castle enthusiast Dr. James Nichols purchased the Darling Farm (now known as Winnekenni Park).  After an 1870s visit to England, Nichols (much like Waldo Ballard a few decades later) became enamored of the country’s large stone castles and was determined to build on of his own. He wanted to use the many boulders and rocks native to Haverhill and, in 1873, construction of his castle began.

Winnekenni Castle - Haverhill

Winnekenni Castle in the winter

Upon completion in 1875, Nichols christened his summer home “Winnekenni Castle” (after the Algonquin word meaning “beautiful”).  The castle was, and still is, beautiful and is complemented by its lush surroundings.  On a clear day, one is even able to see 17 towns, 3 counties, 3 states, 2 mountains, and the Atlantic Ocean from the rooftop.  Not bad for a simple English-inspired summer home.

Nichols lived in the castle for 10 years before selling the castle and its 27 acres of land to a cousin.  Nichols was in poor health and, we assume, unable to look after such a large property.  The castle and land were then sold to its current owner, the city of Haverhill, in 1895 when it became Haverhill’s first public park  Today, Winnekenni Castle is a popular destination for photographers and castle buffs.  Throughout the year, many concerts, fairs, parties, fundraisers, and other such events are held at the castle.  The castle is also available for private events such as meetings, family gatherings, and weddings. The trails throughout the property are fantastic for snowshoeing, hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing around Kenoza Lake.



Ol’ Sam Appleton had a farm…

DSC_0415The oldest continuously-operating farm in the United States, Appleton Farms was established in 1636 by Samuel Appleton.  Nearly 400 years (and many generations of Appletons) later, the farm stands as both an Ipswich landmark and a wonderful CSA providing shares to more than 800 families and donating more than 10,000 pounds of food annually to local food pantries.  But, as we learned on our field trip last week, Appleton Farms is so much more than the 200 varieties of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers grown and produced.

Perhaps the not-so-hidden gem of Appleton Farms is the Old House.  The oldest part of the house dates back to the late-18th century (there were some later additions in the mid-19th century) but, unfortunately, the house had fallen into disrepair when the farm was gifted to the Trustees of the Reservation.  The house has undergone many renovations and, using many of the Appleton family’s photographs (on view in the exhibition Of Farm & Family: Generations of Appleton Family Portraits), was restored to resemble how it looked when the Appleton family lived there.  Perhaps most exciting is the latest renovation.  In October 2009, the Trustees set out on a “green” renovation and update which included a biomass boiler, 2 solar panels on the roof, and much, much more.  Typically, we associate “going green” with stark, “modern” design.  The Old House renovation has defied this notion by “going green” but retaining the look and character of the original homestead.  Today, the house is LEED Gold-Certified.


The Old House is not the only “green” thing at Appleton Farms.  The farm utilizes organic farming methods, grass-based livestock production, renewable energy production, composting, and so much more.

Appleton Farms also offers 5+ miles of trails known as the Appleton Farms Grass Rides.  From fun summer hikes to winter snowshoeing, the Grass Rides are a wonderful way to explore the natural beauty of Ipswich and Hamilton.  This network of trails consists of forest, wetlands, and open fields.  Horses are welcome on designated trails as is mountain biking.  Dogs are also welcome (but a Green Dogs permit is required to walk dogs).


The cows alone are worth a visit!

There’s so much more we could write about Appleton Farms (from cheese-making to visits with the friendly cows),  but experiencing something is so much better than reading about it (in our opinion).  Now through April 30th, their Visitor Center is open on weekends from 11am-3pm.  The Center is handicapped-accessible and is a great starting point o learning more about the farm through their classroom, research library, and family museum.  While you’re there, do not miss out on a trip to the Farm Store (open Monday-Friday, 11am-6pm, Saturday and Sunday, 10am-4pm) to pick up some of Appleton Farms’ milk, cheese, and beef as well as other locally-produced foodstuffs, art, and crafts.


Did we mention how delicious the cheese (seen here being made on-site) is?


   This learning space is a fun, educational environment for little farmers

We regret to say that our time at Appleton Farms was not nearly long enough – it would take at least a weekend to fully explore and enjoy all that the farm has to offer.  Even that weekend would not be enough as each season brings with it new crops, events, scenery, and activities.  Whatever time of year you plan to visit (and we highly recommend that you do!) be sure to check out their event calendar for great activities for all ages.

DSC_0475Upcoming events include:

Farmstead & Old House Tour – October 19, 11am-12:30pm

Mini Moos – October 25, 10-11am

Pasture to Plate: Cheese Making Tour – October 26, 2:30-4:30pm

Be sure not to miss their Appleton Cooks program!  They offer everything from cooking classes and workshops, to harvest-to-table dinners in the field, Friday night farm dinners, and other (incredibly delicious) events throughout the year!

(Did we mention that Appleton Farms is one of the best spots in the area for fall foliage?  A mid-October visit will  reveal a terrific landscape of yellows, reds, and oranges).


George Washington Slept Here, Too (Yes, really!)

As we explored in an earlier blog post, George Washington really got around.  1789 saw him on a good will tour of New England and, more specifically, the North of Boston region.  After making his way up through Salem, Lynn, and Beverly, Washington paused in Newburyport for a sleepover at the Tracy House (known today as “the Newburyport Public Library”).  So, what happened next?

From Newburyport, Washington trekked over the border into New Hampshire (ot to take advantage of some tax-free shopping, we assume).  After visits to Portsmouth and Exeter, the President made his way back to Massachusetts, pausing to wrtte “a jealousy subsists between this Town [Exeter] and Portsmouth” (luckily Washington didn’t bring up the Phillips vs. Phillips rivalry of Andover, MA and Exeter, NH!). 

Fall2.Haverhill 2013.Alison Colby-Campbell of The Heartbeat of Haverhill

A “pleasant village” indeed! Photo by Alison Colby-Campbell

Once over the boarder and in the Bay State, Washington also made his return to the North of Boston region.  Washington’s first stop was to be in Haverhill but rumor had it that the President would just skip over the Merrimack Valley cities on his way to Concord.  Haverhill residents were pleased to hear a popular townsman speeding through town on his horse yelling “Washington is coming, Washington is coming!”  Townspeople, thrilled that it wasn’t the British coming this time, flooded the streets, eager to welcome the visiting President.  George Washington finally arrived in Haverhill around 2:30pm (just in time for…well, we’re not sure. But all of our sources thought this fact imperative, so we’ll include it too). 

Upon his arrival, Washington took some time to explore Haverhill, remarking “Haverhill is the pleasantest village I have passed through.”  He spent the night at Harrods Tavern (now the site of the Pentucket Bank).  The next morning, Washington departed Haverhill and headed across the Merrimack River to Andover where he visited the home of Massaschusetts Senate President Samuel Phillips, father of Samuel Phillips Jr. who founded Phillips Andover Academy (we hope that Washington had the good taste not to mention his earlier visit to Exeter, where Phillips Sr.’s brother/family rival founded his own Phillips Academy).  

Harold Parker in North Andover - Jeff Folger

Some of the cultivated land between Haverhill and Andover – aka, North Andover. Photo by Jeff Folger

Andover marked the end of George Washington’s visit to the North of Boston region.  Of his visit to the Haverhill/Andover area, he wrote  “The Country from Haverhill to Andover is good, and well cultivated. In and about the latter (which stands high) it is beautiful. A Mile or two from it you descend into a pine level pretty Sandy, and mixed with Swamps…”

After leaving our region, George Washington then went on to Lexington, Billerica, Watertown, Needham, and other towns before ending his Massachusetts trek.  While he did have only good things to say about Newburyport, Haverhill, and Andover, his impression of the state was…well, less than enthusiastic.  “The Roads in every part of this State are amazingly crooked, to suit the convenience of every Mans fields; & the directions you receive from the People equally blind & ignorant.”  Well, at least we know Massachusetts roads aren’t a modern problem…


(A very special “thank you” to Hub Trotter for compilinh such a detailed and thorough account of Washington’s trip)

Finding Rockport


Photo:b c3e428ef1773b070e211dee34ebcb36.jpg

We have seen “Finding Nemo” more times than we care to admit.  We can tell you that the scuba mask belonged to one “P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney,” turtles can live to be over 100 years old, and we’re pretty sure that we speak whale at a conversational level (fluency is not terribly far off).  However, we recently learned that everyone’s beloved little clown fish from the Great Barrier Reef is actually a lot closer than we thought – just a hop, skip, and jump away in Cape Ann.

Let us jump back a bit and explain.  Pixar filmmaker, and “Nemo” director and co-writer, Andrew Stanton is a Rockport native.  There must be something in the air in the North of Boston region as another famous film figure, Louis B. Mayer, also has roots in the area (having started in the film business by operating a chain of theaters in Haverhill).  If you take another, closer, look at “Nemo” you realize that Stanton hid quite a few nods to his Cape Ann hometown in the film. does a fantastic job of pointing out all of these little tidbits – check out their website for even more awesome “Finding Nemo” factoids.

Take the dentist’s office, for example. The fish tank in the office was inspired by a similar fish tank Andrew Stanton saw at his own dentist’s office in Rockport as a child.  In one scene, from within the tank, you can even see that there is a photo of famous Rockport landmark Motif #1 on the wall.


Also visible in the waiting room is a lamp that looks suspiciously like one of the Thacher Island twin lighthouses.


One final nod is in the scene where all of the fish are recounting Marlin’s journey to find Nemo.  In that scene, there is a group of lobsters recalling how at one point in the journey, everything was “wicked dahk.”  You’d be hard-pressed to find lobsters with Massachusetts accents in Sydney Harbor (or talking lobsters in general, but that’s beside the point).


We may have met one of these guys at a lobster bake at the Gloucester House…

Next time you’re watching “Finding Nemo,” see if you can spot any of these Rockport shoutouts

A very special thank you to Discover Gloucester for their help in getting us started on this blog!




A bit of North of Boston Military History Part II

Last month, we delved into the North of Boston’s historical contributions to the US military.  As we wrote, Salem is the birthplace of the National Guard while Newburyport is officially designated as a “Coast Guard City” (and has a signed proclamation from 1965 by then-President Johnson declaring it the official birthplace).  But what about the US Navy?  5 (yes, 5) cities/towns across the East Coast claim to be the Navy birthplace – two of them, Beverly and Marblehead, are right within our region (the other 3 cities are Whitehall, NY, Providence, RI, and Philadelphia, PA).  So, who’s correct?

Let us first look into each city’s claims.  Providence, RI asserts its title as the site of the first call for the establishment of a Navy.” In other words, Providence was the first to say “Hey. We should probably have some sort of amphibious military branch.”  Not to discredit our smallest state, but after reading into the history of the Navy, Providence’s claim appears to be the weakest. 


HMS Hannah. Photo credit.

In September 1775, George Washington ordered the HMS Hannah to be outfitted as a war ship.  The Hannah was built, outfitted in, and sailed out of Beverly.  However, it was built by a contractor from Marblehead and manned by a Marblehead crew.  In our opinion, the two coastal towns worked together to send out the Hannah under Washington’s command.  There’s just one slight hitch – George Washington was commander of the Continental Army.

Around the same time, another section of the Continental Army, under the soon-to-be-strongly-disliked Benedict Arnold, undertook some maritime endeavors on Lake Champlain in Whitehall, NY, the basis for Whitehall’s claim to the birthplace title.  Both military groups, as we have mentioned, were under the Continental Army.  There was a Continental Navy established in October 1775 in Philadelphia, PA.  The first ships were bought and outfitted in Philadelphia.  This leads many to cite Philadelphia as the birthplace of the US Navy.

So, who gets to claim the title?  The city who had the idea first?  The city who first established a military branch with the word “navy” in the title?  Or the cities who first brought their military efforts to the sea? When discussing the origins of the Navy, it’s not as simple as just saying “this city is the birthplace.”  From our research, the official origins of the Navy seem to be a hot button issue and the Navy itself does not claim any one city as its birthplace.  According to a US Navy website, “Unquestionably the contributions of all of these as well as of other towns to the commencement of naval operations in the American Revolution deserve recognition in any naval history of our country.  Perhaps it would be historically accurate to say that America’s Navy had many “birthplaces.”  In the end, it’s fair to say that each city played an important role in American naval history and all contributed something to the creation of the US Navy.  That being said, in our (biased) opinion, Beverly and Marblehead share the honor of being the Navy cities.  Under the command of George Washington, they made the first aquatic military endeavors in US history. 


Birthplace of the US Navy

Navy birthplace in dispute; 5 towns lay claim

Beverly or Marblehead? Birthplace of American Navy still up for debate

The Birthplace of the American Navy

Is the birthplace of the U.S. Navy in upstate New York?

Maritime History and Mansions at the Marblehead Museum

museum galleryMarblehead is a small coastal town with a lot of charm and personality.  Its rich history (which includes, among its numerous maritime feats, the birth of the US Navy), scenic coast (which has inspired artists for centuries) and beautiful homes are all brought together at the Marblehead Museum & Historical Society.  This week, we took a trip to Marblehead to visit the Museum and learn a bit of our region’s fascinating history.

Marblehead is known for its historic maritime contributions and fishing industries but did you know that it was also once a hub for shoe-making?  We usually associate shoes with the Merrimack Valley area of our region – Haverhill was even once known as the “Shoe Queen City” – but as the fishing industry waned a bit in the 19th century, Marbleheaders turned to making shoes for additional income – an industry that was soon to thrive.  This fascinating bit of history is the subject of the Museum’s current exhibit , “Fishing and Shoemaking in Marblehead” (on view through September) at their Washington Street gallery.  This exhibit is part of the Museum’s Marblehead 101 series which was created to introduce and showcase’s Marblehead’s unique history.

frostHoused in the Museum’s main location is also the J.O.J Frost Folk Art Gallery, a permanent collection of paintings and sculptures by Marblehead native J.O.J Frost.  A fascinating figure, Frost did not begin his artistic career until he was 70.  He was inspired by Marblehead and his boyhood memories of the town after the Civil War and, untrained as an artist, used materials he had on hand (such as house paint and found wood scraps) to create his pieces.  What Frost lacked in training, he more than made up for in talent – his pieces are a lovely glimpse into history, perhaps a bit idealized, but nevertheless portraying the beautiful simplicity of Marblehead at the end of the 19th century.  The Gallery is open year-round – Tuesday-Saturday, 10-4 June through October, and Tuesday-Friday, 10-4 November through May.

wallpaperMany jewels decorate the Marblehead Museum’s crown but, in our opinion, the brightest is the Jeremiah Lee Mansion, a breathtaking Georgian home located across the street from the Museum’s main building.  Built in 1768 for Marblehead’s wealthiest merchant and ship owner, Jeremiah Lee, the Mansion is a grand piece of architecture with a lovely summer garden in the back.  And, spectacularly, the mansion stands in a near-original state, a testament to the expert craftsmen and artists whose original work (which includes gorgeous handpainted wallpaper) has lasted for centuries and the careful care of the mansion’s 3 owners in the past ~250 years.  Unlike most historic homes, the entire Jeremiah Lee Mansion (all 17 rooms) is on view for visitors.  Tours of the Mansion are available June through October, Tuesday-Saturday 10-4.

No trip to Marblehead would be complete without a tour of the Mansion – we cannot recommend it enough!  The historic significance and careful preservation make the Mansion a North Shore must-see for historians and architecture enthusiasts alike.  The Mansion is so perfectly and wonderfully decorated that walking through the doors is like stepping back in time.  The lavish entry alone, with its beautifully hand-painted wallpaper and  meticulously hand-carved stair railings, is enough to make your jaw drop.


Fun Fact – George Washington may not have slept at the Lee Mansion, but he did pay a visit to Marblehead’s wealthiest citizen. Washington visited Marblehead to thank the people for their contributions to the Revolutionary War.  And he was certainly not the first famous figure to visit the Mansion.  A shipping merchant, it was likely that Lee was involved in transporting arms for the Colonial army.  He met with several Revolutionary War leaders and it was after one of these meetings in Lexington that Lee died.  Strangely enough, none of Jeremiah Lee’s personal papers exist – it is believed that he instructed his wife to burn them upon his death as they contained information about some of these secret dealings and incriminating evidence that Lee was involved with the Colonial rebellion against the British.

The Marblehead Museum is also preserving history dated to another important American war, the Civil War.  The G.A.R & Civil War Museum is also open for visitors on select dates throughout the year.  The G.A.R (Grand Army of the Republic) was an organization formed to provide support for Civil War veterans and their families – an important early step in supporting our veterans. The G.A.R. room is preserved just as it was when it last held a meeting in the 1930s and the Museum features uniforms, weapons, and period images on display.

For more information on the Marblehead Museum & Historical Society, please visit  Be sure to keep up with the Museum’s upcoming events at

Thank you to the Marblehead Museum for inviting us to visit (and for the fantastic tour) and for supplying the photos for this blog! 

Taking in the views at the Emerson Inn by the Sea

innNestled on a quiet street in Rockport is the Emerson Inn by the Sea.  As the name suggests, this historic inn is an oasis of relaxation and tranquility with unparalleled clear views of the ocean.

The Inn is named after transcendentalist author Ralph Waldo Emerson who visited Rockport in the the mid-1800s with friend Henry David Thoreau (on an apparent vacation from Walden Pond) when it was known as the Pigeon Cove House.  The House itself was a tavern before Hannah Jumper and her teetotalling Hatchet Gang raided Rockport, crusading against the “demon rum” and leaving the small town “dry” until 2005.  In the wake of Ms. Jumper, owner William Norwood turned the popular Pigeon Cove tavern into a boarding house.  After Norwood’s death, the Inn was sold to a Mrs. Robinson (no, not that Mrs. Robinson) who had the building moved from Pigeon Cove to its current location where it was extensively renovated and reopened as the Hotel Edward a name that stuck until 1964 when the new owners, the Wemyss family, renamed it after Emerson’s visit nearly 100 years prior.  We were lucky to get a first-hand tour of the Inn from current owner Bruce Coates.

pic_rms_kc_2Open year-round, the Emerson Inn by the Sea features 36 rooms and suites, each carefully and brightly decorated with antiques and clever reproductions which recall the simple elegance of the turn-of-the-century.  Each room is appointed a private bathroom, air conditioning, telephone, data port, wireless high-speed internet, cable television, and more – all modern luxuries that, along with the relaxing environment, help make your stay comfortable and serene.

Part of what sets the Emerson Inn apart from similar accommodations is the environment.  From the moment you walk through the front doors, you are greeted by the friendly staff (all eager to help make your stay memorable and serene).  Nothing at the Emerson Inn is rushed or hectic – the atmosphere is very laid back and casual.

Feeling stressed and unable to lay back and relax on your trip? Be sure to make an appointment at Le Petite Spa (located at the Inn) and enjoy a soothing massage from one of their wonderful massage therapists.

DSC_0366Perhaps the cherry on the Emerson Inn’s cake is their Grand Cafe.  The Boston Globe surmised it the best when they wrote that “Looking out over a garden and sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean, there are few more charming and picturesque settings than the one from this coveted seat at Emerson Inn By the Sea… The Grand Café has raised the standard for restaurants in Rockport.” Even if you are just in Rockport for a day trip, be sure to stop by the Cafe.  Breakfast is available year-round (chef Gail’s fried egg sandwiches cannot be beat!) and the new lunch menu is available from 12-3pm.  Looking to spend a romantic evening with that special someone?  Stop by the Grand Cafe for dinner (available Tuesday-Sunday).  Their Wine Spectator Award of Excellence-winning wine menu has the perfect libation to complement your romantic meal.  

Whether you’re planning a cozy romantic getaway or a wedding, conference, or special event, the Emerson Inn, with its comfortable rooms and unparalleled views, is the perfect place to stay and take in the beauty and culture of Rockport and Cape Ann.

For more information on the Emerson Inn by the Sea, please visit

For a list of their wonderful vacation packages, click here.


View from the Emerson Inn rooftop


Fun Fact!  Remember the Hatchet Gang?  While Rockport remained a dry town for over a century, this prohibition was repealed in 2005.  The Emerson Inn was actually the first Rockport business to receive a liquor license – a funny turn of events, seeing as the property started out as a tavern! 

A bit of North of Boston military history



For today’s “Fun Fact Friday” on our Facebook page, we asked our followers if they knew the National Guard originated in Salem, MA. Indeed, last year, President Obama signed a bill naming Salem as the official birthplace of the National Guard.  In 1636, the North, South, and East Regiments of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was formed – these three regiments first convened on Salem Common (a meeting celebrated by National Guard members every April on the Common).

But did you know that two other military branches also trace their roots back to the North of Boston region?

In 1791, the Massachusetts, a vessel built in Newburyport, was launched into service under the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service – a group that later evolved into the US Coast Guard.  That, coupled with Newburyport’s other notable maritime endeavors and bustling 18th century port, has given the city much reason to be proclaimed the birthplace of the Coast Guard.  This title, despite the historical evidence to back it up, is not “official.”  The Massachusetts was just one of seven vessels launched in 1791 – three of which may have launched before Newburyport’s cutter.


Photo: commons/8/87/Custom_House_Maritime _Museum.jpg

While Newburyport does have a very strong claim to the title of being the birthplace of the US Coast Guard (along with a signed 1965 proclamation by then-President Johnson), the Coast Guard itself does not name any one location as it’s official birthplace.  Instead, in 2012, Newburyport was honored by the Coast Guard’s Commandment’s Proclamation declaring the city “A Coast Guard City” during the celebration of the Coast Guard’s 222nd anniversary at the Custom House Maritime Museum.  Newburyport was the 14th city to be bestowed this honor, but, in our opinion, if any one of these cities were to be declared the birthplace, it would be Newburyport.

So, what about the third military branch with regional roots?  That would be the US Navy.  And for naval, military, and local history buffs, the distinction of being called the birthplace of the Navy is a tough battle with 5 (5!) cities laying strong claims to the title; 2 of which are neighbors within the North of Boston region.  We will delve right into that sticky situation in Part 2 of this blog series.


George Washington slept here… No, really, he did.

Wandering though Massachusetts, there are probably more claims that “George Washington slept here” than there are dropped r’s and Red Sox hats combined.  And while a good number of these claims are accurate and truthful, many of them turn out to be wishful thinking (or deceptively honest: there had to have been more than one “George Washington” traveling about in the 18th century).  Nevertheless, George Washington really did sleep here.  And by “here,” we mean in the North of Boston region.


John Cabot’s house. (Photo: Beverly Historical Society)

In 1789, the newly-elected President seems to have been on a good will tour of New England. October found him in Lynn and Salem where he was guided by Andover native, Captain Peter Osgood.  From Salem, Washington crossed the bridge into Beverly where he was the guest of George Cabot.  Unfortunately, Cabot’s house no longer stands – however, his brother John’s house, located diagonally across the street, is still there and currently houses the Beverly Historical Society (it’s a beautiful house and warrants a tour!).  There is still, though, a stone marker in Beverly commemorating Washington’s visit to Cabot’s cotton mill (which, like his house, is no longer there.  We’re guessing Cabot wasn’t a lucky man…).

After Beverly came Ipswich where Washington purchased some lace for his wife.  The lace was used to decorate a cape of Martha’s (the cape is currently kept at Mount Vernon but is too frail for display.  Had it been owned by George Cabot, it would have fallen apart).  George Washington continued northward on his tour after Ipswich.  On the final leg of his North Shore tour, Mr. Washington went to Newburyport.


Washington statue. Photo:

After much pomp and circumstance, Washington spent the night at the State Street home of the Tracy family.  The spacious house was built in 1771 and currently houses the Newburyport Public Library.  “Say what?” you must be thinking. The library has gone through a few additions in the past few centuries but the older, main part of the library was, in fact, the Tracy House.  And thankfully, wasn’t owned by George Cabot.  So, to make a long story short, George Washington slept in the Newburyport Library.  Today, there’s even a statue of Washington close to the Bartlett Mall (on the corner of High Street and Pond Street) to commemorate this historic visit.

In visiting the Town of Newburyport,” Washington wrote. “I have obeyed a favorite inclination, and I am much gratified by the indulgence. In expressing a sincere wish for its prosperity, and the happiness of its inhabitants, I do justice to my own sentiments, and their merit.”


There is no record to verify that the purple trees were there when Washington was… (Photo:

Additional factoid – Washington wasn’t the only President to visit the Tracy House: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were also guests of the Tracy family. (


What’s in a name?

Tucks Point in Manchester

Tucks Point

Many of the 34 cities and towns of the North of Boston region were once known by different names: Salisbury was once “Colchester,” Danvers was “Salem Village,” and Lynn was, in a confusing turn of events, incorporated as “Saugus.”  The beautiful coastal town of Manchester-by-the-Sea was once called…”Manchester.”

Okay, so originally, Manchester-by-the-Sea was known as “Jeoffereyes Creeke”.  That name did not last long and the town was renamed “Manchester” in 1645.  But why the addition of “by the sea”?

Aside from Rhode Island, each New England state has a town called “Manchester.”  During the days of railroad travel, this became a little confusing (especially since Manchesters New Hampshire and Massachusetts are only 65 miles apart).  Railroad conductors thus began to call Manchester, MA “Manchester-by-the-Sea.”  This visually descriptive name helped to differentiate Manchester, MA from the others.


Manchester, Singing Beach Moonrise credit Dale Blank

Singing Beach – Dale Blank

The people of Manchester liked the descriptive name and took a fancy to it.  Manchester was a popular seaside resort town frequented by everyone from presidents and politicians to actors at the turn of the 20th century and the new name seemed to suit the town well in everyone’s opinion.

By “everyone” we mean “everyone but Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes.”  Holmes thought the name pretentious and would address letters to Manchester friends from “Boston-by-the-Charles.”

Manchester officially became Manchester-by-the-Sea in 1989 – so today, only Massachusetts and Rhode Island are the only two New England states without a town called “Manchester.”

(Additional Fun Fact: each New England state does have a town called “Warren”)


This Old First Period House


Coffin House (1678), Newbury. Photo from

For today’s “Fun Fact Friday” on our Facebook page, we did a post on how Ipswich has the most “First Period” homes in the country.  But, does “First Period home” mean?

“First Period” generally refers to the first period of settlement in the United States – the early 1600’s-early 1700’s.  Due to this early time period in American history, “First Period” architecture is only found in the areas of the United States settled before 1700 and most of these structures are found in coastal New England

Historic New England has a fantastic Architectural Style Guide which covers the style and characteristics of the “First Period” (or “Post-Medieval English”).  The structures are wood-framed and covered with clapboard or shingles (due to the abundance of wood).  The homes are typically two stories tall and have chimneys located in the center of the home (the best and most efficient location to heat the entire home).  The homes also feature steep roofs and small windows with diamond panes.


Claflin-Gerrish-Richards House, Wenham. Photo from

Historic New England also has a fantastic slideshow on their website, featuring great examples of “First Period” homes.  Many of these homes in Essex County are open to the public on “17th Century Saturdays”, the first Saturday of the month from June-October.


Whipple House (1677), Ipswich

Rebecca Nurse House, Danvers

Rebecca Nurse Homestead, Danvers

The Terrible Truth About Lobster


Lobster bake at the Gloucester House

Were seafood aware of the divine right, lobster would be king.  On the North Shore, we are lucky to have some of the best lobster  – be it a buttery-delicious lobster roll at Woodman’s of Essex, Turner Seafood’s specialty baked lobster, or the quintessential New England lobster bake at the Gloucester House.

While today, it is considered a delicacy, lobster has a dark past which would probably shock many a lobster enthusiast.  …Okay, maybe not “shock,” but it would come as a surprise that lobster is the Cinderella of crustaceans, once considered so worthless and repulsive that even servants and slaves turned their noses up at it.

When the settlers first arrived to Massachusetts in the 17th century, lobster was abundant.  Lobster would wash right up on shore in big piles and people would just pick them up and bring them home for dinner.  As we have learned with commemorative Elvis plates and coins sold on late-night TV, when there’s a lot of something to go around, it depreciates in value.  This abundance, combined with the fact that the crustacean looks like an insect (the word “lobster” even comes from the Old English word “loppestre,” meaning “spidery creature.”) made lobster a poor man’s dish, only suited to feed slaves, servants, prisoners, and children.  We’d like to think that, when it came to the children, lobster was the 18th-19th century equivalent of lima beans or brussel sprouts.  It is said that many servants, we assume taking full advantage of their societal station over prisoners, slaves, and kids, had stipulations in their contracts stating that they would not eat lobster more than 2-3 times a week.


Eating lobster aboard the Schooner Lannon

All of this changed in the late 18th century with the railroad.  Lobster was cheap and plentiful (and often canned, taking its place alongside tuna and Spam), making it a good food to serve on trains.  Passengers from around the country weren’t aware of New England’s aversion to lobster and found the seafood quite tasty.  Mind you, New Englander’s issues with lobster had nothing to do with flavor or taste – their dislike stemmed from the fact that it was cheap and looked like a bug.  When lobster caught on with the fancy railroad travel crowd, the upper class in Boston and New York jumped on the bandwagon, cementing lobster’s place as a seafood delicacy.

The story, however, does not necessarily end there.  With this new-found popularity, lobster prices rose higher and higher.  When the Great Depression hit, people just couldn’t afford to buy lobster.  What goes up must come down and, by World War II, canned lobster was being pushed on reluctant soldiers stationed abroad.

Unlike many other foods during the second World War, however, lobster was not rationed.  With not a lot of other choices, people began eating lobster and, once again, realized that it was quite tasty.  Lobster caught its second wind and once again rose in popularity among high society and celebrities.  Today, we still consider lobster a delicious delicacy.

Sources: A Taste of Lobster History

How Lobster Got Fancy

North of Boston Historical Figures – The Circus Queen


Gert Swasey’s Haverhill Citizens Hall of Fame plaque.

Long before the days of television and motion picture stars, circus performers were among the celebrities of the day.  Circuses were popular, being a relatively inexpensive form of entertainment, and there was a mysterious and off-beat glamour surrounding the performers.  One of the brightest circus stars of the 19th century was Helen “Gert” Swasey, the Big Top Queen, whose bareback riding and skill in training horses brought her fame and fortune when she traveled with Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey’s “Greatest Show on Earth.”

Swasey was born in Haverhill in 1855.  As a young girl, she practiced riding her horse on her family’s spacious lawn and was often seen, atop her horse, galloping around town.  She attended Bradford Academy, but grew bored and began to hate school.  Apparently, simply quitting school was not a possibility, so Gert Swasey read up on the school rules and found an obscure one stating that married students would be expelled.  Well, that was good enough for her and she found herself a man.

Neither the school nor Mr. and Mrs. Swasey took kindly to the 16 year old’s marriage.  It’s not terribly clear from our research, but it seems as though the Swasey’s had their daughter’s marriage annulled and she was sent to live with an aunt in Illinois.

Still not satisfied with her lot in life, Swasey managed to do what most of us have threatened our parents we’d do – she ran off and joined the circus.  Swasey found an ad in the newspaper looking for circus performers and moved to Chicago to join up with them.

Gert Swasey’s past experience with horses paid off in the circus.  She was an expert bareback rider and would even train her horses to jump through rings of fire.  Within a few years, she was a star, touring with the “Greatest Show on Earth” and earning $20,000 per year (a great sum for the late 1800’s – a little over $500,000 in today’s money).

Whoever said that “all good things must come to an end” must have known Gert Swasey personally.  As the beautiful, glamorous star aged, her career began to taper off.  Younger performers were coming into the circus and Swasey found herself being pushed out.  She left the “biz” to care for her dying father and legal matters regarding his estate seemed to have drained her fortune.  We can’t help but assume that, like many people who suddenly find themselves “in the money,” Swasey was a little careless and indulged herself in expensive clothes, jewelry, parties, etc.  Once her circus career ended and the money stopped coming in, she soon found herself flat broke.

With no income and her fortune gone, Swasey took any job she could find, including scrubbing floors.  She adopted a small family of alley cats and disheveled dogs and made the newspapers again in the 1920s when she was sued for $90 in back rent and facing eviction.  She was saved by a friend’s generosity and continued to live in obscure poverty until her death in 1934.

With seemingly no family to take care of her funeral, the city of Haverhill paid for the burial costs and buried Gert with her parents in Linwood Cemetery.  Poet Winfield Townley Scott immortalized her in the poem “Gert Swasey” – “To travel like a gypsy/ To dress like a queen/ To see all the world that she’d never seen/ That was never the world where she had been.”

Sources: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – February 1, 1926

St. Petersburg Evening Independent – April 21, 1934

Legendary Locals of Haverhill


All it needs is a partridge…

Most fruit trees typically live for 100 years, if cared for properly.  They are susceptible to weather, insects, and fungal diseases, and are generally lucky if they celebrate their centennial.  The Endicott Pear Tree, however, did not receive this memo and has managed to live for nearly 400 years.


Photo: Click here

The tree, located in Danvers, was planted by Massachusetts governor, John Endicott, around 1630 and is still going strong.

The tree is mind mindbogglingly tenacious and has survived centuries of abuse – both from the temperamental New England weather and vandals.  It was attacked by hurricanes numerous times in the 19th century and hit severely by one in 1934.  After the last hit, it managed to regrow from the mangled trunk.  In the 1960’s, vandals cut off the tree’s branches and cut down the trunk to 6 feet above ground.  Yet again, the spunky pear tree regrew.  How’s that for determination?

Aside from being the oldest of its kind, the Endicott Pear Tree also has the distinction of having been cloned.  It’s clone is also doing quite well and it will be interesting to see if the clone manages to outlive us all as well.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Endicott Pear Tree, to us anyway, is the fact that it’s a living treasure from our colonial past.  Yes, we have houses, writings, and artifacts dating back from the same time period, but it’s fascinating to know that something has physically lived and survived for all of this time.