Marblehead is a coastal New England town in Essex County, Massachusetts. Its population was 19,808 at the 2010 census.
A town with roots in commercial fishing and yachting, Marblehead was a major shipyard and is often referred to as the birthplace of the American Navy, a title sometimes disputed with nearby Beverly. Marblehead was once the fishing capital of Massachusetts. It is also the origin of Marine Corps Aviation. Three US Navy ships have been named USS Marblehead. A center of recreational boating, it is a popular sailing, kayaking and fishing destination. Several yacht clubs were established here in the late 19th century, which continue to be centers of sailing.
It is home to the Marblehead Light, Fort Sewall, Little Harbor, Marblehead Neck Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary, Crocker Park, and Devereux Beach. Archibald Willard’s famous painting The Spirit of ’76 currently resides in Abbot Hall.
Marblehead was originally called Massebequash after the river which ran between it and Salem, the land was inhabited by the Naumkeag tribe of the Pawtucket confederation under the overall sachem Nanepashemet. But epidemics in 1615–1619 and 1633, believed to be smallpox, devastated the tribe. Numerous shell mounds and burial sites have been found throughout the town’s history, along with foundations of multiple villages and forts. On September 16, 1684, heirs of Nanepashemet sold their 3,700 acres (15 km2); the deed is preserved today at Abbot Hall in the town.
European settlers and fishing
Marblehead’s first European settler was Joseph Doliber in 1629, who set up on the shore near what is now the end of Bradlee Road. Three years earlier, Isaac Allerton, a Pilgrim from the Mayflower, had arrived in the area and established a fishing village at Marblehead Little Harbor. In May 1635, the General Court of Massachusetts Bay established the town of Marblehead on land that belonged to Salem. Marblehead residents, who never saw eye-to-eye with their more devout and conservative neighbors, were delighted, but less than a year later, the lawmakers reversed themselves. Marblehead finally became independent of Salem in 1649.
At times called “Marvell Head”, “Marble Harbour” (by Captain John Smith) and “Foy” (by immigrants from Fowey, Cornwall), the town would be named “Marblehead” by settlers who mistook its granite ledges for marble. It began as a fishing village with narrow crooked streets, and developed inland from the harbor. The shoreline smelled of drying fish, typically cod. These were exported abroad and to Salem.
The town had one accused individual during the Salem Witch Trials, Wilmot Redd. She was found guilty of witchcraft and executed by hanging on September 22, 1692.
The town peaked economically just before the American Revolution, as locally financed privateering vessels sought bounty from large European ships. Much early architecture survives from the era, including the Jeremiah Lee Mansion.
A large percentage of residents became involved early in the Revolutionary War, and the sailors of Marblehead are generally recognized by scholars as forerunners of the United States Navy. The first vessel commissioned for the navy, Hannah, was equipped with cannons, rope, provisions (including the indigenous molasses/sea water cookie known as “Joe Frogger” ), and a crew from Marblehead. With their nautical backgrounds, soldiers from Marblehead under General John Glover were instrumental in the escape of the Continental Army after the Battle of Long Island. Marblehead men ferried George Washington across the Delaware River for his attack on Trenton. Many who set out for war, however, did not return, leaving the town with 459 widows and 865 orphaned children in a population of less than 5,000.
The community lost a substantial portion of its population and economy, although it was still the tenth-largest inhabited location in the United States at the first census, in 1790.
When George Washington visited the town during his presidential tour of 1789, he knew the sailors of Marblehead well; they had served him honorably in the war. He observed that the town “had the appearance of antiquity.”
In the 75 years from the American Revolution to the middle of the nineteenth century, Marblehead experienced a golden age of fishing. The War of 1812 brought disruption similar to during the American Revolution, with fishing grounds being blockaded, and fisherman heading off to war, with over 500 Marbleheaders being imprisoned by the British. After the war, and later into the 19th century, wealthier citizens wanted a new bank to finance vessels, and to serve the town’s fishermen and merchants. On March 17, 1831, with a capital of $100,000, they founded the Grand Bank. The name was changed to National Grand Bank on October 3, 1864.
The town’s fishermen had 98 vessels (95 of which exceeded 50 tons) putting to sea in 1837, where they often harvested fish off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. However, a gale or hurricane in that area on September 19, 1846, sank 11 vessels and damaged others. With 65 men and boys lost in the storm, the town’s fishing industry began a decline. The storm is depicted in Fireboard: The Great Gale of 1846, c. 1850 by William Thompson Bartoll. A copy of the book is held by the Peabody Essex Museum.
Civil War—first in ’61
Starting in 1861, and until the end, 1,048 Marblehead men went to war, joining both the Army and Navy. 110 were lost, Another 87 were wounded, many of who died later of their injuries. During the war, Marblehead would raise almost $100,000 to supplement the war effort, an incredible effort for a town of 8,000 that relied mainly on fishing for income. Marblehead would be the first regiment in the state to answer the call for troops. A Grand Army of the Republic veterans organization was formed after the war, and established headquarters in the old town house, where it still displays artifacts from the Marblehead regiments that served.
Shoemaking, aeroplanes and yachting
During the late 19th century, Marblehead had a short-term industrial boom from shoe-making factories. At the same time, the exceptional harbor attracted yachting by wealthy boat owners, and some yacht clubs established centers there. It would become home to the Boston Yacht Club, Corinthian Yacht Club, Eastern Yacht Club, Marblehead Yacht Club, Dolphin Yacht Club, and the oldest junior yacht club in America, the Pleon Yacht Club. This also caused numerous “summer homes” of wealthy Boston residents to be built on Marblehead Neck. The building boom would cause Marblehead Light to be replaced in 1896 with a new iron structure since the light of shorter tower was becoming blocked by the large new homes.
Marblehead was also the site of the Burgess & Curtis Aircraft Factory, where it was the first licensed aircraft manufacturer in the United States. William Starling Burgess designed and flight-tested most of the aircraft that were manufactured at the two plant sites in town. On August 20, 1912, Alfred Austell Cunningham became the first Marine aviator, taking off from Marblehead Harbor in a Burgess Model H seaplane given to him by the Burgess Company. His flight was the start of United States Marine Corps Aviation.
Post-war suburban community
After World War II, the town enjoyed a population boom, developing as a bedroom community for nearby Boston, Lynn, and Salem. This boom ended around 1970, when the town became built out. Marblehead today continues to be a sailing and small town tourism destination in the summer months.
Marblehead Public Schools oversees six schools: Coffin, Eveleth, and Glover elementary schools; the Village School (grades 4–6); Marblehead Veterans Middle School; and Marblehead High School. The town is also home to the Marblehead Community Charter Public School, the first Commonwealth charter school to open in Massachusetts. A new elementary school is currently being constructed at the site of the former Bell Elementary School.
As of the census of 2010, there were 19,808 people, 8,838 households, and 5,467 families residing in the town. The population density was 4,373 people per square mile (help/km2). There were 8,906 housing units at an average density of 1,966.3 per square mile (759.1/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 97.6% White, 0.4% Black or African American, 0.1% Native American, 1.0% Asian, >0.1% Pacific Islander, 0.2% from other races, and 0.7% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.9% of the population.
There were 8,541 households, out of which 31.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 56.5% were married couples living together, 8.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.5% were non-families. Of all households 28.7% were made up of individuals, and 10.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.37 and the average family size was 2.94.
In the town, the population was spread out, with 23.9% under the age of 18, 3.5% from 18 to 24, 28.0% from 25 to 44, 29.0% from 45 to 64, and 15.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42 years. For every 100 females, there were 89.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 84.3 males.
According to a 2009 estimate, the median income for a household in the town was $97,441, and the median income for a family was $129,968. Males had a median income of $70,470 versus $44,988 for females. The per capita income for the town was $46,738. About 3.2% of families and 4.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 5.7% of those under age 18 and 4.6% of those age 65 or over.