City and State: Marblehead, Massachusetts
Type of district: National Register historic district, state historic district, local historic district
Main Intersection: Washington Square
Marblehead represents one of those paradoxical communities in that it is a cohesive historic area even though it has undergone extensive societal changes and has continually reinvented itself throughout the last three centuries. Marblehead was founded as a commercial center on the peninsula separating Salem Harbor from Marblehead Harbor. Its large, well-protected harbor was an ideal site to establish a fishing, shipbuilding, and trading seaport, which led to several hundred years of prosperity. But, times changed for career fisherman who saw their industry become seasonal and surpassed by shoe manufacturing. Shoe making remained the dominant income-producing occupation until the end of the 19th century, when it would in turn be nudged into tourism and history.
The colonial town has preserved its sense of time and place with picturesque streetscapes of densely-clustered Georgian houses with low-pitch gable or hip roofs, double interior chimneys, and pedimented entries with columns or pilasters. There are many commercial buildings too, such as the Old Town House, one of New England’s oldest, continuously used public buildings. But it is the concentration of Georgian architecture, which reflects the pre-Revolutionary War prosperity from fishing and commerce, that is most striking.