Marblehead is blessed with many parks, playgrounds and beaches for the enjoyment of residents and visitors of all ages. There are also several conservation areas and walking trails as well as other town jewels and little-known ways open for public passage.
Castle Rock Park
This 1.20 acre park, located off Ocean Avenue on Marblehead Neck, gets its name from the castle-like private home next to the park. Once known as "Great Head", Castle Rock was a lookout for arriving and departing fishing fleets and for pirate and enemy ships, both British and French. It offers spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean with benches, fishing and off-shore sailing.
Chandler Hovey Park
Chandler Hovey Park, also known as Lighthouse Point, is located at the end of Follett Street, off Ocean Avenue on Marblehead Neck. The 3.74 acre park overlooks the mouth of the harbor and the shorelines of Beverly and Manchester-By-The-Sea and offers pavilions, benches, picnic tables, restrooms, swimming and parking. Originally owned by the U.S. government, it was purchased in 1948 by Marblehead resident Chandler Hovey, who donated it to the town. It is also the location of the Marblehead Light Tower.
Crocker Park, with some of the best views of Marblehead Harbor, is situated on 2.82 acres of land off Front Street. The site of the park was originally known as Bartoll's Head but was named after Uriel Crocker, who donated a large portion of the land to the town in 1885. The park is home to a plaque commemorating Marblehead's contributions to the U.S. Navy. Crocker Park offers a pavilion and gazebo, benches, restrooms and a swimming float and hosts numerous weddings and summer-evening concerts.
Fort Sewall, formerly an armed fort owned by the United States and used to defend against British invaders, is now a peaceful park offering some of the best views of Marblehead Harbor. Originally known as Gale's Head, it was later renamed Fort Sewall in honor of Marblehead native and Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice Samuel Sewall. The Fort's greatest moment in history was on Sunday, April 3, 1814, when the U.S. Navy's Constitution, being chased by two British frigates, escaped into Marblehead Harbor under the protection of the fort's guns. The "Fort", which was deeded to the town by the Federal Government in 1922, still contains bunkers and underground rooms once used to detain prisoners. It is located at the very end of Front Street and has restroom facilities.
Fountain Park, at one time known as Bailey's Head, was the site of a fort during the Revolutionary War and later the War of 1812 when it was called Fort Washington. The land was donated to the inhabitants of Marblehead by James J.H. Gregory in 1888. Fountain Park is located on Orne Street, opposite Old Burial Hill.
Located at the end of Commercial Street next to the Municipal Light Department building, this small park provides benches overlooking Marblehead Harbor.
This .32 acre parcel borders both Essex Street and Pleasant Street. Its benches allows visitors to relax while paying respect to Marblehead's Fallen Heroes. The park honors those who have died at war with memorials for all wars and conflicts.
Seaside Park, a portion of which was part of a town-owned farm known as Cow Fort, was laid out as a park in 1895. Its 33.7 acres consists of lighted tennis courts, a basketball court, baseball diamond, summer street hockey, winter sledding, exercise trails and a classic small-town grandstand. Seaside Park is located on Atlantic Avenue across from the Marblehead Police Station.
Gatchell's 8.33 acres has a basketball court, Little League Baseball fields, a Midget Football field, playground equipment, bleachers, benches, restroom facilities and parking. It is located at the intersection of West Shore Drive and Lafayette Street.
Gerry Playground is home of Header's Haven Playground. Its 6.85 acres located on Stramski Way, off West Shore Drive, overlooks Salem Harbor on Marblehead's West Side. Gerry Playground offers picnic tables and cookout grills, a fenced-in children's playground, beach area, pram racks and parking.
This 1.14 acre playground, found on Clifton Avenue, offers playground equipment and a Little League field.
The 5.22 acres that make up Orne Playground borders Shepard Street and offers a softball field and playground equipment.
Located off Green Street, this 5.45 acre playground has picnic tables, playground equipment, softball fields, a pavilion, benches and restroom facilities.
Ways Open for Public Passage
During the early days in Marblehead, many ways were established throughout the town to maintain the rights of public passage. While many of these ways have disappeared over the years, there are still 18 open for public use - eight in downtown Marblehead and ten on Marblehead Neck.
Lookout Court, though appearing as a street, is open for foot traffic only. Located in Marblehead's Historic District near Abbot Hall, this public way narrows to stone steps and a small path between houses that is known as Prospect Alley. The vista offers magnificant views of the town and Marblehead Harbor.
Prospect Alley leads down stone steps and a paved path connecting Lookout Court and Lee Street.
Hollyhock Lane begins as a narrow flagstoned path located close to a house and becomes a grassy lane ending in a driveway on Merritt Street. This short public way is accessible from a small private parking lot off Circle Street, near #116 Front Street.
The Alley Steps, a set of steep granite steps located between #11 and #15 Washington Street, provides a shortcut to High Street. Traditionally lined with hollyhock flowers, the Alley Steps were once used by fishermen to climb the hill to their fish flakes - fish spread on wooden racks to dry.
The entrance to Gingerbread Lane, which looks like a country lane, is found on the left off Beacon Street, just past Little Harbor. This narrow dirt road leads to a fork; bear left towards Old Burial Hill and Redd's Pond or continue straight along a grassy path bordered by a split rail fence. The path ends on Norman Street, where it is identified by a street sign, across the street from the entrance to Steer Swamp.
Knight's Hill Road
While beginning as a paved street, Knight's Hill Road quickly turns into a narrow dirt and gravel path leading down a steep hill between houses. The path exits at the corner of Dunn's Lane and Elm Street, directly across from the Elm Street Alley. (See below.) Together, these two public ways offer a short cut from Redd's Pond to Washington Street.
Alley - Elm Street to High Street
Across from #17 Elm Street, at the corner of Elm and Dunn's Way, are seven stone steps leading to a small landing then four more steps. From there the alley becomes a partially-paved, mostly dirt path up a hill to High Street where one encounters a stone wall. While appearing to be private property, with abutters storing boats on either side of the path and cars parked at the High Street entrance, it is nevertheless a public way.
Alley - Washington Street to Mechanic Street
This public way near the Old Town House at #4 Mugford Street begins as a paved pathway divided by a wooden railing. The alley leads uphill to stone steps with a rusted iron railing, exiting at the top near #22 Mechanic Street.
This mostly-paved lane runs 254 feet from Ocean Avenue all the way to the water. A narrow path at the end of the paving leads through trees and thick brush to a rocky beach prized by local fishermen for bass fishing.
This paved lane off Ocean Avenue extends for 342 feet. A sign on the chain link fence at the end claims the beach beyond is private property.
Castle Rock Lane
Castle Rock Lane leads from Ocean Avenue to Castle Rock. (See Parks above.) Steps to the left of the rocks descend to a small beach and some deep tide pools full of sea stars and anemones.
This 25 foot wide, 211 foot long lane leads from Follett Street to a grass strip, then to a stone wall and rocks below.
Beginning on Follett Street, this lane ends at scenic Chandler Hovey Park and Marblehead Light Tower. (See Parks above.) The park is a perfect location from which to watch boats sailing in and out of the harbor.
This 20-foot wide lane begins on Kimball Street and continues for 225 feet to the low water mark. A set of wooden steps leading to a small cove and beach can be accessed by crossing a lawn beside the stone wall.
This 50-foot right-of-way extending to the low water mark, located next to the Corinthian Yacht Club, has no street sign. The paved way ends at a grass strip and stone wall, offering views of Marblehead Harbor and the mainland from Peach's Point to Abbot Hall.
This 40-foot-wide public way extends from Harbor Avenue, across a lawn to steps leading down to a rocky beach and low water.
Harvard Street is a 40-foot public way located off Harbor Avenue and leading to the low water mark. The street ends at a set of stone steps to a pebble beach with a view of the mainland across the harbor.
This public way off Foster Street begins with a paved section that continues over an unpaved hilly area to wooden steps leading down to a pebble beach. A bench at the top of the steps provides a pleasant view of the town.
Marblehead's premier beach, Devereux Beach's 5.48 acres of waterfront offers a refreshing swim in the Atlantic Ocean, pavilions, benches, picnic tables, restroom facilities, a restaurant and parking. It was once the site of the home of John Devereux (1615-1695), for whom the beach is named. While visiting the home in 1846, famed poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote his well-known poem "The Fire of Driftwood" about spending an evening in this old farmhouse. The home is no longer standing. Devereux Beach is located off Ocean Avenue at the beginning of the Causeway to Marblehead Neck.
Fort Beach and Lovis Cove
Fort Beach, located at the entrance to Fort Sewall, offers a broad view of the end of Marblehead Neck and Chandler Hovey Park. The local fishermen still moor their dinghies (small boats) from "out-haul lines" fastened to the rocks. Opposite the beach fishermen have constructed picturesque wooden shacks for storing their gear and have decorated them with nets, buoys and other marine paraphernalia. Lovis Cove is located several yards from Fort Beach, opposite Selman Street. Also known as "Screeching Woman's Beach," local folklore has it that a 17th century pirate crew landed on the beach and murdered a woman passenger from a captured ship. She was buried in a nearby swamp, and "for 150 years, on the anniversary of her outrageous death, at the dead of night, her cries for help could be distantly heard." Of the womans death, Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote:
Of the screeching Woman of Marblehead
(The fearful story that turns men pale)
Don't bid me tell it ...
My speech would fail.
Gas House Beach
This small community beach is located on Little Harbor in one of the oldest sections of the Marblehead waterfront. It was here, in 1629, that the first settlers established the "plantacion" called "Marble Harbor." Gashouse Beach got its name from the gas generating plant that burned coal there in the late 1800's to create gas for the town's street and house lamps. Gashouse Beach is located on Gashouse Lane, off Orne Street.
Grace Oliver Beach
Grace Oliver Beach, less than one acre in size, is a community beach located off Beacon Street. It is named after the woman who during the 19th century lived in a house on nearby Doliber Point. The water is shallow and the beach well-protected, making it an ideal place for children.
Riverhead Beach is on Marblehead Harbor, across the Causeway from Devereux Beach. Its 1.65 acres offers a beach area and a boat ramp.
Stramski's Beach, on Salem Harbor, is located at Gerry Playground at the end of Stramski Way off West Shore Drive. (See Playgrounds above.)
Conservation Areas and Walking Trails
This area of about 25 acres is located along the Forest River between Lafayette Street (Route 114) and Leggs Hill Road. It includes forest, meadows, wet lands, estuary, salt marsh, glacially-scared outcroppings, small ponds and a small river. There are walking trails throughout.. The estuarine land is subject to tidal action and serves as a spawning ground for much marine life as well as home for waterfowl. The Conservation area is remarkably variable, consisting of ledge outcropping sloping from a plateau at the cemetery to the Forest River at sea level. Access to the area is best obtained off Old Salem Road (near the cemetery off Lafayette Street) or at the bend on Leggs Hill Road. There are also two access points along Lafayette Street.
Access to this approximately ten acre site is gained by driving to the end of Hawthorn Road and walking down the path to the small pond and swamp or off the railroad right of way.. The swamp is highlighted by a boardwalk crossing the swamp. It is a prime ecological study area and in the winter months provides a natural area for ice skating. There is a loop trail around the pond.
The Steer Swamp Conservation Area, about 43 acres in size, consists of high land with pleasant vistas, low land with meadows, swamps, ponds and brooks and abounds with native plants and wildflowers. Small game as well as many wild bird species are continually observed and heard. Access is readily available via Stony Brook Road as well as Beacon Street (two entrance ways), Norman Street, Cheever Avenue and Blueberry Road.
Consisting of approximately 8.5 acres, the Conservation area is near Rockaway Avenue in the Clifton section of Marblehead. Entrances are on Marion Road, Marion Road Extension, Warren Road and the railroad right of way. The pond occupies about one-half of the area and is a rich wildlife refuge for waterfowl, particularly during migration periods. In the winter the frozen pond is used by ice skaters. The pond and its surrounding areas support a wide variety of plants and animal life including water lilies, large turtles, muskrats and many swamp-dwelling bushes and trees. Vistas of the pond can be enjoyed from two newly-constructed viewing areas. One is about mid-way between Marion Road and Marion Road Extension at a small granite wall. The other is at the end of a boardwalk connecting the railroad right of way to the pond. There is an extensive trail network available.
This 33.5 acre area extends from the rear of Gatchell's Playground to Salem Harbor and adjacent areas. Wyman Woods Conservation Area is most easily reached by parking at the end of Everett Paine Blvd., off Lafayette Street, and walking up the path into the woods. It is an undeveloped upland and an ideal hiking area with trails that are easily followed. Another point of entry is off West Shore Drive, reached by walking along the rail road right of way towards Salem. Wyman Woods features up lands, low lands and a wide variety of trees, shrubs and wildflowers. Near the railroad right of way there is a pleasant viewing point on the edge of Salem Harbor.
The newest addition to Marblehead's conservation lands, the Robinson Farm, was purchased by the Town in 2005. For almost 200 years this 3.5 acre site was a working dairy farm. There are no longer any buildings standing but some of the old stone foundation walls from barns are still in place. The entrance to the Robinson Farm, which is open for passive public enjoyment, is from the end of Abbot Street. Parking is available for a few cars.
Other Town Jewels
Old Burial Hill
Located next to Redd's Pond and with access from Orne Street, Old Burial Hill was the site of Marblehead's first "meeting house" or place of worship, where the dead were buried in the church-yard. Buried in Old Burial Hill are six hundred Revolutionary War dead including General John Glover, Marblehead's greatest Revolutionary War hero, who died in 1797.
Rail Road Right of Way
The rail road right of way, long abandoned by the Boston & Maine Railroad and now used primarily as a utility corridor, begins near the center of Marblehead, off Pleasant Street. The approximately four miles of trails are also used for hiking, bicycling, horseback riding and cross-country skiing. The right of way splits with one trail going into Salem and another trail heading towards Swampscott.
Located off Pond Street, Redd's Pond covers 1.81 acres and offers skating in the winter and model boat races in the summer. It is named for Wilmont "Mammy" Redd, a Marblehead woman acused and convicted of witchcraft in the Salem witch trials of 1692. According to legend, the pond, once used as the town's reservoir, is so deep that the bottom has never been found. The pond depth actually ranges from three to eleven feet.
Located in the center of Marblehead Neck, the Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary is owned and maintained by Massachusetts Audubon. Its swamp, thickets and woodlands are a haven for migratory birds, especially warblers, during the spring and fall migrations. The sanctuary is a mecca for birders; the discovery of rarities is not uncommon. The trails are open every day from dawn to dusk.
NOTE: Some material for this section was taken from the book "Discovering Marblehead - A Guide to Open Spaces and Historic Places," written and produced by "a disparate group of people brought together by their shared love for the town of Marblehead." Copyright 2001 by Marblehead Book Group. All proceeds from the sale of this book are used to protect, preserve and maintain Marblehead's environment.