, Salem, MA

June 3, 2013

McAllister: The North Shore has long been the summer destination for monied elite

Essex County Chronicles
Jim McAllister

---- — Our recent heat wave and the arrival of June serve as dual reminders that the long-awaited summer season is upon us — and inspire this brief survey of popular North Shore summer spots in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Swampscott, while not organized as a town until 1852, would become one of the North Shore’s most popular summer destinations in the decades that followed. The community’s proximity to Boston, and its ocean views and colorful fishing community, encouraged entrepreneurs to build the Lincoln House, the Hotel Preston, the New Ocean House and other hostelries that catered to the tourist crowd. Many private homes along the town’s shoreline were built as summer residences. One, White Court (now Marian Court College) on Phillips Point, served as the summer White House for President and Mrs. Coolidge in 1925.

Serious yachtsmen gravitated to Marblehead, home of a number of prestigious yacht clubs and races. The hub of yachting activity was Marblehead Neck, which, until their eviction in the early 1870s, had been a popular summer camping spot for many folks from the Lowell area. Direct boat and train service to Marblehead from Boston helped spur the development of a summer tourist industry for the non-yachting crowd.

Salem today still has its Willows park and amusement area, but the three hotels that once dotted the adjacent Juniper Point neighborhood are long gone. The city park was established in the late 1850s, and the Juniper Point area developed as a summer camp and cottage destination in the 1870s. “The Line,” as the amusement park was known, was developed by a local street railway company looking to boost ridership. The popular park opened for business in 1880, and would draw huge crowds for decades to come.

Many of the real serious monied folk chose to summer on the Beverly coast in what came to be known the Gold Coast. Steel magnate Henry Clay Frick, William Moore of Diamond Match and Nabisco fame, and financier Otto Kahn were three of the most famous, and wealthiest, summer residents of the upscale Beverly Farms-Pride’s Crossing neighborhoods. Long before their arrival, however, wealthy Boston and Salem area families had bought up tracts of waterfront property in the area. An attempt by these earlier summer residents to secede from Beverly, in the 1880s, came very close to succeeding.

Manchester by the Sea drew a crowd that was both artsy and wealthy. The author Richard Henry Dana led the migration, and he would be followed by the likes of portraitist Charles Hopkinson, publisher James T. Fields, and the actor Junius Booth. Fields, a partner in the firm that published Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and founder of the esteemed Atlantic Monthly, was the first to use the town’s current name. Booth, the brother of Abraham Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth, built the Masconomo House near Singing Beach and offered seasonal theatric productions for summer visitors.

Until it burned in 1906, the 50-room Winne-Egan Hotel on Baker’s Island, just off the Manchester coast, attracted the health-conscious. No alcohol or tobacco was permitted, and guests were encouraged to partake of the many exercise options the inn offered, including golfing, sailing and swimming, as well as its cultural and religious programs.

The Magnolia section of Gloucester boasted Cape Ann’s largest hotel, the 750-plus-room Oceanside just off Hesperus Avenue. The sprawling wooden hostelry attracted the rich and the royal and, in 1928, even the Davis Cup tennis championship. Guests could pick up a souvenir of their stay at the very pricey shops on nearby Lexington Avenue.

Other important Gloucester hotels were the Pavilion at the downtown end of Pavilion Beach, and the Rockaway, Fairview and Colonial in the summer artist enclave of East Gloucester. The enormous Colonial Arms Hotel on Eastern Point, just a stone’s throw from the summer home of the noted artist Cecilia Beaux and Henry Davis Sleeper’s “Beauport,” burned to the ground just four years after its grand opening in 1904.

The artist Maurice Prendergast was a frequent visitor at his friends the Williamses in Annisquam, and the Cape Ann Museum owns a very busy watercolor showing that quiet little village in the days when it was a popular summer destination for artists, composers, and other folk looking to take in the salt air and stunning views.

Quiet Rockport was discovered by Ralph Waldo Emerson and others in the greater Boston literary world in the mid-19th century. Like many other North Shore communities, the town exploded as a tourist destination with the arrival of the railroad (in 1861). It is a testament to charm of this “little village” that the industry continued to grow despite the fact that Rockport was a “dry” town until just a few years ago.


Salem historian Jim McAllister is a regular Salem News columnist.