In early March, 2017, the Historical Commission received an interesting e-mail from Teresa Simpson, a woman living near Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. She had seen a local Moncton auction company’s ad for an upcoming auction, which included a framed print of “Marblehead Harbor in 1840”, originally painted by well-known marine artist John F. Leavitt. Her thought was that the print really ought to go back to Marblehead – although she had no idea where Marblehead was. After some research, she found the Historical Commission’s web site and e-mail address, and sent a message about the print coming up at auction in just a couple of days – quick action was needed if the Commission was to try to bid on this.
After checking the auction web site, Chris Johnston agreed that the print would be a valuable addition to the Commission’s collection and called the auctioneer to be sure they could accept US funds and could send the print to us if we successfully bid on it. With yes answers to both concerns, the Commission put in a bid and was successful in buying the print. By late March, the print was in Marblehead.
Marblehead Harbor in 1840
This is one of a number of prints of Marblehead-related scenes made for the National Grand Bank, and distributed by the Bank to customers. Two other prints from this series are in the Commission’s collection. One is of the “Engagement of U.S. Frigate Chesapeake and HMS Shannon off Marblehead, June 1, 1813”, which was hanging in the Selectmen’s office in Abbot Hall in a rather sad looking frame. The other, “Old Ironsides Entering Marblehead Harbor, April 3, 1814”, was unframed in the Commission’s archives. The Historical Commission had the two existing prints framed, and “Marblehead Harbor in 1840” reglazed with UV protective glass. All three prints are now hanging in the Selectmen’s Office in Abbot Hall. Next time you are in Abbot Hall, stop in the Selectmen’s Office and admire these beautiful prints.
U.S. Frigate Chesapeake and HMS Shannon
Old Ironsides Entering Marblehead Harbor, April 3, 1814
Marblehead’s early history was formed by the shoe industry almost as much as it was by its fishing fleet and revolutionary spirit. Between voyages, many fishermen would hand-make shoes in small shops, called “Ten-Footers”. Later in the 1800’s this led to the creation of a full-fledged shoe industry in Town.
Several “Ten-Footers” still survive in Marblehead, although most have been modified over the years and are now barely recognizable as such. However, one excellent example of a “Ten-Footer”, located at the foot of Fountain Park on Orne St., is owned by the Town. This shoe shop can reveal much about the local economy before the industrial era. Thanks to a grant application by Town Planner Rebecca Cutting, the Town has received a 2016 Essex Heritage Partnership Matching Grant Award that will allow this “Ten-Footer” to become a museum of the early pre-industrial shoe industry in Marblehead. The Town has awarded a Contract to Larson Fisher Associates, of Woodstock, NY to research and design an interpretative program for this “small” museum (after all, it is called a “Ten-Footer” for a reason). The primary goal of the project is to design, fabricate and install interpretative panels at the site. The project work scope will entail researching and creating story boards, the exhibit’s visual elements, and its physical specifications. The displays will use information and possibly artifacts from the Marblehead Historical Commission and other sources. It is expected that this project will be completed in mid-2017. In a separate project, the Town will renovate and restore the shoe shop.
The Town of Marblehead has been awarded a matching grant by the Massachusetts Historical Commission for a pre-Development Assessment and Planning project to provide the Town with information to ensure the protection and preservation of Abbot Hall and its grounds. The plan will provide an assessment of the building and grounds, with detailed and prioritized information for restoring and preserving, in an appropriate manner, the building and its grounds. This grant program follows the recent completion of the Abbot Hall Tower restoration project.
Following a competitive bidding process, McGinley Kalsow & Associates, Architects and Preservation Planners, has been selected to conduct this project. This firm was the architect for the Abbot Hall Tower restoration project.
Project work is expected to begin in early 2016, starting with a detailed inspection of the entire building and grounds. This will lead to an assessment of repairs and renovations required, which will be prioritized. Findings and recommended plans will be presented to the Selectmen upon completion in mid-2017.
The grant is from the Massachusetts Preservation Projects Fund (MPPF), administered by the Massachusetts Historical Commission. The grant award is a 50% matching grant, with Marblehead’s share generously funded by a grant from the Harold B. and Elizabeth L. Shattuck Memorial Fund, administered by the National Grand Bank.
Marblehead’s Spanish American War Cannon Courtesy Marblehead Reporter
Marblehead has its very own cannon, which has just been moved into the basement of Abbot Hall. The cannon had been stored in the Town’s Gun House on Elm St. by Glover’s Regiment. Running out of room in the Gun House, the Regiment asked that the Town find another spot for the cannon – after some deliberation, it was decided to move the cannon into Abbot Hall’s basement rotunda, along with the Sign Museum.
The cannon has an interesting history. It was made in Seville, Spain in 1803. The cast bell-metal tube weighs 800 lbs. and originally had a smooth bore. At some point prior to the Spanish American war, the bore was rifled to allow use of shaped projectiles.
The cannon was captured by members of the USS Marblehead during the Spanish-American War in Cuba and brought back to Marblehead with its field carriage as spoils of war.
It was originally placed on display at the Lee Mansion by the Marblehead Historical Society for many years. It was then relocated to Waterside Cemetery and the Spanish American War site. Sometime in the 1970’s, vandals rolled the cannon into Salem Harbor. After some period of time under water, the cannon was recovered by the Marblehead Artillery. Selectmen then granted custody of the gun to the Artillery Company.
The Artillery Company refurbished the cannon and built a new field carriage so the gun could be fired at special occasions, including the bicentennial, 4th of July and the welcoming of the USS Constitution back to Marblehead in 1997.
After more than 30 years, the Artillery Company disbanded and requested the Town to transfer custody of the gun to Glover’s Marblehead Regiment, which has agreed to continue firing it at all special occasions.
Information from: Foster Soule, Marblehead Artillery Company; Robert Erbetta, Glovers Regiment; Bill Conly, Town of Marblehead Historical Commission
The Marblehead Historical Commission has installed archival quality copies of four key historical documents related to Marblehead in the Selectmen’s Room in Abbot Hall.
The documents are signed letters from Paul Revere (1787), president George Washington (1789) and Elbridge Gerry (1769) as well as a Massachusetts General Court Resolution (1784) signed by governor John Hancock and state Senate president Samuel Adams.
The Historical Commission recently restored, digitized and copied these documents at the Northeast Document Conservation Center, with cooperation from Town Clerk Robin Michaud.
Washington’s Nov. 1, 1789 letter “To the Inhabitants of the Town of Marblehead” was written days after he visited Marblehead during a month long New England tour. Marblehead was not on the president’s itinerary, yet he insisted on visiting the hometown of his trusted General, John Glover, before landing in Salem.
Paul Revere’s letter was discovered by former Commission Collections Manager Wayne Butler in 2009 hidden away in a file cabinet in the basement of Abbot Hall and long forgotten. Revere’s letter was an attempt to purchase old cannons belonging to the Town for use in his new foundry in Boston.
Elbridge Gerry’s letter was written to the Selectmen accepting a Town Meeting appointment to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. It was obviously written quickly and is almost a scrawl. It was also found in the Abbot Hall basement files.
The Massachusetts General Court Resolution was signed by both signed by John Hancock and Samuel Adams and dealt with Marblehead’s longstanding poverty issues and back taxes owed but the Collector of Taxes, but withheld taxes from the Selectmen, who required the funds to fulfill their duties as “Overseers of the Poor.”