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Special Exhibits

Bass Point House, Nahant, Mass.The Massachusetts shore has long been a draw for vacationers. Cape Cod, with its miles and miles of National Seashore, has always been a prime destination for travelers near and far. However, it was the "other" cape, Cape Ann, as well as neighboring communities along Boston's North Shore, that proved to be a magnet for tourists during the nineteenth and the first part of the twentieth century. The purportedly "magical, irresistible features and effects of the sea [provided] the primary rationale behind the origins of the resort hotel industry on the New England coast." Moreover, the seashore was considered a healthful environment. An 1896 edition of The Medical Record described the most advantageous vacation spots for patients suffering from various maladies. The guide said in part: "A seashore resort, therefore, is indicated where a strong, stimulating, moist, and equable climate is desired. It is to be recommended in many cases of anaemia and chlorosis, of scrofula, of convalescence from acute diseases, such as typhoid fever, and from surgical operations. Many victims of neurasthenia thrive there as nowhere else. The same is true of a certain number of cases of chronic pulmonary turberculosis of mild degree and of many cases of lahy fever, of spasmodic asthma, and of emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Diseases of the heart and blood vessels and of the kidneys do better, in general, at the seashore than in the mountains.”

The Gold Coast: Massachusetts' North Shore

The Eastern RailoadDuring the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the North Shore of Boston became a hugely popular summer destination for the citizens of Boston and surrounding towns. The area was easily accessible from Boston both by land and water. The advent of the Eastern Railroad (later the Boston & Maine) in the 1870's enhanced access to the region. An important resort hotel industry developed along the North Shore starting in the 1820's and lasting until the 1950's. The most significant developments were at Revere Beach, Swampscott, Marblehead, Magnolia, Gloucester, and Rockport. These were among the grandest seaside resorts in the country.


Hotel Preston, summer resort, Swampscott, Mass.One of Swampscott's most famous resorts was the Hotel Preston, built in 1872 and named for its founder, Andrew Preston, the owner of the United Fruit company. The hotel sat on Beach Bluff, overlooking Phillips Beach. At its peak, accommodated 300 patrons and was a lively success until the 1940's when it was demolished. New Ocean House, built in 1835 on Phillips (later Galloupe's) Point, was the most magnificent of Swampscott's hotels.

New Ocean House, Swampscott, Mass.The first edition burned in 1864. A second incarnation also burned down in 1882. A third version of the "Ocean House" opened in 1884, with rooms for 250 guests. It was expanded twice more in the twentieth century, with a maximum capacity of 600! The New Ocean House was the "height of New England resort-hotel elegance and luxury..." and attracted visitors from around the country and the world. After burning once again in 1969, it was no more.


nanepashemet_ad_138Marblehead became the "primary focal point of hospitality tourism on the central North Shore, from the mid-1800's until WWI," due to its harbor and the allure of the cooling ocean breezes on its "Neck." The largest hotel on the "Neck" was the Nanepashemet, later the Ocean Manor, which burned in 1914.

Advertisement from A guide to Marblehead, by Samuel Roads, 1887The grandest hotel in Marblehead proper was the Rockmere, built 1901. It was considered one of the "most superlative examples of Colonial Revival resort-hotel architecture on the Massachusetts seaboard." The Rockmere had a longer life than most, becoming the Hotel Marblehead in 1937 and stayed open until 1963 when it was known as the Hotel Rockmere. It was torn down 1965.


Magnolia, a village of Gloucester, which was deemed one of the "most important hospitality tourism destinations with a rich resort-hotel architectural heritage," first became a resort area in the 1870's. It's three major hotels were: the Hesperus, the Oceanside and the Magnolia, the latter two considered among the finest Victorian-era resort hotels in the U.S.

  • Norman's Woe, Magnolia, Mass.The Hesperus, built by Daniel W. Fuller in 1877 eventually it accommodated over 300 people. It closed after WWII when it was known as the Northshore Inn--outdated and no longer popular-- and demolished in 1950's
  • The Hotel Oceanside, originally the Perkins House, was built in 1877. Over time, it was expanded to six stories, with 600 rooms, making it one of the largest resort hotels in New England. The Oceanside was considered a "classy" hotel and attracted "national and international leaders of business, politics, culture, and society..." The hotel burned in 1958 in one of the most fantastic fires ever on the North Shore.
  • The Magnolia, built in 1890, was smaller than the Oceanside, but still accommodated 300 guests. The Magnolia was filled with all the modern conveniences of the day and offered an ocean view from almost every room. The Magnolia also was destroyed by fire in 1907.


Gloucester once boasted the most resort hotels between Boston and Maine and at various times had up to six hotels accommodating 200 or more guests each. Some of the most famous resorts in Gloucester were: Surfside Hotel, Gloucester, Mass.

  • The Pavilion Hotel (later the Surfside) was built on Crescent Beach in 1849 and burned in 1914.
  • Bass Rocks House was built in 1879; it was located at Bass Rocks, near the scenic Good Harbor Beach and had room for up to 250 guests; it was destroyed by fire in 1896.
  • The Hawthorne Inn and cottages were built in 1891 and housed up to 500 guests. It was hit by arson in 1938 and closed after WWII.
Colonial Arms Hotel, Gloucester, Mass.
  • Hotel Moorland: built in 1896 to house 300 guests; it burned in 1958
  • Hotel Thorwald opened in 1899 with rooms for 200-250 guests; it burned 1965
  • Colonial Arms was the largest project built by a well-known hotel developer. Considered the grandest hotel in Gloucester when it opened in 1904 with room for more than 400 guests, it burned in 1908.

Most of these resorts had short, charmed lives, with an alarming number having succumbed to spectacular fires. Those that remained were victims of the changing times, as lifestyles changed and expanded transportation options became available.


Presidential "Palaces"

Stetson Cottage, summer residence of President Taft, Beverly, Mass.In addition to the resort hotels, affluent citizens of Boston built summer retreats along the coast, many of which remain today. These retreats often featured not only large-scale homes and meticulously manicured grounds, but some of the most magnificent vistas available. Indeed, the area was considered so exclusive and desirable that Presidents William Howard Taft and Calvin Coolidge both summered here during their terms in office.

View of Parramatta, President Taft's summer home, Beverly, Mass.President Taft and his family rented Stetson Cottage in Beverly during the summers of 1909 and 1910. After being "evicted" by the owner Maria Antoinnette Hunt Evans because the President's presence created an intolerable disturbance, the President moved to Parramatta, also in Beverly, for the summers of 1911 and 1912.
For her part, Mrs. Evans moved Stetson Cottage by water from Beverly to Marblehead!

coolidge_whitecourt_300_215President Coolidge chose "White Court" in Swampscott as the location for his "Summer White House" in 1925. To ensure the privacy of the president and his family, a marine was stationed at the entrance to “White Court” throughout their stay. The public were not allowed on the grounds. Mrs. Coolidge walked the estate frequently and the family maintained a low profile, while the president conducted official business. White Court is now the home of Marian Court College. For more on the Taft and Coolidge "summer White Houses" see the Presidents' Day exhibit.

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