It’s easy to figure out when you’re coming into Marblehead, Mass. Suddenly, the hectic city life, along with its four-lane highways, seem a distant, faded memory. The streets become narrower and you can’t help but slow everything down. Visitors and residents make their way along curving, twisted streets that meander, like a lazy river, through the center of town. And Harbor Light Inn, located in the heartbeat of Marblehead’s Harbor District, seems to be the bright and shining beacon of this New England seaside town.
More often than not, it’s the final destination for world-weary travelers, headed home after a long journey.
Arriving at Harbor Light Inn
We’re delighted with our first glimpse of Harbor Light Inn, set near the road, not far from the Old Town House. The marriage of two separate, 18th century Federal-era mansions, purchased at different times, then co-joined, creates a marvelous bed and breakfast in Marblehead.
A large pedestal-type pot holds the vibrant color of Forsythia bushes, tulips and cheerful pansies. It is set at the front doorway, and serves as an invitation to come inside.
You don’t have to ask twice.
We open the front door and the first thing we catch a whiff of is, surprisingly, freshly baked lemon cake. A young woman saunters out from behind a large reception desk, and smiles in our direction.
“Sorry I wasn’t here to greet you, I was taking the afternoon snack out of the oven. It needs to cool off for a little while, before I slice and put it out for visitors.”
I grin back at her. I adore lemon cake. It reminds me of my mom, her old-fashioned kitchen and her cooking. I’m hooked.
The Public Rooms at Harbor Light Inn
The rooms inside the inn are spacious. The furniture, though heavy and ornate, appears to be comfortable. Nautical decorations brighten up corners and beautiful chandeliers hang from tall ceilings.
We admire large vases, each filled with seasonal flowers cut from the landscaped garden out back. From wallpaper and paintings, to marble fireplaces and warm wood flooring, we’re reminded that Marblehead was immensely prosperous at one time. As an important fishing port Marblehead drew people in. They came from as far away as Cornwall in Great Britain and the Channel Islands, off the French coast of Normandy.
Even the King’s Royal agent, after spending a lengthy visit in Marblehead during 1660, returned to England, declaring the coastal hub to be “The greatest towne for fishing in New England…”
Tragically, September 19th, 1846, brought a terrible storm to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, where fishermen were preparing to haul in their catch of fresh cod. Hurricane-force gales took the local fleet of ninety-eight vessels by total surprise. By the time they returned to Marblehead, they were minus 11 ships and the loss of life, totaling sixty five men and boys, was great.
Food for the Guests
We take our time and wander through gorgeous sitting rooms and parlors, a dining room and breakfast nook, where guests can enjoy scrumptious meals each morning from 7:30-9:30.
We peruse the menu and find items like vegetable quiche, fresh fruit and bagels, assorted cereals and even a Sunday morning Smoked Salmon Platter.
Glancing at the tavern menu, we see a sampling of cheese and fruit platters, shrimp cocktail, New England clam chowder, lobster bisque with sherry, clam cakes, and juicy burgers.
Speaking of the Tavern; imagine a cozy little bar tucked into a corner of the inn. It’s a vision of warm wood and large, airy windows that invite the warm sunshine inside. They have an extensive wine list and offer several beers and cocktails, besides.
Guest Rooms at Harbor Light Inn
On the way to our own room, we walk up, then down, carpeted staircases. They lead us through a number of interesting hallways. The Inn boasts a total of 20 unique guest rooms, scattered between the two mansions.
It’s very easy to picture another era, just a few hundred years ago. We wonder about the fortunes, maybe even treasures of travelers passing through Marblehead, choosing to lay their heads down on the soft down pillows of Harbor Light Inn, before resuming the next leg of their long journey home.
The staff of Harbor Light Inn are very helpful, willing to sit with us and share some of the fascinating history of the area. They suggest some points of interest. Given directions to the Old Burial Hill, just a few blocks away, we stand in front of the monument honoring those men and boys lost at sea, so long ago.
Marblehead certainly has an affinity with the ocean, a love affair with boating. Even though the fishing industry is not what it once was, sailing is a widely popular sport here. The harbor has been home port for many international races. Lucky for us, the Harbor Light Inn is in the middle of everything.
We settle into our room, freshen up a bit and go out exploring.
We’re confident that sleep will come swiftly, once we end our day over a drink at the bar, tucking ourselves into bed afterward.
Harbor Light Inn has earned several awards and accolades. It has been featured in Fodor’s Travel, Trip Advisor, Redbook Magazine, Marblehead Reporter, Frommers, North Shore Magazine, Marblehead Patch, Carriage News, and The New York Times, to name a few.