A Glance | Geography
All About Nahant
A Brief History
The Town of Nahant is a resort town of rocky coasts in the southernmost
part of Essex County. Used in early colonial days as a grazing areas for
cattle, sheep and goat flocks owned by Lynn residents, Nahant very soon
became a maritime community with a small population devoted to fishing.
Settlers were granted land for homesites but only if they also spent time
fishing and smallboat fishing developed before 1640. Disputed land claims
were the hallmark of the town's early years since the Sachem of Nahant, Poquanum (also called Duke William, Black Will or Dark-skin) apparently sold the same town site to three different sets of people.
By 1657, Nahant was laid out in planting lots of equal shares for all
residents of Lynn with the requirement that all lots were to be cleared
of wood in 6 years. This mandate effectively stripped Nahant of all its
first growth woodlands.
The town became a resort mecca very early on with chaises coming from
Lynn. Visitors stayed in boarding houses or private homes and the first
hotel was built by 1803. In 1817 a steamboat sailed from Boston to Nahant
daily and by 1826 a stage from the Nahant Hotel connected twice a day
with coaches running between Boston and Salem. Fishing and several shoe
shops were the major businesses aside from agriculture and tourism and
even up to 1830 year-round residents were very few. Thomas Handyside Perkins,
a prominent Boston businessman, built a hotel in Nahant in 1823 which
featured a bowling alley and by the 1840's the town was already celebrated
as the summer resort of Boston's elite.
Incorporated in 1853, the town was the site of the most massive hotel
complex on the Atlantic Coast and the location of an annual regatta. By
the end of the 19th century, there was a visible shift away from hotels
and toward residences. An era of skyrocketing growth began about 1870
and continued unabated for the next four decades with construction firms
putting up hundreds of summer homes for visitors to the town. In the modern
era, Nahant has protected its residential status and farming and industrial
activity have disappeared.