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Letters from Nahant, historical, descriptive and miscellaneous (Volume 2) online

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headland of Nahant, "the very aspect of the
place is fortification enough to keepe off an un-
knowne enemie; yet it may be fortified at little
charge, being but few landing places thereabout,
and those obscure."


Nuhant not fuUy appreciated — Sun ii-e at Nali;int —
Morning walk — 'I'asite for Scientific pursuits — Taete
lor something — Long Beach.
I HAVE long been ofthe opinion that this delight-
ful and saluburious summer retreat, is not pio-
perly appreciated, highly as it is estimated by
the thousands who annually visit it. But a tran-
sient visit, — while the steam boat stops at the
landing, — cannot afford a correct or adequate
idea of Nahant, its beauties, wonders or luxu-
ries. It requires a week, or perhaps a whole sea-
son, to see Nahant as it should be seen to be
fully appreciated, — not a week of fine weather,
for better is it by far that it should be interspers-
ed with a storm or two. Nahant needs to be
seen under all its aspects, — under the darkening
cloud, amidst the roaring ocean, whitened by
the foaming billows, and illuminated by ihe flash-
ing lightning; as ;vell in the broad sunshine
of noon, when the blue and beautiful ocean is
spread out to the eye, until sky and sea forms a
common line, as in the evening; when the breath-
hing south wind comes softly over the water
and cools the fever ish temple with its balmy air.
Much has been said of the indescribable mag-


nif cence of a Sun-Rising at sea, and it certainly
IS a display of splendor and of gorgeous light
only to be equslled by a sun rising at Nahant,
which is very much the same thing. The sun is
beheld emerging from the limiiless surface of the
ocean, reeking as it were, in all his glory, while
the sky presents a far spreading canopy of gold.
The scattered sails on the ever-heaving bosom
of the sea, are gilded with the glorious light,
and the market-fishermen, as the day advances,
are seen in the dorys, like flies on the wave.
But it is not the sun only, in all the glory of his
rising, which is pleasant and gratelul to the
early riser at Nah;int: in the midst of the ocean,
the air is pure and invigorating, and all around
)S ihe silent grandeur and vast uiagnificence of
nature's works. The swelling sea, wiih scarce-
ly a breeze-ripple on its bosom, dashes against
the rugged shore and rolls its white foam over
the clitfs and in the deep crannies of the rocks.

A morning walk at Nahant, is one of the most
exhilerating and healthful pleasures of the place,
whether it be in the gravelled walks, on the
"sandie beach," or bounding over the craggy
rocks, — there is everywhere enough to engage
the attention, whether it be directed to botany,
conchology, mineralogy, Jishology^ or mere
curious observation. No one need to have his
lime hang heavily about him, whether he has a
taste for scientific pursuits r r for the enjoyment
of natural scenery, — for the most slugyisli can
enjoy his bed in the warmest nights or hottest
mornings, and such at least are sure to have


a taste for a good breakfast, in the expectancy
ofvvhich. at Drew's, he will not be disappointed.

Nevertheless, it is absolutely necessary that
the visiter at Nahan-t should have a taste for
somelhing, — it hardly matters what it is for, but
taste of some sort he must have. II it be a laste
for reading, cool and airy retreats are easily
found; if for pleasant scenes and natural gran-
deur, these are open before him; if fur science,
in things of the air, earth or sea, he may enjoy
and cultivate it; if for pedestrian or equestrian
exploits, he may enjoy it; if for fashion and fop-
pery, he can show himself as he pleases and find
plenty of observers; or if for bathing, or shoot-
ing, he may swim, fish or shoot to his heart's
content. In addition to all this there are other
amusements, common to similar resorts, in which
ladies, gentlemen and children can indulge in va-
rious parts of the day.

The mid-day at Nahant, including the hours
immediately preceding and succeeding the hour
of dining, is generally embraced for a ride to the
Long Beach, — one of the most delightful drives
in the world. Ladies and gentlemen set off from
the Hotel in carriages, barouches, chaises, on
horseback, in parlies, to enjoy a ride over this
remarkable beach.

It has always seemed to me that neither pen
nor pencil, nor both combined under the most
favorable circumstances, could give any truly ad-
equate idea of Nahant Beach, and the cease-
less ocean-wave which rolls over its smootheneU
Burface. It is an exhibition of natural beautv


and grandeur, neither to be described nor paint-
ed. It is beyond the poet's as the painter's art
— it is too sublime, too vast, too overwhelming
for the power of language. Words, — mere
words, — are not large enough ! The sublime im-
mensity of a single wave — as it comes rolling on
in its changing colors and overhanging fullness,
and its crest of glittering diamonds, which
spreads in bursting bubbles at your feet, — not
only exhausts but exceeds all language. The
broad and far extending Beach, with its almost
rockless and unruffled surface; — a deadened mir-
ror of evenness and beauty, — a ball room, as it
were, vast enough for all the sea-nymphs of the
great Atlantic to celebrate their gala days, — is
not to be put in mere words, cannot be describ-
ed except in living characters equivalent to its
own immensity. It is a whole language, — even
more, an eternity in itself, — and can no more be
written than the blue arch of heaven. Nor can
it be described in parts— there is no power, no
method, by which to convey to another, as a
whole or in portions, an adequate idea of its
sublime grandeur. It fills the mind too full for
the power of language; thought itself is check-
ed: expression fails wholly, and we are either
absorbed in admiration and wonder, or aim to
unchain the mind from its enchantment by the
force of some careless remark. It is like the
Ocean — who can describe or paint the Ocean'^
If it were still and motionless, who can des-
cribe its magnificent vastness or paint its glori-
ous depths? Us eternal upheaving-bosom, its

24 '

limitless immensity, its crested waves kissing the
air in bursting chrystals, — who can convey these
to the unpresent mind in language? Who can
p'cture, in words or colors, as it is, a single wave
j'n its moving life? Why then talk of putting
into words — characters more diminutive than its
gentlest ripple— the Ocean itself, in contact with
its almost equal wonder, the far-spread Beach
of Nahant?


Nahaiit beginning to be appreciated — Erection of the
hotel in 1820 — Its architecture &c. — Addition to the
hotel building — Its architectural deformity balanced
by its conveniency — Employment of time — Breakfast,
Dinner, Tea — Evening amusements — Fashion the life
of Love — Evening walk — Cool sleep.

Although Nahant has been a public resort for
many years past, it is, we may almost say, be-
ginning to be appreciated, it has gradually
grown into favor and is more appreciated as it is
more visited. — It wears well and improves upon
acquaintance. It is now over twenty years since
the erection of the Hotel, which took place in
1820, and from that time Nahant has grown to


be one of the most celebrated "watering places"
in the country. This Hotel is on the most south-
erly or southeasterly point ofNahant, — the ocean
head-land, — and is built of native stone, taken
from the immediate vicinity of its location. The
interior arrangements and the architecture of
the building is light, airy and elegant, as such a
building should be in such a place. It contains
nearly one hundred rooms; but these and the
general accommodations of the house having
become wholly inadequate to the accommo-
dation of the company, some dozen years ago a
a large additional building wai erected, connect-
ed on the southerly side of the former edifice,
which affords above a hundred rooms and a very
large and commodious dining-hall. The out-
buildings, the billiard hall, bathing-house, and
even the bowling allies, and we had almost said
the ice-house and hen-coops, are all in good taste,
especially the first named, which is really a neat
but a small sample of the "Grecian temple"
style. These, (although we did not mean to say
anything about it,) are all put to the blush by the
"convenient addition!" However, as we en-
joy the occupancy of very airy and pleasant
rooms, enclosed by its outward ugliness, com-
manding most extensive views of the city and
neighboring towns, and especially of the far-
extending ocean, it may be as well to admit, (as
we now do) that its interior advantages make
amends for its exterior deformity. The hand-
some, cool and commodious dining hall, also, —
we confess' we have much respect for that, in con-


sideration of its own excellent qualities and the
service to which it is appropriated.

In our last, we gave a sketch of what might be
done or seen at Nahant, to employ the time, and
especially at morning and noon. A word of the
evening hour may not be amiss here, particular-
ly as we have been talking of the hotel. Break-
fast is by many considered a dull meeting, — Din-
ner is often made as it were, a matter of busi-
ness, generally to be despatched, as some of the
railroad folks say, but Tea is a merry meeting.
We confess we have often found it so; but aj-
ter tea is the social hour at Nahant. At this
time, the ladies and gentlemen, with their little
res} on nihilities, generally rej)air to the long
drawing-room. Some of the nimble fingers are
always ready for the piano forte, and some of
the nimble feet are ever ready for the dance,
and thus the evening's social pleasures are com-
menced. The "young people" play, dance and
sing, while those who choose, enjoy the familiar
conversation, enlivened by delicate and spark-
ling wit. The senior part of the company con-
gregate in groups, while many a soft word pass-
es between those of fewer years, and who are
more sensible to the mild influences of love. —
There is fashion in everything, and not less in
young love than in other things. Fashion is, in
some sense, the life of love. People love, some-
limes, because it is the fashion, and fashionable
j)eopIe must not be unfashionable. But we
prove our position syllogistically thus: fashion
is true taste, (or ought to be,) true taste is love-


Jy; whatever is lovely is the life of love; — why
then should not Nahant be the peculiar abode ol'
the fickle goddess? Lovely in itself; fashiona-
ble for itself, — it is, for a season, the favorite re-
sort of young hearts, worshipping at the shrine
of the blind goddess.

There is nothing of dulness in an evening at
Nahant. A walk, in the mild light of the moon,
to the Spouting Horn, Swallow's Cave, or to
any of the rocky prominences, is delightfulj —
the calm and unbroken quietude that reigns over
the scene, is soothing to the mind, while the
cool, pure air, invigorates the body. The glit-
tering diamonds of the skies, shine out with a
clearer brilliancy in the transparent air of Na-
hant, and the ocenn wave curls its white foam,
to catch, as it were, pearly gems from their soft
light. The white sail is seen on the heaving
wave, or it may be, lifted into the horizon, where
the sky and sea unite in one line of space. The
distant light houses cast their light across the
broad expanse of waters for the mariners' aid
and direction. These and other scenes serve to
engage the attention and gratify the taste, before
the hour of retiring, which invariably'- comes
along sooner than is expected. A night's sleep
at Nahant, in hot weather, is a luxury no where
else to be enjoyed — if ice is a luxury at Canton,
so is a bed at Drew's, of a hot August night! —
To be appreciated it must be enjoyed — no one
can describe its invigorating influence.


CoJtivation of trees — Nahant robbed of its wood for
fuel — Robert Page presented for •seiinge saille' with
wood on Sunday — Order of the town for clearing the
land — Considerat ions concerning Nahant; its. past
and present uses, its growtli as a place of resor^.
You could not but have remarked the fact stated,
that in 1630, Nahant was well covered with for-
est trees, of various kinds, which since that time
have all been destroyed. There are now but
few trees of any age on the Peninsula, and those
are principally willows. Eflbris have been re-
peatedly made in years past, to rear trees of ev-
ery description on Nahantj which so far, except-
ing in relation to the Balm oi Gilead, have prov-
ed unsuccessful. Of this last description, Mr
Tudor has raised a great number, and they have
been set out along the road and over the penin-
sula very generally. They have thrived pretty
well so far, and seem to stand the winter and
winds very successfully.

Nahant was robbed of its wood, probably as
the islands in Boston Harbor were, — for fire-
wood. For instance, the inhabitants of Boston
supplied themselves with wood from Noddle's

Island, now East Boston, and probably from the
other islands. We find, in reference to Nahant,
that on the 13th of June, 1668,— "Robert Page
of Boston, was presented for setinge sailie from
Nahant; in his b'^ate, being Loadenwith wood;
thereby Profaining the Lord's Daye." It was
no offence to take wood from Nahant — the of-
fence appears to have consisted in taking it on
Sunday. On the contrary, the town of Lynn,
in 1656, passed an order for clearing of the land,
laying a penalty of 50 shillings on those who ne-
glected to clear their lots in six years. The fol-
lowing is the order from the town records of

"At a towne meeting held February 24, 1656,
It was voted that Nahant should be laid out in
planting lotts, and every householder should
have equal in the dividing of it, noe man more
than another, and every person to clear of hia
wood in 6 years, and he or they that do not clear
their lotts of the wood, shall pay 50 shillings for
the tbwne's use. Alsoe, every householder is to
have his and their lotts for 7 years, and it is to
be laid downe for a pasture for the towne, and
in the seventh year, every one that hath improv ,
ed his lott by planting shall then, that is in the
seventh year, sowe their lott with English corne,
and in every acre of land as they improve, they
shall with their English come, sow one bushel
of hay seed, and soe proportionable to all the
land that is improved, a bushell of hay seed to
one acre of land, and it is to be remembered that
no person is to raise any kind of building at all,


and for laying out this land there is chosen
Francis Ingals, Henry Collins, James Axee,
Adam Hawckes, Lieut. Thomas Marshall, John
Hathorne, Andrew Mansfield."

We have seen that Nahant was originally the
resort of wolves and other wild beasts; next the
resort of the savage, who came here lor food and
amusement on the beaches; next it was formed
into a pasture for the "cattle and swine" of the
first settlers; afterwards it was improved for the
catching- and curing of fish and its lands appro-
priated lA'ith conditions relating to that use; it
was used as a wood lot, to furnish fuel; not only
to "Saugustj" (Lynn, and all the vicinity,) but
to Boston; it was sold for a suit of clothes, re-
claimed and sold again for two old coats; was
mortgaged for £10 to Mr Davison; was again
sold for tv/o "pestle stones;" was afterwards
lotted out to be cultivated, on certain conditions
which we have mentioned; became the subject
of long and ledious litigation among the early
settlers; — and two hundred years afierwards
it became the frequeni lesort of pleasure parties
from Boston and all the country round, afford-
ing no accommodations but its native roughness,
and the roughness of its natives. The former
is well known, and the latter is well remember-
ed. There were but three or four families of
white people on Nahant at this time. It had
then been robbed of its trees, and shorn of much
of its beauty. These families were very shy of
visiters — they disliked the intrusion — would run


affrighted when ihey saw them coming — and it
was with great difficulty that any thing in the
nature of cooking utensil or food, could be ob-
tained from them. They would shut their doors
in the faces of strangers and escape to their back
rooms or chambers of safety. Subsequently to
this time (say about 1815 and up to 1820 ) par-
ties frequently went to Nahant in carriages. — -
A gentleman lately informed me that they used
to start from Boston by daylight in the morning,
taking with them every thing which they would
need except j^sA. Mr Wood, who kept a house
there, would cook for them, and perhaps furnish
a few vegetables.

Visiters became so frequent, and applications
for various little accommodations so common,
that the necessary intercourse increased, and fi-
nally these very people began to make it an ob-
ject to accommodate parties of pleasure, so far
as they were able, and to charge them, as we
have been told, most unconscionable prices for
the smallest favors. This also naturally led to
the opening of several houses for public enter-
tainment, which are now standing in the village,
some half niile from the Hotel. From the time
of which we have been speaking to the present,
Nahant has been the resort of companies of
friends, families and parties, for the enjoyment
of its salubrious air, sea-bathing and its excel-
lent fish. In uncivilized and barbarous times, it
was the resort of wild beasts, the roaming field
and the pleasure ground of the savage; in after
ages^ and in more enlightened times, it is now


the resort of the gay, the beaiitifulj the rich,
the refined. The fair-haired and bright-eyed
beauty of our own country, the stars and
gems of female literature and loveliness from
other climes, men of genius, learning, and fame
— all now resort for recreation and enjoyment to
the early pleasure ground and hunting field of
iheuntuiored savage!


Disappointment on visiting Naliant — Looking out for

tbe S ii-Serpent Correct idea of Nahant "a

watering place," toward the Ocean — Few trees
and shralibery, but not witiiout cultivation — No foxes,
wolves or bears now; but rocks, beacbes, fish, scene*
ry, air, miners I.*, specimens of natural history, ^c.

When persons visit Nahant for the first time
and for a short time, it is seldom the case that
they are not disappointed. They have very like-
ly heard of Nahant — perhaps have heard much
about it, and in many cases expect to see the
sea serpent, or some other wonder, of course. —
We remember, on our first visii to Nahant, we
looked for his snakeship all the way on the pas-
sage, and went incontinently to the piazza of the


hotel, with glass in hand, about as much prepar-
ed to see him as though we had come to witness
an established exhibition. Of course, we did
not see him — his majesty did not choose to be
stared at as a show! He only shows himself,
when it suits himself to be seen. Enpassantf
of the Sea Serpent: without much doubting the
existence of such a creature as the Sea Serpent,
ourselves, we have reason to believe that some-
thing else is seen very often and reported to be
the real serpent. The creature called a Sea Ser-
pent may be frequently seen; but then other
things or creatures, are also seen and also called
the Sea Serpent; and this mistake often makes
trouble and tends to bring discredit upon those
who really have seen Me Sea Serpent. Of late
years at NahaiU, everything uncommon, and
sometimes even a ledge of rocks, which surely
is not very uncommon here, is ''cracked up to
be" the Sea Serpent; and thus the credulous are
imposed upon — the veracity of many intelligent
and truth-speaking witnesses discredited, and an
air of falsehood thrown over the whole story.

But people are liable to be disappointed in re-
gpect to Nahant, more in other matters even,
than in relation to ihe existence and appearance
of the Sea Serpent. Each person has most like-
ly formed in his mind's eye, some idea of the
place; and the chance is, that in most cases it
will be erroneous. The first correct idea— that
Nahant is a ''watering place,^^ does not suffi-
ciently impress them. It is out in the ocean; yet
hundreds look (or such things, and such scenery.


and such recreations, as they would be likely to
find 20 or 50 miles in the interior. They ex-
pect, at least, to find trees and shrubbery, and it
may b .' woods an 1 groves, but even in this they
are to be disappoiated. Trees, woods and shrub-
bery, were once here, but so far from cultivating
or endeavoring to preserve them were the early
settlers, that they proposed a fine if they were
not all cut down in six years! — The place was
at that time, — nearly two centuries ago, —
thickly wooded, and the resort of wolves and
foxes. But now, alas, there is not a single tree,
unless some two or three ancient cedars have es-
caped the axe, of the original growth on the pe-
ninsula; and as to wolves and foxes, excepting
in th^deep fishures ol th.e rocks, there is no place
to hide their heads!

Still Nahant is not entirely without culti-
vation, and is yearly improving in this re-
spect. There are now some very hand-
some gardens belonging to the inhabitants and
to the summer cottages; and our friend Drew
has some fifteen or twenty acres under a high
state of cultivation, and has recently extended and
improved his large garden. The "store of good
land fit ior the plow," mentioned in history, is in a
fair way to b3 cultivated and improved under
his administration and by force and success of
his example. There are several fine fields of
grain, and of the sugar-beet now in a very pros-
perous condiiion, looking and promising as well
as any in the interior, besides abundance of gar-
den vegetables and good mowing land; and these


are much less liable; to injury from early frost
than m the country. The growing of trees,
however, as we have already mentioned, is some-
what less successful, it being almost impossible
to preserve them through the winter siorms. —
They are probably killed by the salt-water spray
blown over themj during the continuance of se-
vere storms. In these storms the waves dash
quite over the highest rocks around the shore.
We have been informed that they are frequent-
ly seen to "o'ertop" the "Pulpit Rock;" and the
spray is then blown by the wind over the land,
even to overflow the piazza of the hotel, — this
it isj we suppose, which kills the young trees.
There are, nevertheless, a few scattering trees
that survive, in certain locations, — the liule Elm,
in front of the bath-house, and protected by it
from the spray, lives on from year to year, and
a few others in sheltered situations, seem as yet
to survive ihe wintry blasts. It is very proba-
ble that trees of various kinds, will flourish here,
as buildings multiply to break off the wind and
afford them shelter, but those produced from the
seed and not transplanted from a different soil,
will undoubtedly thrive best.

We cannot flatter ourselves yet, however, that
those who feel disappointed at not finding Na-
hant a country place, are very soon to be gra-
tified in their expectations. Its 'store of good
ground" may be cullivat(.'d, but woods, groves,
and orchards, it may not yet have. In truth,
desirable as these may be, Nahanr does not need
ihem — they may better be sought for elsewhere.


Nahant has its rocks, beaches, caves, fish, sea-
air, ocean-scenery, its bath-houses and its hotel,
— and these are enough ! These make it what it
is,— a healthful and delightful resort, and those
who seek for such a place, where are constantly-
seen the sublimest exhibitions of nature, in the
ocean-wave, the rock-bound island, and in the
glorious heavens, — need feel no disappointment
on visiting Nahant. Characterised as Nahant
is, by the majestic and sublime, it is still not de-
ficient in some of the pleasing lesser works of
nature: the wild flower in its fields, the miner-
als in its bosom, the shells on its shore, the birds
on its marshes, and the fish in its waters, — af-
ford infinite sources of study and gratification to
the casual observer as to the lover of natural


Nahant the resort of savage and civilized li(e — Some
further description of its topogr.Tpliy— Preservation
of honz Beach by a causeway.


Online LibraryWilliam Willder] [WheildonLetters from Nahant, historical, descriptive and miscellaneous (Volume 2) → online text (page 2 of 3)