Essex, consistently named one of the best small towns in the United States, looks much as it did in the mid-19th century, at the height of its shipbuilding prosperity. So important to the young country was Essex's boat manufacturing that the British burned more than 40 ships here during the War of 1812. Gone are the days of steady trade with the West Indies, when the aroma of imported rum, molasses, and spices hung in the
air. Whitewashed houses—many the former roosts of sea captains—line Main Street, which has shops that sell clothing, antiques, paintings and prints, and sweets.