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2 Day Trip Reports in 1: yk visits N Shore of MA (Ipswich/Gloucester/Salem)


Sep 6th, 2009, 08:27 PM
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2 Day Trip Reports in 1: yk visits N Shore of MA (Ipswich/Gloucester/Salem)

Hi all,

My husband and I spent a whole day yesterday in Ipswich and Gloucester; and last month, we were in Salem for an entire day. I understand these aren't top tourist destinations, but since there are very few (or perhaps none) trip reports about these places, I figured I will share my 2 day trips with you, along with a couple of photos.

I am combining these 2 in the same thread, since they are all along the N Shore of MA. In case you're not familiar with this area, it is about 30 odd miles NE of Boston. In planning my trips, I used my Fodors Boston 2009 guidebook, asked some questions here on US Forum, checked out a couple of brochures from the North of Boston Convention and Visitor Bureau. Here is the website: http://www.northofboston.org/

I will start with our trip yesterday to Ipswich and Gloucester.
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Sep 7th, 2009, 06:57 AM
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I received many helpful responses on this thread I asked a month ago:

Castle Hill/Crane Estate
I forgot how, but when I came across the Castle Hill on Crane Estate a while back, I was totally intrigued by it. I'm a sucker for touring mansions and old houses. http://www.thetrustees.org/places-to...the-crane.html

We had to arrive before 10am in order to take their landscape tour, so we gave ourselves plenty of time to get there. Fortunately, since it was so early in the morning, traffic was fairly light even though it was the perfect beach day. The road to the mansion is the same one to get to Crane Beach.

Once we drove up the long and winding path to the top of the hill, WOW is all I can say. I had no idea such a beautiful mansion exists in Ipswich, and the view from the house is unbelievable. In my opinion, Castle Hill trumps Vanderbilt Mansion (in Hyde Park, NY, where we visited last weekend) based on the exterior of the house, the grounds and gardens, and the view.

The current mansion was built in 1925 by Richard Crane, a super-wealthy industrialist from Chicago. His father made a fortune producing valves and pipes, just in time for the boom of Industrial Revolution. Richard Crane expanded the business to include plumbing and bathroom fixtures. Although from Chicago, he vacationed in the MA shore in the summer. He enjoyed it so much that when the land where Castle Hill went on sale, he bought it.

The first house was built on the hill in 1915, designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge in an Italian villa style. Even though Crane and his family only spent 6-9 weeks there each year, Mrs. Crane hated the house enough that she asked her husband to build her a new one. After 10 years, he relented so the old house was razed to the ground and a new mansion was erected based on the same footprint.

The new mansion is a Stuart-style house, designed by David Adler, an architect from Chicago. The front facade is modeled after Belton House in Lincolnshire; while the back facade is modeled after Ham House just outside of London (both houses are from the Stuart-era).

Front facade: http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...N/IMG_4383.jpg

Landscape tour (90 minutes)
It was very worthwhile, because the grounds are lovely with magnificent views. The original landscape was done by the Olmstead brothers (son and stepson of Frederick Law Olmstead), which included the Italian Garden and Rose Garden. The Cranes later hired another landscape artist to design the Grand Allée, which extends 0.5 mile down to the sea.

Italian Garden: http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...N/IMG_4392.jpg
Grand Allée: http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...N/IMG_4391.jpg

Our tour also stopped at the Casino Complex. This is several buildings that are of the Italian-style by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, built at the same time as the first house. One building served as the ballroom, and the other was Bachelor's Quarters. There used to be a salt water pool between the 2 buildings, but Mrs. Crane had it filled in a few decades later.

House Tour (60 minutes)
When Mrs. Crane died, she gave the house and surrounding lands to the Trustees. However, she requested the house furnishings to be auctioned off. The proceeds went to benefit the Art Institute of Chicago. As a result, few of the original furnishings remained, although some items are donated back to the house. Having said that, many rooms still retain their original panelings which are quite beautiful. The Library is the most impressive room in the house: those panels came from Cassiobury House in Hertfordshire, and the carving was done by famed sculptor Grinling Gibbons (which we were told quite rare).

We finally finished touring Castle Hill around 1pm, and we had a small picnic in the car, before we headed off to our next destination, Greenwood Farm.

Greenwood Farm

Greenwood Farm has a 17th-century house called Paine House (c. 1694). The land was first deeded to Robert Paine Sr, in the early 1600s. His son, Robert Paine Jr built this house. He was also "famous" for being the foreman of the jury at the Salem Witch trial. The land and house subsequently passed through several other families, before the Dodge family gifted it to the Trustees in the 1960s.

The Paine House can't be more dramatically different than Castle Hill. It is a saltbox house with lean-to roof. http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...N/IMG_4395.jpg
However, both houses served similar purpose in the 20th century: they were summer retreats for the Dodges (Paine House) and the Cranes (Castle Hill). None of the furnishings are original, however, they are antiques from the 17th century.

According to our tour guide, Ipswich has the largest number of First Period houses (built 1625-1725) in America: 57. Only 2 of the 57 First Period houses are open to the public: one is the Paine House, the other is a restaurant. The rest are all privately-owned homes. You can look up more First Period Architecture in the N Shore here: http://www.essexheritage.org/firstperiod/

Clam Box
This clam shack has been in operation since 1935, and is written up in every travel publication known on earth.

We got there around 2:45pm and the line didn't look too bad. Clam Box changes its oil every day at 2:30pm, and they stop serving for 15-20 minutes during that time. I thought we arrived at a good time, but no we didn't. The line didn't move at all until 3pm, and then it moved very s-l-o-w-l-y. It was another 20 minutes before we ordered our food, and another 10 minutes before it was ready.

Our verdict: What's the hype?! Of course, I don't have other places to compare it with, and it was not bad, but I really could not taste the flavor of the clams. All I could taste was the batter (Clam Box uses cornflour). It was not bad, but definitely not a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and definitely not worth waiting for an hour! And it's pricey too: a large "box" of native clams was $24.75!

Next: short stop in Essex, then on to Gloucester
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Sep 7th, 2009, 07:25 AM
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I love fried clams, but I really don't like those belly clams that are so common in Ipswich and Essex. For me, not worth the wait or the $$$.

I lived in that area for a year, a few lifetimes ago. It is a beautiful area. Nice pictures and report as always, yk!

Waiting for more.
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Sep 7th, 2009, 07:38 AM
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Ipswich celebrates its 375th anniversary this year. This website lists all sorts of events planned for 2009: http://www.ipswichma375.org/

Brief stop in ESSEX
Instead of spending more time in Ipswich (which we should have done), we hurried on to the Shipbuilding Museum in Essex. Even though DH loves boats and ships, we found this museum disappointing. Perhaps because we arrived so late (~4:15pm) that most "activities" have shut down? The museum building is a small house with a 1-room gallery. The outdoor section looks like a junkyard, even though it's supposed to be a working shipyard.

Labor Day Weekend is the Gloucester Schooner Festival. It attracts lots of people from near and far. We parked near Stage Fort Park and stopped at the Visitors Information office there, just before it closes at 5pm. We picked up a self-guided walking tour of Gloucester's Maritime Trail, which was pretty good.

From Stage Fort Park, we walked along the seaside promenade, passing the Gloucester Fisherman's Memorial, then onto Rogers Street, all the way to the Inner Harbor 1.5 miles away. En route, we passed by over 10 schooners docked at the harbor, though only 1 was open for tours.

View from promenade: http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...N/IMG_4398.jpg
Fisherman's Memorial: http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...N/IMG_4400.jpg
One of the schooners: http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...N/IMG_4402.jpg

To get back, we walked on Main Street instead, which has numerous gift shops, boutiques, and restaurants. We weren't planning on having dinner in Gloucester, because the city is currently under a boil-water order (too many coliform bacteria in its tap water). But when we walked pass Gloucester House, we couldn't resist their $15.99 lobster dinner. The lobster dinner consists of a single lobster, corn on the cob, and coleslaw (or french fries).

Okay, you would think that a dinner special offered by a restaurant usually means quick service, right? Plus, how long does it take to cook lobster and corn on the cob? Instead, we waited for 50 minutes for our food to appear. Our waiter apologized, blaming it on the kitchen. Sigh! Lobster was good, but of course, it's impossible to mess up lobster. The corn was terrible, and this is really inexcusable considering how much fresh corn is available all over MA right now. The coleslaw was, well, coleslaw. Since we dislike cooking lobster at home (makes a huge mess), I guess this was an okay compromise.

On the way back to our car, the seaside promenade was now packed with people waiting for the fireworks. We decided we didn't want to see it bad enough to stick around.

In summary, I find Ipswich to be interesting, and a second visit is needed so that we can spend some time in the town center and visit other old houses. I thought Gloucester isn't that picturesque or quaint. Afterall, it's still a working fishing port; not sure if it warrants another visit.
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Sep 7th, 2009, 08:18 AM
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Hi Deb, I have no idea you had lived here on the right coast! I'm glad DH & I aren't the only people who aren't impressed by the fried clams.

SALEM is up next, but I don't think I'll get around to post it until tonight or tomorrow.
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Sep 7th, 2009, 09:02 AM
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I am originally from Westchester County NY. I did live a year in Topsfield MA in the late 70's. I didn't head to SW until 2001.

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Sep 7th, 2009, 11:59 AM
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yk sorry to have missed you, looking forward to your Salem report. Fear not, even under the best of situations Gloucester House is not that great (more of an elderly eater - early bird special type of place) so you weren't singled out for shoddy service. I suspect the water problem did nothing to help them out service- or quality-wise! You were brave to have so much boiled food!
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Sep 8th, 2009, 11:58 AM
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amyb, since the food has to be boiled, we figure it's safe. We didn't drink any water or had ice in our drinks though.

We visited Salem at the beginning of August, coinciding with the Salem Maritime Festival. In addition, the first Saturday of each month during the summer, is the North Shore 17th century Saturdays celebration. Many 17th century houses are open for visit on those selected Saturdays. http://www.escapesnorth.com/17thCenturyBrochure.pdf

Salem Maritime National Historic Site
We began our day at the Visitors Center to find out what tours they offer.

Because of the Maritime festival, fees were waived. We signed up for the 11:15am Tars, Trade goods & Taxes tour. But since we still had an hour to spare, we toured the visiting Kalmar Nyckel - the official Tall Ship of Delaware, which is visiting Salem this weekend. http://www.kalmarnyckel.org/ It is a replica of the 17th-century vessel built by the Dutch. Later, it was sold to the Swedes. It made several Atlantic crossings, leaving its passengers to establish the first European settlements in Delaware in the early 1600s. The USS Friendship that normally docks at Salem's Derby Wharf was away in Maine being restored.

After Kalmar Nyckel, we stopped by the Narbonne House (c. 1675), one of the oldest remaining houses in Salem. http://www.nps.gov/sama/historyculture/narbonne.htm

The Tars, Trade goods & Taxes tour was excellent. http://www.nps.gov/sama/planyourvisi...CP_JUMP_130305
We learned about the importance of the port of Salem in the late 1700s. It was the busiest and wealthiest seaport in the newly-established United States. Money came from ships going to East Indies to bring back expensive spices and tea, and many merchants made lots and lots of money (including Derby who was the first millionaire in US). However, the fortune of Salem came to an abrupt end in 1807, when Thomas Jefferson signed the Embargo act. All overseas trading ceased and Salem suddenly had no other business to support the population there.

About half a century later, Nathaniel Hawthorne took a job at the Salem Custom House, which is included in the tour. By then, Salem was a sleepy little town and not much went on in the Custom House. It was where Hawthorne got his inspiration for The Scarlett Letter.

Salem Custom House: http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...N/IMG_4329.jpg
View of Salem Harbor from the Custom House second floor: http://i406.photobucket.com/albums/p...N/IMG_4338.jpg

We grabbed lunch at Salem Beer Works, an outpost of the Boston Beer Works. I was tempted by their Lobster Roll, even though I should have known better than to order a lobster roll at a beer place. It was mediocre. DH had a burger.

House of Seven Gables
To continue with the Hawthorne theme, we visited The House of Seven Gables.

The actual house can only be visited by guided tours. Hawthorne never lived there, but one of his second cousin owned that house so he visited it often. The original house did have 7 gables, but during the time Hawthorne was alive, the house actually had 3 gables only, because the previous owner had torn down part of the house. Hawthorne learned about the original house from his cousin and wrote about it.

After the tour of the main house, we toured Hawthorne's birthplace. That house originally was located a few blocks down the street, but it got moved to the 7 gables complex.

Peabody Essex Museum

I have been to the PEM about half a dozen times before. We went there mainly for the Dutch Seascapes special exhibition, which has closed since. Anyhow, my favorite sections of PEM include Yin Yu Tang (the Chinese House), and Asian Export Art.


I'm afraid we aren't into the witch museums, so we didn't visit them on our day trip. That's about it, thanks for reading!
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Sep 8th, 2009, 12:18 PM
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YK - Excellent report. I live very close to Ipswich and Essex so I loved reading your report. Hope you make it up to Newburyport too - it also makes a great day trip.

And since you enjoyed the area so much I hope you get a chance to take advantage of Trails and Sails Weekends- the annual Essex County National Heritage event that offers free stuff to do all around Essex County including nature hikes, kayak tours, sail tours, house tours - you name it and its all free.

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Sep 8th, 2009, 12:52 PM
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bennnie, thanks so much for the heads up on the Trails & Sails weekends. I hope I can persuade DH to at least go on one of the days. We definitely want to visit Newburyport, and check out Appleton Farms.
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Sep 11th, 2009, 03:07 PM
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yk -

The Whipple House in Ipswich is also a First Period house (most recently dated to 1677) that is open to the public. Tickets for the Whipple House ($5) also give you admission to the Heard House (1800) across the street (where you buy the tickets).

The "First Period restaurant" is The 1640 Hart House (its name includes the year!). I've only been to a private party there, not to the restaurant per se, but the food we had was very good. It seems like the hours were sort of odd, but I can't remember (we were there for brunch, and it seems like there was no lunch that day - just dinner).

Too bad you did not get out to White Farms (out Route 1A past the Clam Box, all the way at the Ipswich-Rowley town line) for some ice cream! I think they have some of the best on the North Shore. Their key lime pie ice cream is wonderful!
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Sep 11th, 2009, 04:12 PM
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Cranachin, thanks for the additional details! Now we definitely have to make another trip up there. Just the mention of key lime pie ice cream is enough of a lure!
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Sep 11th, 2009, 07:10 PM
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Enjoyed reading your report, yk.

Re Gloucester: true, it's not as quaint as Rockport, and it's still a working fishing town. One area that's well worth visiting is the artist's colony on Rocky Neck, home to a number of local artists who work and exhibit there. In addition, there are a couple Gloucester attractions I haven't been to that might warrant a visit:

-Beauport (Sleeper/McCann House).
-Cape Ann Historical Museum.

Would suggest a look further at these. Am hoping to find out for myself at some point.

The museum is in the downtown area you explored (not far from the train station), but the rest are further south and east of there, well around the harbor from the downtown area.

Good restaurants to explore in Gloucester once they get their water situation straightened out would be Franklin Cape Ann and Duckworth's Bistrot (both open for dinner only). Sorry your experience at the Clam Box wasn't what you had hoped. I really liked their food a lot the times I've been.
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Sep 13th, 2009, 08:04 PM
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Thanks for your trip report. Our daughter did live in Amesbury and son is in Cambridge so we've been in the area...also to genealogy hot spots in Newbury, Ipswich. The Salem places mentioned did also enjoy but others mentioned like Crane Estate I'll file away for future reference when up that way.

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Sep 13th, 2009, 10:09 PM
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Great report, yk! Always fun to read your detailed TRs!
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Sep 14th, 2009, 04:12 AM
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Thanks for the report, our favorite part of MA since the grandkids live in the area. For a nice place to do easy hiking, visit Halibut Point State Park, in an old granite quarry on the coast.
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Sep 14th, 2009, 07:30 AM
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Thanks for posting this, yk. I always enjoy your reports.

While I agree that Gloucester isn't terribly picturesque, I really like it. We first went there (and Salem) as part of a day trip one of the years that we dropped our daughter at school in Amherst. My husband was curious to see it because he'd read and really enjoyed "The Perfect Storm".

When our daughter graduated in '08, her then fiance flew over from Ireland and needed a ride to catch his flight back from Logan. We decided to make the most of the opportunity by spending a couple of nights at the Cape Ann Motor Lodge, just outside of Gloucester. We enjoyed it so much!

For us midwesterners, just being so near the ocean is a real treat! And maybe the fact that Gloucester is a working fishing town is part of its appeal for us. It may not be pretty but it's real! And, of course, there are gorgeous views very nearby.
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Sep 14th, 2009, 10:52 AM
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Regarding Gloucester, the downtown area isn't quaint at all, but there are many scenic spots that can be reached by car or foot that will take your breath away. You just have to know where to go.
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Sep 15th, 2009, 12:21 PM
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One more note on Gloucester. The Gloucester Playhouse is a great little theater frequently performing the plays of Israel Horovitz. Most have a very New England fishing town theme.
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Sep 8th, 2012, 01:26 PM
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ok, so where SHOULD one go for the best lobster in Gloucester/Rockport?
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