Originally part of the large Saugus land grant and later the eastern part of Lynn’s Ward One, Swampscott was settled and established in 1629 when Francis Ingalls came and built the first Massachusetts Bay Colony tannery on Humphrey’s Brook.
Long known as a seafaring fishing village, Swampscott hosted a large commercial fishing fleet which sailed daily from our protected bay. Early accounts of Swampscott considered it a “community of modest means” and indicated that one man in three was a fisherman. Of the rest, a goodly number were shoemakers (also known as cordwainers), shoe cutters (known as clickers), yeomen or farmers and merchants.
In the late 1700s, Ebenezer Phillips learned the dry fish process from the Naumkeaks and set up a processing facility for cod whereby the cod was dried, put in barrels and shipped all over the world. Phillips’ business was a success and he became one of this country's first millionaires.
From its fishing interests, Swampscott reached worldwide status as the place where Ebenezer Thorndike invented the lobster pot in 1808 to revolutionize lobster harvesting. Also, the Swampscott Dory, a fishing boat still in use throughout the world today, was invented in 1840 by Theophilius Brackett to row and to pull lobster pots. The dory was considered the best seaworthy boat for fishermen due to its unique flat-bottomed design.
A few large resorts were built in the 1800's which attracted wealthy patrons, families and businessmen from across the country. Many stayed and built grand homes in the area which played a vital role in the town’s diverse history.
Swampscott separated from Lynn when a group of 97 petitioners told the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that:
- They are situated somewhat remote from the central portion of Lynn; and
- That their business is different from that of the principal part of Lynn; and
- That their convenience and interests would be promoted by a separate government, especially after the citizens of Lynn opted to switch from a town to a city form of government.
Lynn offered no substantial opposition, so the legislature passed an enabling act which authorized the organization of a separate town government under the date of May 21, 1852. On October 9, 1852 Lynn was paid $5,450.00 for the land it lost to the new community now known as the Town of Swampscott. In 1857 land at the far western edge of Salem known as the “Salem Finger” was annexed to Swampscott bringing the total land area to 3.05 square miles.
Alongside Swampscott’s fishing heritage came the advent of large hotels and homes as the community attracted summer residents from every corner of the world. There were also homes of specific historical significance. For example, John Humphrey, the first deputy governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, lived in an attractive saltbox home in 1637 which is now home to the Swampscott Historical Society at 99 Paradise Road and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Stately homes which evolved in Swampscott include Professor Elihu Thomson’s Georgian revival mansion with its unique and ornate interior carvings. Professor Thomson founded the Thomson-Houston Electric Company which is now the General Electric Company. The building, designed by James T. Kelley, now serves as the Town Administration Building and is also listed on the National Historic Register.
Andrew Preston, founder of the United Fruit Company, had one of the major summer estates in Swampscott. The Preston estate covered over 100 acres and included its own golf course.
Architect Arthur Little built several of the first shingle-styled homes in Swampscott, all expansive summer homes with ocean views and most with ballrooms.
The hotel and boarding house business flourished to serve the influx of summer visitors with the Ocean House, the Hotel Preston, the Lincoln House Hotel, the Hotel Bellevue and the New Ocean House Hotel. Notable summer guests, including President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, and Woolworth heiress Ethel Donahue frequented our lavish accommodations.
None of the large hotels remain standing today, most having been destroyed by fire or savage coastal storms, and most of the large estates have been subdivided into single family homes.
Nevertheless, Swampscott has retained the essence of a quiet setting along the north shore of the Atlantic Ocean with the soothing sounds of the ocean lapping along the seashore.