Swampscott Fish House
The Swampscott Fish House, located at 391 Humphrey Street, Swampscott, Massachusetts is a registered national landmark. Built in 1896, it was designed by the architect Henry Warren. It is the oldest working fish house in the country, and the only such building that is municipally owned. The Fish House was built to offer fisherman leasable units in a single building, replacing the numerous small fishing shanties previously dotting the Swampscott coastline. Construction of the Fish House coincided with the construction of several summer hotels and elite summer “cottages” that were built in the late 19th century. The Town of Swampscott took several of the small individual lots by eminent domain and replaced them with a beautiful building, designed to blend architecturally with surrounding structures. Some of the nicer fishing cottages were moved to Orient Street, now known as Puritan Road.
Located on Blaney Beach, its pier and adjacent Fisherman’s Beach offer dramatic views of the Boston skyline, Egg Rock, Massachusetts Bay, and the Nahant peninsula and causeway. The large, rectangular Shingle Style edifice with Colonial Revival features is two stories with a hipped roof. A central pavilion with wood balustrade forming a look-out rises above the two ends of the building. Large wall dormers dominate the end elevations and several steeply sloping shed roof dormers enliven the side elevations. Windows and doors have a lattice design. The lockers on the first floor have been in continuous use by fisher folk and lobster catchers since it was built, while the Harbormaster’s office occupies one locker. The Fish House was restored to its original color scheme in the 1980s when the Swampscott Historical Commission analyzed portions of the building layer by layer. Over the years, it had been painted various shades of brown with green doors, blue doors and during the 1960s it was painted red for many years until being restored to its original color.
Blaney Beach was the center of the fishing industry in Swampscott. Fisher folk stored their gear and nets, often seen drying on huge spools in the adjacent parking lot. Over the years, the fishing industry gave way to lobstering. The Swampscott Dory, a small flat-bottomed fishing boat designed to be launched off the beach, was invented in 1840 by Theophilius Brackett. Swampscott Dories are still in use today. The lobster trap was also invented in Swampscott. As of 2021, Swampscott’s commercial fishery continues, with approximately twenty commercial fishermen operating out of the Harbor. Since 1933, the Fish House has been home to the Swampscott Yacht Club which shares the third floor with the Swampscott sailing program.
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