Famous Military Forts & Historic Sites Along the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway

June 30, 2023

The Essex Coastal Scenic Byway is a picturesque route that winds through the North Shore of Massachusetts. Along the way, travelers can explore a rich history of military sites and forts which played a crucial role in defending the coast during various wars and conflicts. In this blog post, we will highlight some of the most famous forts and military historical sites along the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway – any of which would be a great day trip destination for history lovers!

Fort Sewall

Address: 8 Fort Sewall Lane, Marblehead, MA 01945

In Marblehead, there is a historic coastal fortification called Fort Sewall. It is situated on a promontory that looks out over Marblehead Harbor’s entrance at Gale’s Head, which is the northernmost point of the main Marblehead peninsula. 

It was built in 1644 as a protective breastwork on Gale’s Head, one of the rocky headlands in this region. In order to defend against the French, the fort was expanded in 1742. Further development, which included a magazine and barracks, took place in 1794 and again during the Civil War. Find out more about the history of the fort and how to get there.

Abbott Hall Maritime Museum

Photo Credit: Derrick Mills

Address: 188 Washington Street, Marblehead, MA 01945

Also located in Marblehead, Abbott Hall acts as both the town hall and a maritime history museum that is open to the public. The Museum’s collection tells the story of Marblehead’s key naval, maritime, and early aviation related history. Find out more details and history about Abbott Hall Maritime Museum.

Fort Pickering

Address: 50 Winter Island Road, Salem, MA 1970

Fort Pickering is a 17th-century fort that was used to operate as a strategic coastal defense and military barracks for Salem Harbor and protect the town of Salem during various conflicts, including the American Revolution and the War of 1812. The fort is located within Winter Island Park, which is open to the public seasonally. You can visit Fort Pickering and learn more about the history of it here. Enjoy a nice picnic at Winter Island Park while you’re there!

Fort Lee

Address: Fort Avenue, Salem, MA 01970

Nearby Fort Pickering, Fort Lee is a historic American Revolutionary War fort. It is located at a high point next to Fort Avenue on Salem Neck and is significant for being one of the few largely intact earthwork forts from the Revolutionary War era in Massachusetts. Despite the fact that there were no noteworthy engagements there during the Revolutionary War, it acted as a deterrent to the British.

Stage Fort Park

Address: 24 Hough Avenue, Gloucester, MA 01930

Stage Fort Park is a beautiful seaside park that features a historic fort and beautiful views of the harbor. The fort was built in 1692 and was used during various conflicts, including the American Revolution and the Civil War. Today, visitors can explore the fort and enjoy the park’s many amenities, including picnic areas, walking trails, and a playground. 

Fort Ruckman

Address: Nahant Road, Nahant, MA 01908

While not directly on the Byway, Nahant’s Fort Ruckman is not a far trek from the southernmost end starting in Lynn. It is a former military fort that was used to defend Boston Harbor during World War II. It was named after General Albert L. Ruckman, who was instrumental in the development of coastal defenses during the war. The fort, which was originally known as the Nahant Military Reservation, was constructed between 1904 and 1907 and was situated about 45 acres northwest of Bass Point on the Nahant peninsula’s southwest edge. This region was given a new name in the 1920s to recognize Maj. Gen. John Wilson Ruckman, a former Coast Artillery Colonel.

Learn more about the fort’s history and its current status here!

Newburyport Powder House

Address: 57 Low Street, Newburyport, MA 01950

A restored powder house from around 1822 is located at Powder House Park & Learning Center in Newburyport. The local militia used gunpowder, flints, musket balls, and camp kettles that were kept away from residences of the time to protect the neighborhood. In the chaotic years following the War of 1812, when the British set fire to Washington’s public structures, the Powder House was constructed. Everyone who could join a militia was a male. The Powder House in Newburyport saw extensive service during the Civil War.

Custom House Maritime Museum

Address: 25 Water Street, Newburyport, MA 01950

Nearby, the Custom House Maritime Museum features exhibits about the history of Newburyport and its role as a seaport. It is a vibrant museum of maritime history, an educational and cultural hub, a developing research facility, and a gathering place for those looking for a distinctive location for business or social meetings. Through our connections with neighborhood educational, artistic, commercial, and environmental organizations, we link our vibrant past to our thriving present.

The distinctive collection of maritime artifacts, models, and historical documents is housed in this old building and reflects the area’s rich history from the 17th to the 20th centuries.

Hospital Point Light

Address: 1 Bayview Avenue, Beverly, MA 01915

Hospital Point Light is a historic lighthouse that has been guiding ships into Beverly Harbor since 1872.  It forms the front half of a range that guides vessels toward Salem Harbor. The tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places as Hospital Point Light Station on September 28, 1987. Visitors can access the park adjacent to the lighthouse for a view of the structure and the Coast Guard opens the light tower for tours for special events during the year such as Beverly Homecoming and Trails & Sails. Find out more details here.