The Town of Nahant is a resort town of rocky coasts in the southernmost part of Essex County. Used in early colonial days as a grazing area for cattle, sheep and goat flocks owned by Lynn residents, Nahant very soon became a maritime community with a small population devoted to fishing. Settlers were granted land for home sites but only if they also spent time fishing and small-boat fishing developed before 1640. Disputed land claims were the hallmark of the town’s early years since the Indian Sagamore George apparently sold the same townsite to three different sets of people. By 1657, Nahant was laid out in planting lots of equal shares for all residents of Lynn with the requirement that all lots were to be cleared of wood in 6 years. This mandate effectively stripped Nahant of all its first growth woodlands.
The town became a resort mecca very early on with chaises coming from Lynn. Visitors stayed in boarding houses or private homes and the first hotel was built by 1803. In 1817 a steamboat sailed from Boston to Nahant daily and by 1826 a stage from the Nahant Hotel connected twice a day with coaches running between Boston and Salem. Fishing and several shoe shops were the major businesses aside from agriculture and tourism and even up to 1830 year-round residents were very few. Thomas Handyside Perkins, a prominent Boston businessman, built a hotel in Nahant in 1823 which featured a bowling alley and by the 1840′s the town was already celebrated as the summer resort of Boston’s elite. Incorporated in 1853, the town was the site of the most massive hotel complex on the Atlantic Coast and the location of an annual regatta. By the end of the 19th century, there was a visible shift away from hotels and toward residences.
An era of skyrocketing growth began about 1870 and continued unabated for the next four decades with construction firms putting up hundreds of summer homes for visitors to the town. In the modern era, Nahant has protected its residential status and farming and industrial activity have disappeared.
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Narrative based on information provided by the Massachusetts Historical Commission.