Often, unexpected encounters are the most rewarding for curious travelers. Exploring a winding trail to see where it leads or finding something hidden in plain sight, these are the moments that create memories that last a lifetime. Whether you live North of Boston or are traveling from afar, this region is home to many unexpected things to see and do. Here’s a list of five experiences you’ll only find on Boston’s North Shore. This entry is funded, in part, by the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism.
The Secret Staircase at The House of the Seven Gables — Psst…can you keep a secret?
The House of the Seven Gables in historic Salem, Massachusetts, is known for its rich history and association with Nathaniel Hawthorne, but did you know it has a hidden staircase that leads to a secret room? To the delight of many and chagrin of others, this unexpected stop on the guided tour takes visitors up a narrow, winding staircase to a small room behind the chimney. For years, historians speculated about is original use. Was it part of the underground railroad or did it have another purpose? After extensive research, it appears philanthropist and previous owner of The House of the Seven Gables, Caroline Emmerton, added the staircase when renovating to reflect characteristics of the home described in Hawthorne’s novel. You can learn more about the history of the mansion by visiting 7gables.org.
Hammond Castle, Gloucester, MA — Go medieval on Boston’s North Shore!
Did you know there’s a European castle on the coast of Gloucester? The castle was built between 1926 and 1929, by John Hays Hammond Jr., a prolific inventor and pioneer in the study of remote control. Widely traveled, Hammond developed an interest in European art and architecture at an early age, and began amassing a broad collection to display at his personal residence. The quirkiness of the property reflects the owner’s eccentric qualities, which included an interest in the occult and ESP experiments. As you explore the large stone archways, Great Hall and other “Old World” features, you’ll feel transported back in time. New exhibits and a wide variety of community events — including musical concerts, children’s programming and lectures — have been added to enhance the visitor experience. Guided and self-guided tours are also available.
Dogtown, Gloucester, MA — Trails less traveled
For outdoor enthusiasts in search of off-the-beaten path adventure, this 3,600-acre wooded parcel located in the middle of Cape Ann attracts hikers and picnickers who like solitude and varied terrain. Dogtown was once one of Gloucester’s most prosperous settlements, but it began to decline after the American Revolution. With primarily the elderly, widows and recluses remaining, it was believed that some residents were witches because they told fortunes and led solidary lives. After their passing, legend has it their dogs ran wild; thus, the name Dogtown. Today Dogtown is a protected watershed and a great place to explore. With its haunting air of abandonment, woods and unique geological features — including boulders and rock formations left by melted glaciers — it has inspired many poets, writers and artists, including American painter Marsden Hartley. In addition to its natural beauty, it has some quirky features, including “moral values” carved into some boulders, a project commissioned by entrepreneur and economist Roger Babson during the Depression. Maps are available at The Bookstore in Gloucester, and GPS is accessible.
Wenham Museum, Wenham, MA — All aboard for some fun
In the small town of Wenham, Massachusetts, you will discover a hidden gem — The Wenham Museum. The Museum is home to an extraordinary collection of model trains and vintage toys. On the basement level, train enthusiasts of all ages can operate 10 model train layouts with the push of a button, and enjoy other railroad artifacts, toy trains and memorabilia. Helpful “engineers” are often on hand to answer questions. On the main floor, you’ll find an extraordinary collection of dolls from around the world, in addition to costumes and vintage toy displays. Special programming and exhibitions are also offered throughout the year.
Maudsley Park, Newburyport, MA — Hidden history on the Merrimack
Beloved by visitors near and far, this sprawling state park situated adjacent to a residential neighborhood along the bank of the Merrimack River offers surprises at every turn. Once the family estate of the Moseley family, the 450-acre property includes remnants of the estates’ structures, including the ruins of the main house, which once had 72 rooms, an abandoned swimming pool in the woods, a pet cemetery and a formal garden designed by landscape architect Martha Brookes Hutcheson. The park is also home to many ornamental trees, rhododendrons, azaleas and mountain laurels. Programming is offered throughout the year. A map and information about what’s in bloom are available here.