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The Marblehead Rail-Trail appears on maps as a Y resting on its side, connecting Marblehead and Salem in the north and the city limits of Swampscott in the west. The 4-mile trail knits together a coastal area that’s steeped in Colonial history, from The Spirit of ’76 painting hanging in a Marblehead museum to the infamous Salem witch trials of the 1690s. The trail is also part of the East Coast Greenway, a developing 3,000-mile trail system stretching from Maine to Florida.
The rail-trail follows a short spur of the historical Eastern Railroad, which launched service from Boston to Salem in 1838 and eventually served the coastline from Boston to Portland, Maine. The Marblehead spur opened in 1839 to connect that fishing village to Salem on the main line, followed by another branch linking Marblehead to the Swampscott depot. The rival Boston & Maine Railroad bought the Eastern Railroad in 1890 and operated the Marblehead branch until 1959. In the 1970s the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) acquired the main line, where it runs commuter trains.
The junction at the old station site in downtown Marblehead is a central starting point with plenty of parking. It’s only a few blocks from the town’s historical waterfront, where fishing and whaling ships docked alongside privateers during the American Revolution. Reflecting the spirit of those times, the distinctive Abbot Hall museum on Washington Street displays The Spirit of ’76, a painting depicting a fife and drum corps marching across a battlefield.
Follow the sandy path across from Round House Road for 0.25 mile to a utility yard, and take the right fork toward Salem. The sandy trail enters the 10-acre Hawthorn Pond Conservation Area, where you’ll find marshes, ponds, and nature trails. Crossing West Shore Drive, you enter the 34-acre Wyman Woods Conservation Area to find more wetlands and hardwood forests alongside Salem Harbor. Trail users can hike down a sandy footpath to the water’s edge or view the scenic harbor from a bridge.
Use caution crossing busy MA 114/Lafayette Street to a smooth asphalt section of the trail labeled Salem Bike Path. This 0.6-mile segment ends at Canal Street after passing Salem State University. Another 0.6-mile section between Canal and Roslyn Streets is scheduled for construction in 2018 to connect with an existing short segment that ends at Mill Street. The MBTA Salem Station, Salem Old Town Hall, the harbor, and museums related to the witch trials are all close by.
Taking the left fork at the Marblehead utility yard, you’ll head toward Swampscott, nearly 2 miles away. The sand and gravel trail crosses Pleasant Street and runs beside playing fields at Marblehead High School. Students from nearby homes use the trail as a commuter route. About 0.5 mile past the Temple Emanu-El parking lot, the trail passes a side path to the 9-acre Ware Pond Conservation Area, where you can visit the pond and wildlife refuge on nature trails.
The trail becomes a narrow path before it ends on Seaview Avenue at the Swampscott town limits. Residents voted in 2017 to design a 2-mile extension along the old railroad right-of-way to the MBTA Swampscott Station, where the 1868 Eastern Railroad station is located.
To reach the Marblehead trailhead from MA 128/Yankee Division Hwy., take Exit 26 for Lowell St. Head east on Lowell St., which becomes Main St. in Peabody, then Boston St. Go 2.5 miles and turn right onto MA 107/Essex St. and then in 0.1 mile turn left onto Jackson St. Go 0.4 mile and turn right onto Jefferson Ave., and then go 1.2 miles and turn left onto MA 1A/Loring Ave. Go 0.5 mile and turn right onto MA 114/Lafayette St. Go 1.3 miles and turn left onto W. Shore Dr., and then go 0.8 mile and turn right onto Village St. Go 0.4 mile and turn left onto Highland Ter., which curves right to become Bessom St. Look for parking on either side of Round House Road.