So You Want to Live in ... Nahant

Courtesy of Robert A. Wilson
Just minutes from Boston, this historic community has a stunning coastline and classic small-town atmosphere.

Liz Carlson and her husband had two criteria when they were hunting for a place to live in the Boston area. "We wanted to raise a family in a small town and near the coast," says Liz, an interior designer.

She found both in Nahant. With fewer than 4,000 residents and ample water views, this tiny town delivers "small town" and "coastal" in a big way. Nahant (pronounced "nuh-HAUNT"), which spent its early years as a summer colony, is said to be the smallest municipality in Massachusetts.

"As soon as I cross the causeway, I say 'Ah,' and it feels like I'm on vacation," Liz says. Four years ago, she and her husband bought a 1920s summer cottage on Nahant's west side and winterized it for year-round use. It's within walking distance of an elementary school and a playground, and just a short drive to Nahant Road, which is lined with historic houses.

During the late 1800s, Nahant attracted Boston's elite families, such as the Cabots, Lodges, and Lowells. They were joined by Harvard's luminaries: poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and scientist Louis Agassiz, among others. From the 1890s to 1940s, Nahant's popularity spurred a building boom responsible for most of the houses still standing. Today the town draws newcomers attracted to its relaxed pace and hilly, seaside setting.

"You're never more than two blocks from the ocean," says Rob Vanderslice, who moved to Nahant 20 years ago after getting lost. "I thought I was taking the road to Marblehead," he says, referring to the tony harbor town nine miles north. Rob soon joined the Nahant Dory Club, a group of avid sailors. He and his wife live in a 1780s Colonial house they restored eight years ago. They recently hosted a garden party marking the 150 years since Henry Wadsworth Longfellow summered at their home.

Longtime resident Calantha Sears, whose four grandparents moved to Nahant in the 1860s, says newcomers appreciate the town's history. "So many people are so caring about Nahant," says Calantha, curator of the Nahant Historical Society.

Driving around town, she notes examples of the projects they've supported. One will restore a Coast Guard station for possible use as a community center. Another will revamp World War II bunkers to store the town's vehicles. And a third preserves pathways through densely forested parts of town. "It's so beautiful here," Calantha says. "People who grow up in Nahant cherish it."

And so, it seems, does a new generation of residents.

(published November 2007)

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