Just minutes from Boston, this historic community has a stunning coastline and classic small-town atmosphere.

By Jill Connors
October 02, 2007
Just minutes from Boston, this historic community has a stunning coastline and classic small-town atmosphere.
Courtesy of Robert A. Wilson

Liz Carlson and her husband had two criteria when they werehunting for a place to live in the Boston area. "We wanted to raisea family in a small town and near the coast," says Liz, an interiordesigner.

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

"As soon as I cross the causeway, I say 'Ah,' and it feels likeI'm on vacation," Liz says. Four years ago, she and her husbandbought a 1920s summer cottage on Nahant's west side and winterizedit for year-round use. It's within walking distance of anelementary school and a playground, and just a short drive toNahant 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 byHarvard's luminaries: poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and scientistLouis Agassiz, among others. From the 1890s to 1940s, Nahant'spopularity spurred a building boom responsible for most of thehouses still standing. Today the town draws newcomers attracted toits relaxed pace and hilly, seaside setting.

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

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

Driving around town, she notes examples of the projects they'vesupported. One will restore a Coast Guard station for possible useas a community center. Another will revamp World War II bunkers tostore the town's vehicles. And a third preserves pathways throughdensely forested parts of town. "It's so beautiful here," Calanthasays. "People who grow up in Nahant cherish it."

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

(published November 2007)