Essex, Mass

Essex, Massachusetts

Essex is a town in Essex County, Massachusetts, 26 miles north of Boston. The population was 3,267 at the 2000 census. Essex borders Hamilton to the west, Manchester-by-the-Sea to the south, Gloucester to the east, and Ipswich to the north.

Part of the town comprises the census-designated place of Essex.


Essex was incorporated as a town in 1819. It was previously a part of the town of Ipswich and was then called Chebacco Parish. The first European settlers arrived in 1634. At that time, the land formed part of an area inhabited by Native Americans of the Agawam tribe. The name Chebacco is Agawam in origin and refers to a large lake whose waters extend into neighboring Hamilton. Conomo Point, the eastern-most part of the town, is named for the Sagamore or Chief of the Agawams, Masconomo, the leader of the tribe in the late 17th century. Early on, Chebacco Parish lobbied for status as an independent town, asking for permission to build a meeting house. In colonial times the existence of a meeting house in a settlement conferred de-facto autonomy, so Chebacco Parish was denied permission to build such a structure. Popular history tells that one written dictate was issued stating that "no man shall raise a meeting house", so the residents of the settlement interpreted it as to mean that women would be allowed to do so. It is reported that a local woman, Madam Varney, assembled the town's women and construction of a meeting house was carried out by them while the men looked on.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 15.9 square miles (41.3 km²), of which, 14.2 square miles (36.7 km²) of it is land and 1.8 square miles (4.6 km²) of it (11.17%) is water. It has an outlet to the Atlantic Ocean by way of the Essex River.

The central part of Essex lies on marsh land that surrounds the Essex River. The central channel of this river converges with the Annisquam River at the westernmost tip of Cape Ann where both flow into the Atlantic Ocean. The land that makes up the limits of the town is close to sea level, with a few low hills dotting the landscape. The aforementioned Chebacco Lake and surrounding wetlands make up most of the southwestern part of the town. Essex's population has increased at a sustainable rate over the last quarter century, so it still maintains a certain rural quality with abundant forested areas, wet lands and open spaces.


Though not accessible directly by a major highway, Essex can be reached by two state highways - from the south (Beverly) and west (Hamilton) via Route 22, and from the north (Ipswich) and east (Gloucester) via Route 133. Access to major highway Route 128 can be found within two miles of the town limits of both Manchester-by-the-Sea and Gloucester.

The Ipswich Essex Explorer bus provides weekend service during the summer connecting with the MBTA Commuter Rail at Ipswich, as well as providing service to Crane Beach and other nearby attractions.


As of the census of 2000, there were 3,267 people, 1,313 households, and 887 families residing in the town. The population density was 230.7 people per square mile (89.1/km²). There were 1,446 housing units at an average density of 39.4 persons/km² (102.1 persons/sq mi). The racial makeup of the town was 98.50% White, 0.15% African American, 0.12% Native American, 0.43% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.21% from other races, and 0.55% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.92% of the population.

There were 1,313 households out of which 31.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 56.1% were married couples living together, 7.8% have a woman whose husband does not live with her, and 32.4% were non-families. 26.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.49 and the average family size was 3.03.

In the town the population was spread out with 24.2% under the age of 18, 5.3% from 18 to 24, 30.1% from 25 to 44, 26.9% from 45 to 64, and 13.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 96.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 97.4 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $59,554, and the median income for a family was $70,152. Males had a median income of $48,036 versus $32,000 for females. The per capita income for the town was $31,613. 6.6% of the population and 4.3% of families were below the poverty line. Out of the total people living in poverty, 6.1% are under the age of 18 and 10.8% are 65 or older.


Essex's small size makes New England's traditional direct-democracy style of government practical. The residents of Essex elect a board of three selectmen to carry out the routine business of local government while relying on the town meeting system to decide major issues. In recent years, the most important of these issues has been the leasing of public lands at Conomo Point, a school regionalization plan with Manchester-by-the-Sea and the construction of infrastructure for dealing with sewerage.

In 2002 the town hired a Town Administrator to work for the board of selectmen and oversee day-to-day operations. Policy and major decisions are still verified by the town meeting.



Essex has one public school that offers instruction to children from pre-kindergarten to grade 6. The Essex Middle School had previously functioned to educate students to grade 8. But recent regionalization has brought the Essex Middle School children into the Manchester Essex Regional Middle School, located in the same building as both the Manchester Essex Regional High School and the previous Manchester Middle School.


The town of Essex does not include a high school, and in years past has had to send its grade 9 through 12 students to neighboring districts. Arrangements in the past have included sending high school students to Manchester-by-the-Sea, Gloucester and Hamilton-Wenham public schools. In 2000, the town approved a plan to create a regional school district with Manchester-by-the-Sea. Under the plan, the two towns are served by a consolidated school system, the 'Manchester-Essex Schools', and a new high school. This marks the first time Essex did not have to send its students to another district to attend high school.

In early 2006, the voters of both Essex and Manchester by the Sea approved a new $49 million regional school project for the purpose of building a new Middle School and High School. Both projects were approved at Town Meeting and then again at the ballot box for a debt-exclusion which will permit the towns to raise funds in excess of the 2.5% property tax cap mandated by Prop. 2.5. A similar $36 million plan three years earlier was defeated in Essex at the polls and approved in Manchester. Construction is not expected to be completed until 2010. No start date has been established as of April 2006.


Seafood, tourism and antiques

The main source of income for the town of Essex comes from the shellfish industry and tourism. The fried clam was reportedly "invented" in Essex by Chubby Woodman early in the 20th century. Due to the exceptional quality of the clam that lives in the tidal river in Essex, local restaurants thrive by preparing it along with other types of seafood. Tourists are mainly drawn to Essex for its restaurants, but in recent years leisure activities such as excursions down the Essex River in boats or self-guided kayak trips have become increasingly popular. One major disadvantage that Essex has is that its only beach is not easily accessible by land and as such is not a major draw for tourists as are the beaches of neighboring Gloucester, Ipswich and Manchester-by-the-Sea. Essex, with an abundance of natural beauty, must also compete with nearby Rockport for tourists in search of quaint New England charm. In the last two decades, there has also emerged a flourishing antiques trade in Essex. The town now boasts of being the municipality with the greatest number of antique shops per square mile in the US.

Former shipbuilding center

The town of Essex was once home to a prosperous shipbuilding trade. This industry accounted for most of the revenue of the town from the days of its settlement as Chebacco Parish until the early part of the 20th century. Once a leading supplier of schooners for Gloucester and other Atlantic fishing communities, Essex did not adapt to the transition from sail powered wooden ships to engine powered metal vessels and this activity disappeared around World War II. There have been recent attempts to return to shipbuilding on a small scale as a tourist attraction and they have met with some success. The Essex Shipbuilding Museum stands as a living testament to the wooden shipbuilding industry and the neighboring boat yard owned by generations of the Burnham Family still constructs and launches classic wooden ships built in the Essex tradition.


There are several active youth sports teams as well as other youth organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts of the USA.


Essex has several churches of various Protestant Christian denominations (Methodist, Universalist, Congregational) as well as a Roman Catholic parish.

Points of interest

Film references

1995. The feature film The Crucible, starring Winona Ryder and Daniel Day-Lewis, was filmed in Essex. Winona Ryder stayed in a private home on Western Ave. during the filming of The Crucible.

Notable residents

  • Rufus Choate, (1799-1859), lawyer, orator, US Congressman, Senator. A close friend of Daniel Webster, Choate was chosen to serve out his unfinished term in the US Senate. Choate is considered today to be one of the fathers of traditional American conservatism. Choate St, named after the Choate family, connects John Wise Ave to Chebacco Rd.
  • Michael G. Ford (born 1950), eldest son of U.S. President Gerald R. Ford lived in Essex at the same time his father occupied the White House. Ford made Essex his home while studying at nearby Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
  • Jonathan Knight, member of 80's-90's boy band New Kids On The Block, which was based out of nearby, Dorchester, MA
  • John Wise (1652-1725), pastor of Chebacco Parish (when this parish remained part of the neighboring town of Ipswich), who spoke out against "taxation without representation" more than a half century before the American Revolutionary War. John Wise Ave (a section of MA Route 133) is named for him.
  • Evan Dando, founder and frontman of the popular alternative rock band The Lemonheads, is an Essex native.
  • Lucille Blackwood, (1929-1981) antiques auctioneer, dealer, appraiser, teacher. Credited with seeding Massachusetts with hundreds of dealers and collectors as a result of her college courses and professional lectures. Thought to be the first female auctioneer in Massachusetts.
  • Edward H. Saltzberg, (1921-1995) antiques dealer and appraiser. Last of an old school of dealers in Essex County, Massachusetts whose merchandise was almost entirely garnered from the region and subsequently sold from a traditional shop (without exercising auctions, show circuits, or the Internet). Son of Joseph Saltzberg of adjacent Ipswich, a cabinetmaker and antiques dealer.
  • Arthur Dana Story, (1854-1932), shipbuilder credited with constructing nearly 430 vessels including the Adams, Warwick, the famous Gertrude L Thebaud (considered the last of its kind) and the famous Columbia, widely regarded as the most beautiful schooner ever built. The Essex Shipbuilding Museum occupies his old shipyard by the Essex River.

External links

Search another word or see Essex, Masson Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature