The Essex National Heritage Area

Spanning 500 square miles north of Boston, the Essex National Heritage Area is a place of such remarkable natural and historic value that it was designated by an Act of US Congress in 1996. National Heritage Areas are large, lived-in landscapes where historic, cultural, and natural resources combine to form places of unique significance to the American public. 

Why is this place special?

Bordering on the North Atlantic, the Area’s rocky coast and snug harbors have challenged and protected generations who take their living from the sea. The coastal towns remain busy with maritime activity including lobstering, fishing, and recreational boating. The communities are filled with remarkable architecture from working waterfronts to historic mansions. 

Marshlands and beaches provide important habitat for birds and marine life. The Great Marsh, extending across the northeast section of the Area, is the largest salt marsh in New England. Sand dunes and saltwater grasses make this a place of great environmental importance as well as a landscape of remarkable beauty and abundant recreational opportunities. 

Away from the coast, the landscape is defined by picturesque towns clustered around green commons and centuries old farms encircled by ancient stone walls, pastures and woodlands.  This pastoral scene gives respite from the busy Boston metropolis close by. A strong commitment to conservation has reserved acres of open space and hiking trails which are accessible to the public.

Along the Area’s northern border flows the Merrimack River, the second largest river in New England. The United States was transformed when its waterpower was harnessed to drive the mills that sparked the Industrial Revolution. Former mill buildings now house high tech industries, residences, and new creative arts spaces.  Pleasure boaters navigate the swift river and rail trails provide outdoor recreation.