Going Ashore

Marion's development since the arrival of English settlers followed a pattern that is fairly typical for coastal towns in the region. First came descendants of the Pilgrims, spreading out from Plymouth to farm the shores and fish the waters of Buzzards Bay. During the 18th and early 19th centuries, Sippican (as both the village and harbor were then called) became a modest commercial center, focused on the sea. Records indicate some fishing, some whaling, some coastal and deep-water trade, and a little shipbuilding. But according to the Historical Society, the village was better known for the sailors and ship masters it exported than for its maritime commerce per se.

Many of the houses that give in-town Marion its character today date from this commercial period. They were home to carpenters and house painters, to innkeepers, shopkeepers, and bookkeepers, to a cranberry farmer and a strawberry farmer, to a ship caulker and a sailmaker, and of course to the range of men, and some women, who went to sea. The infrastructure of a small working harbor lined the shore, and a large salt works covered the area inland of the wharves now occupied by Barden's Boat Yard.

In the railroad era, beginning in 1855, Marion again followed the pattern of many coastal towns, becoming a summer destination for wealthy urbanites. Marion attracted its share of artists and industrialists, along with two future presidents. Franklin Delano Roosevelt spent the summer of 1921 here being treated for polio (his doctor's house is now the yacht club). And Grover Cleveland, following his wife Francis' recommendation, came to Marion each of the four summers of his interregnum.

In one important respect, though, Marion's history diverges from typical: the influence of Elizabeth Pitcher Taber. Born in Sippican in the late 1700's, Elizabeth taught school, married a New Bedford clockmaker in 1823, and had three children. By the 1870s, Elizabeth's husband and children had all died, and she returned to Marion a widow, but with the profits from the Tabers' investments in New Bedford whaling.

Now in her eighties, Elizabeth began her career as a philanthropist, giving to the town its library, the Music Hall, some parks, and in 1876, the original grounds and buildings of Tabor Academy. The Academy moved a few blocks to its present location in the 1920s and its campus now defines the waterfront between the 'Old Landing' (next to Burr Brothers) and the 'Wharf Village' in town.

There's one additional factor that (I speculate. . .) may have profoundly influenced the development of contemporary Marion. In most old villages, the main road, and then the railroad, ran through the center of town. In Marion, though, the original highway (now Route 6) skirts the western edge of the town, and the railroad station was built up past the head of the cove. So the town center was mostly insulated from the two most important forces shaping late-19th and 20th century small-town streetscapes.

What does all this mean for a visiting sailor today? Mostly that there's not much to do in Marion. Shopping, galleries, pub crawls, movies, museums, fine dining? No. There are a couple of restaurants within a short walk from the harbor -- the Sippican Cafe and The Wave. It's less than a half-mile walk from Burr Brothers to the Cumberland Farms on Route 6. But that's about it.

Marion's appeal as a harbor to visit is found primarily in its almost unique combination of nicely-kept municipal and private buildings on widely-spaced lots. The town blends the order of a tightly zoned subdivision with a character and variety carefully built over 350 years of history.

girl in park with flowers
Geoff Rand
The waterfront park near the Old Landing is right next to Burr Brothers.

One Hour Ashore

The Sippican Historical Society has a nice little walking tour of the central part of town, focused mostly on streets near the water. The stories of the houses and their occupants create a rich, anecdotal sense of Marion's evolution from colonial outpost to prosperous shipping and whaling port to modern suburban town.

Off the Beaten Path

I'd be tempted to take the dinghy up into Hammett Cove, in the upper right-hand corner of the harbor, and check out Boatyard Park. At high tide.

Maritime History

Benjamin Briggs of Marion was captain of the famous ghost ship Mary Celeste, discovered under sail near the Straits of Gibralter in 1872, with her entire crew missing, including Brigg's wife Sarah, also of Marion, and their daughter. Briggs' mother lived in Marion, and Briggs had left his son with her for the voyage.

Rainy Day

The Historical Society has limited hours most days, as does the Library. The Natural History Collection on the second floor indefinitely closed for repairs in 2012.

Sippican Historical Society sign
Geoff Rand


  • Launch
  • Dinghy
  • Showers
  • Restrooms
  • Trash
  • Info

Launch service is included with mooring rental at both the yacht club and Burr Brothers, and both places have dinghy docks as well. Both launches monitor VHF 68.

There are town docks with limited tie-up times along the waterfront downtown.

Showers, restrooms, and trash disposal are also available to mooring customers at the yacht club and Burr Brothers. Burr Brothers' showers are coin-operated. There are also public restrooms underneath the harbormaster's waterfront office near the middle of the harborfront.

The Beverly Yacht Club has a nice summary of local businesses and phone numbers here (pdf, 2013).