Recently, Lou Gallo sat down with the Swampscott Public Library's Podcast Series to discuss Swampscott’s Fish House and our early fishing industry. We learn why the Fish House was built and what is unique about it.
On February 17, 1933, Frederick W. Cook, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, issued the certification of incorporation for the Swampscott Yacht Club to Richard B. MacFarland and 69 other names ending with Sidney T. Doane.
The Club was founded with the following purpose: Yachting and social: particularly for encouraging and engaging in athletic exercises and yachting and for establishing and maintaining a place for holding meetings.
The Forward to the Club’s original by-laws stated its Principal Purpose: “It is intended to give every encouragement to [members] who are interested in the handling of sailing craft, and in order to make it easy for them to become members of the Club, their dues have been set at $2.00 annually, without requirement of any entrance fee. They remain junior members until they are 17 years old, when they automatically become Senior Members even though the Membership List is full at that time.”
Swampscott’s early history is tied closely to fishing and boating. The Club is located in the Fish House at Humphrey Street on Fisherman’s Beach, the only municipal fish house on the East Coast. Long known as a seafaring fishing village, Swampscott hosted a large commercial fishing fleet which sailed daily from the protected bay. Early accounts of Swampscott considered it a “community of modest means” and indicated that one man in three was a fisherman.
In the late 1700s, Ebenezer Phillips learned the dry fish process from the Naumkeags and set up a processing facility for cod whereby the cod was dried, put in barrels and shipped all over the world. Phillips’ business was a success and he became one of this country’s first millionaires.
From its fishing interests, Swampscott reached worldwide status as the place where Ebenezer Thorndike invented the lobster pot in 1808 to revolutionize lobster harvesting. Also, The Swampscott Dory, a fishing boat still in use throughout the world today, was invented in 1840 by Ralfus Brackett to row and to pull lobster pots. The dory was considered the best seaworthy boat for fishermen due to its unique flat-bottomed design.
A few large resorts were built in the 1800s which attracted wealthy patrons, families and businessmen from across the country. Many stayed and built grand homes in the area which played a vital role in the town’s diverse history.