One of the most vibrant periods in Marblehead, Ma history was when she hoisted the flag on one of the premier resort hotels on the eastern seaboard, the unforgettable Rockmere Hotel.
From 1901 thru to the late 1950′s The Rockmere hotel and Fo’Cas’Le restaurant provided dignitaries, visitors and locals with world-class accommodations, dining and entertainment.
The Rockmere hotel, also known as The Rock-Mere hotel, was a prime example of the resort style hotel that was popular in the first part of the 20th century.
Today, modern vacationers look for short, action-filled vacations. But in days gone by the upper-middle class families would vacation, usually for the whole summer, at a resort. Many of these resorts included: modern amenities (by the standards of the day), refined dining, superior, personalized service, and entertainment in a luxurious environment. All of these resort requirements were met and exceeded in The Rockmere hotel.
Gilbert & Hattie Brackett moved to Marblehead after selling their Dry Goods shop in Boston. They purchased the bluff and beachfront property that would become the future site of the hotel from a family member named Giles Brackett. Hattie had spent her youth summering in the Berkshire Hills with her family, so the idea of building a resort hotel was a natural transition for her husband and her since they had taken in seasonal boarders their first few years in Marblehead to help pay expenses.
With the decision to build a hotel made and with the unique ocean front land purchased, construction began on a hotel which overlooked the harbor on the curve of Skinner’s Head. This was made possible because of a loan from a family acquaintance in Boston. All of the photos and postcards that detail the life of the hotel show that the main building of the hotel kept it’s original facade through the years of operation, but there were additions.
The Rockmere hotel grew and prospered in the years immediately after initial construction. Researching the visitors and dignitaries who passed through the hotel reveals that one of the most notable groups that stayed at the hotel was Alpha Delta Pi, the first national fraternal society for college women. This group held their 1923 annual convention at the hotel.
It is also well documented that President Coolidge was in the habit of mooring his yacht, the Mayflower, in the harbor while staying at The Rockmere. While this is NOT a photo of President Coolidge, it does show what the Hotel would have looked like as you approached it from the water.
By the late 1920′s it was decided that an entertaining dining and bar area was needed. One of the ballrooms was renovated with a distinctly ‘Nautical’ motif and christened the Fo’Cas’Le restaurant in June 1929. The interior was accessed by passing by the customs area, also known as the gift shoppe that was adorned with a ventilator cover from the battleship USS Utah. (USS Utah was later lost at Pearl Harbor and is enshrined at the memorial in Hawaii.)
Among the other notable items that festooned the Fo’Cas’Le bar were cannons from USS Constitution — Old Ironsides, lighting from an ill-fated S-4 Submarine, later re-designated the SS-109. (The SS-109 was lost at sea in December 1927 after she had recently undergone a re-fit at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.) You could also Declare your arrival\return to the United States by visiting the Snack Bar. Note: It was designated as a U.S. Customs entry point.
In addition to the restaurant expansion a gazebo was constructed. Along with these improvements it should be noted that there were original buildings on the property that were used by the owners and staff as residence. The buildings were known as East View, Gate Cliff and Dovecote. Over the years they were all either removed or demolished.
Vintage advertising for the restaurant from the local newspapers, including the North Shore Breeze, The Boston Herald and Salem Evening News all proclaimed the wonderful food and shore side dining of the Fo’Cas’Le. All this was available while patrons enjoyed the live entertainment provided by Morey Peals’ Syncopating Sailors, a music and dance troupe. Visitors simply had to look for the ‘Sign of the Lighthouse’ to find this nautically inspired dining environment.
The last remaining landmark of local interest is the Anchor that still stands on Gregory Street, outside the the former driveway entrance.
As he reported in May 1993, the anchor was delivered from the Bath Iron Works of Maine in May 1930. The anchor weighs in at 13,625 pounds and when it was in transit it required the Woodfin Brothers Express of Atlantic Avenue in Marblehead to reinforce the undercarriage of the truck used to convey it through the Town to its final resting place.
Unfortunately the picture of the anchor that went with that article is barely legible today, but this photo (left) from the mid-20′s provided by local resident Dan Dixey, clearly shows the hotel in the background and the anchor placard simply states ‘Rockmere’ on it. Today the this local landmark still stands (right) and the placard says ‘Glovers Landing’.
The Hotel Rockmere; built by Gilbert & Hattie and later run by their sons, Raymond and G. Paul Brackett, fell on hard times as Americans began to change the way they vacationed in the early 1930′s. With the growth of automobile ownership, highways and changes in the workplace, many once splendid and renown resorts closed. The summer-long vacation gave up its honored place for shorter trips and changing family vacation preferences.
The Rockmere was sold circa 1937 to the Fox and Hounds Club of Boston and renamed the Hotel Marblehead. The hotel was again sold in 1941 to Resort Hotels, Inc. owned and operated by the Vacassouvich family of Marblehead. In 1958 the property became home to the Quarterdeck Yacht Club and finally was closed up for good in 1963. She stood empty until demolition in 1965 for the multimillion dollar, then controversial, construction project known as Glovers Landing.
A condominium complex was erected on the site in 1965 after demolition of the hotel by Tommy Monahan and the Russell Brothers. It was a slim-vote defeat at a previous Town Meeting for a measure to buy the land and turn it into the Town park.
A sign from the Fo’Cas’Le bar and a tin lantern in the family collection are evidence of a farewell family visit, complete with a rumored farewell lobster bake on the shore behind the sadly darkened and abandoned hotel.
Memories of The Rockmere are many; unfortunately the physical mementos are few.
Postcards occasionally appear for sale on online auction sites. The family has a small collection of keepsakes from the hotel and stories from local residents are occasionally retold over a cup of coffee at The Driftwood Restaurant on Front Street. Many of these items, photos and stories need to be added to this website dedicated to the hotel’s memory.
Thank you for visiting the virtual Rockmere Hotel. Please look around and make yourself at home, but please don’t steal the towels…there just aren’t that many left.