The Essex Historical Society and Shipbuilding Museum's collections and archives support the organization's purpose by preserving the history of the town's most distinctive feature – its shipbuilding industry – as well as its general history and culture. The collections are divided into three major categories.
Over 8000 Objects
The Museum Collection totals more than 8,000 objects and is comprised of artifacts that record and embody the history of Essex. The largest category in the Museum Collection consists of nearly 3,000 photographs. Many of these photographs portray vessels under construction from the middle nineteenth century through the twentieth century. Essex-built vessels were also photographed during their working lives as fishing schooners sailing out of neighboring Gloucester, Massachusetts. There are also numerous photographs depicting the landscape, historic architecture, industries, and people of Essex.
Our Written History
18th, 19th and 20th century manuscripts and documents depict the town's shipbuilding heritage and many other aspects of the town's history. Included are 18th century daybooks, vessel and labor contracts, a caulker's journal from the middle of the nineteenth century, the town's undertaker and coffin maker's detailed account of his work, and numerous records relating to the schools in Essex in the early nineteenth century. There are also many bills of sale, contracts for labor, lists of household expenditures, wills, deeds and personal correspondence that illuminate centuries of daily life in Essex.
Historic tools are another important part of the collection. The museum has collected more than 500 shipwrights augurs, adzes, planes and caulking tools, to name a few of the many types, which help inform the community of traditional Essex shipbuilding techniques. In addition, the archives houses 500 plans of Essex-built vessels, to further help interpret the town's place in the design of the American fishing schooner. A very important and conspicuous object in the collection is the schooner EVELINA M. GOULART which sits in the shipyard, very near the spot where she was originally constructed and launched in 1927.
The Museum maintains, provides public access to, and interprets several important historic sites in the town center of Essex. The Museum Collections and the majority of its exhibits are housed in an 1835 schoolhouse, which the Museum leases from the town.
The Burial Ground
Adjacent to the schoolhouse is the town's first burial ground, with stones ranging in date from 1708 to 1888 which provide an excellent overview of early New England gravestone styles and are useful in comparing gravestone art in Essex (then Chebacco Parish of Ipswich) to patterns found in other early New England towns. It is also a valuable genealogical resource and the Museum maintains an inventory detailing the names and epitaphs on all gravestones. The town's 19th century hearse house, on the cemetery grounds, is in is the care of the Museum and contains a carriage hearse and a sleigh hearse, both of which date from the middle nineteenth century.
The Museum also owns and interprets a significant historic waterfront site where shipbuilding was carried on uninterruptedly for more than three hundred years and where the Story family established their shipyard in 1813.Essex has a history that is unique among old American villages. A small village, no larger than it is now, on a small tidewater river, built a prodigious number of wooden boats and ships, some four to five thousand in number, and in the process, developed a reputation for some of the finest fishing schooners in the world.