The Dixey Collection: Meet the keeper of 5,000 Marblehead photographs

The Marblehead Current is proud to partner with photographer Dan Dixey, who will be sharing photos from his extensive collection, along with information about each shot, in our print and online editions.

“Each picture is a frozen moment.”

So says Dan Dixey, who has collected more than 5,000 photographs of Marblehead dating back to the 1860s and chronicling life here in town.

Photographer Dan Dixey has collected more than 5,000 pictures of Marblehead.

“Each picture makes me wonder what else was going on around it and how my family was a part of what was going on,” Dixey told the Marblehead Current.

Dixey is an 11th-generation Marbleheader.

“William Dixey sailed over on one of the first English ships and settled in Salem in 1629, when Salem encompassed Marblehead. He had a piece of land on the Salem Harbor side.  Another Dixey ran a ferry in 1644 from Naug’s Head (now Naugus Head) to Salem.” 

Dan, 69, grew up on Reed Street and graduated from Marblehead High School in 1971. He worked in HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) sales and moved to Maine in 2005.  

“It’s quieter in Maine,” he explained. “It reminded me of what Marblehead was like growing up. Everybody knew everybody else. We didn’t lock our doors. A lot of people just want to hold onto that childhood that they had. That’s why I love the old pictures. They take you back.”

Dixey always enjoyed taking photographs and had a dark room in his Marblehead home. But his interest in genealogy started with a Christmas gift from his wife.

“She got me a book about Marblehead, and I started doing the family tree up at the Marblehead Historical Society when Bette Hunt was there.”

He started collecting old photos of Marblehead and hasn’t stopped. Sometimes he buys collections, other times, people donate their old photos to him. Just recently, the family of Dave Moynihan of Marblehead gave Dixey 1,500 of Moynihan’s old slides. 

“Dave was always walking around town with his camera from the 60s to the 80s. There are a lot of street scenes and harbor scenes. He’d walk around after a snowstorm and take photos. They’re historic now because they were taken so many years ago.”

Dixey has digitized all of Moynihan’s slides and hopes to feature them in an exhibit sometime soon.

Dixey’s earliest pictures date to the 1860s and are stereo cards — two nearly-identical photos side by the side viewed through a special device and creating the impression of three-dimensionality.

A stereo card of Marblehead in the 1860s, which is part of Dan Dixey’s collection. PHOTO / COURTESY DAN DIXEY

“I have about 100 different Marblehead scenes in those stereo cards”, he said. 

He also has glass negatives from the 1890s. “The old glass negatives are my favorites because they’re so sharp and clear. They captured incredible details with those big old box cameras. I love those. “

Many of the glass negatives from the 1890s were taken by Marblehead photographer Fred Litchman. “He started down on State Street, where Maddie’s is now on the second floor. Then he bought the building next to the Lee Mansion. He took fantastic photographs — a mixture of street scenes, people, groups, baseball teams, soldiers going off to war. “

Litchman shot through the 1940s, switching from glass negatives to film.

So, what is Dixey’s all-time favorite photo from his collection?

“There’s one of girls sitting on their bikes on State Street. I really like that one,” he said.”The girls are all dressed up for picture day. State Street was a dirt road.” The photo was taken in 1898.

After viewing thousands of images of Marblehead through the centuries, certain changes stand out to Dixey, including vehicles and clothing styles. “I’m always impressed by the formal wear years ago — women with long dresses, men and boys with hats, jackets and ties as normal street attire.”

Dixey has published three books of historic Marblehead photos. His next project, however, is a documentary.

“It’s about Marblehead fishermen and lobstermen in the business today. I talked to 26 of them, including Hugh Bishop, who is 85 and has been lobstering since he was 15. I used my GoPro and video camera. I was down at the wharf at 4:30 a.m. every morning. By the time I was finished (with the project), I felt like half of them are my friends.”

Dixey hopes the film will be completed this spring. You can see more of his photos on his Facebook page at and here at the Marblehead Current.

“View looking down Front Street from in front of The Barnacle Restaurant. This was during Marblehead’s 350th celebration and there were events taking place at Fort Sewall and other locations around town. This slide was taken on June 9, 1979 by the late Dave Moynihan.” Dan Dixey
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Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.

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