Natalie Loomis

Recently I had the good fortune to spend some time with Mrs. Natalie Loomis at her home on the South River in Marshfield. Knowing that I love a great river story, Natalie had invited my husband and me over to meet her grandson Jason and see the truly unique “marine vehicle” he and his Inventors Club colleagues had created.

It was a perfect late summer day – sunny, not too hot – so we took the scenic route: down Union Street, up Spring, across to Summer, traveling the perimeter of Marshfield and following the course of the North River. Rounding the bend near Damon’s Point, suddenly I could smell the ocean, a scent that always puts me at ease. Typically I work mornings, but I had the week off. It was a rare treat to be able to drive at leisure along some of Marshfield’s most scenic roads on such a beautiful day.

Arriving at the Loomis home on Ferry Hill, we were led to the back yard to see a most curious creation. At least seven feet tall, constructed of wood, styrofoam and chicken wire, it looked like a giant hamster wheel. There were kayaks in the yard, a number of pleasure boats moored in the river, all of which made sense to me. But this? I didn’t quite understand how it too was a “marine vehicle.” Jason, 33, offered to demonstrate for us.

The Loomises have had a home on the South River for several generations. Natalie, now in her eighties, and her late husband Aaron both summered on the river as youngsters — Natalie’s family on Ferry Hill, and Aaron’s down in Humarock proper. They met in Sunday school and courted on the river as teenagers, with Aaron pulling up in his boat and whistling for Natalie to come down the hill to join him. When they married and started a family, they upheld the summer tradition, traveling from Needham first to stay with Natalie’s family, and later in a cottage of their own. Eventually they purchased a larger house, right on the river, and made it their permanent residence.

The Loomises instilled in their children an appreciation of nature and a love for the South River in particular. During storms, the family would gather on the porch to watch the dark clouds roll by. “So none of my children are afraid of lightning,” Natalie explained. Aaron, an MIT engineer, and his sons designed and constructed the family’s wooden pier, which after fifty years is still standing strong. The deck of their home affords a panoramic view of the estuary, the river mouth, Trouants Island and Humarock. With a view like that constantly available, how could one not love the river?

The Loomis family is now spread out across New England, but they come back to Marshfield frequently. For the past five years they and their close friends have held an Annual South River Regatta, which this year drew sixty participants and spectators.

This is not your typical regatta. Any type of hand-powered craft may compete. If you’re thinking canoes and kayaks, you are only seeing part of the picture because son Warren and grandson Jason are engineers as well. There’s a surf bike (a bicycle mounted on a surfboard), a forward facing rowboat (for those who enjoy rowing without looking over their shoulder), and “The Big O” — constructed this summer in by Jason in his grandfather’s workshop — the hamster wheel contraption that was this year’s most popular contestant.

You wouldn’t call “The Big O” a boat. You stand inside it and run in place to get it moving, leaning your weight to one side or another when you need to steer. It’s hard work and you get quite wet, but it’s fun too, because essentially you are walking on water.

“People were awestruck,” said Natalie, the sole contestant in the Octogenarian Kayak division of the regatta. This is not the kind of craft one typically sees on the South River. Who knows what might happen next year.

Ten years ago, when I first started writing about the North and South Rivers, I wondered whether there was a community based around the rivers themselves. Were there people who were drawn together by their love of the water? Could such a community exist in this highly individualized day and age? Again and again I find that the answer is yes. Whether it’s families who gather at the river, friends who meet on weekends to canoe or kayak, or close-knit neighbors bearing the hardships of winter storms together, the river community does exist. And it’s growing.

by Kezia Bacon Bernstein, Correspondent
August 2002

Kezia Bacon Bernstein’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168.