Carver St, Plymouth, MA 02360, USA
Owned By: The Pilgrim Society
Cole’s Hill is a spot to know for local history. It also boasts a spectacular view! This National Historic Landmark, located on a hill overlooking Plymouth Harbor and Pilgrim Memorial State Park, was the Mayflower Pilgrims’ first cemetery (1620). Today a stone sarcophagus stands atop the hill, as well as a large statue of Wampanoag Chief Massasoit.
After traveling from England by way of Leyden, Holland, the European settlers known as the Pilgrims chose to settle here around December 21, 1620. They had surveyed the coast for three days, and ultimately chose this location because of its protected bay, as well as the fresh water provided by Town Brook. They built their first houses on Leyden Street, immediately adjacent.
This land was inhabited by members of the Wampanoag tribe long before the Pilgrims arrived. The Wampanoag sachem, Massasoit, befriended the Pilgrims. Without his aid, they Pilgrims would not likely have survived their first year. 52 of the original 102 Pilgrims died in the winter of 1620-21. Many of them are believed to be buried on this hill. In the 18th and 19th centuries, skeletal remains were inadvertently disinterred from the site. In 1921, the General Society of Mayflower Descendants placed them in the stone sarcophagus that stands atop the hill.
A few other monuments and memorials are present as well, most of which were placed during the town’s tercentenary celebration of the Pilgrim landing, in 1920. These include a statue of Massasoit by Cyrus Dallin, as well as two stone benches that face out to sea, placed by the Pennsylvania Society of New England Women and the Society of the Daughters of Colonial Wars.
The hill was deeded to Samuel Fuller prior to 1633 and later became the property of James Cole, for whom it was named. In 1742, the General Court of Plymouth granted funds to construct a battery here. This was replaced in 1775 and maintained throughout the Revolutionary War. Another battery was established in 1814. In 1820, the preservationist Pilgrim Society took ownership of Cole’s Hill. It is now a public park It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960, and was added to the National register of Historic Places in 1966. Nearby you can also visit Burial Hill, which was established as Plymouth’s primary town cemetery in 1637.
A tall granite staircase extends upward from Water Street to the summit of the hill. At the top, there is a 0.1-mile paved sidewalk trail.
Habitats and Wildlife
Cole’s Hill is located in historic Plymouth Harbor, and is landscaped with grassy areas, low shrubs, and some trees. Look for Town Brook immediately south of the park, where it empties into Cape Cod Bay in Plymouth Harbor. This brook finds its source in the 269-acre freshwater pond known as the Billington Sea, and flows for 1.5 miles before emptying into Plymouth Harbor at this spot.
Town Brook is home to a herring run on the rebound! Every spring, thousands of alewife herring swim upstream, en route to their spawning grounds in the Billington Sea. In 2003, about 7,000 herring were counted here. In 2016, there were nearly 200,000! This is thanks largely to the 21st-century removal of four local dams that impeded fish passage.
Historic Site: Yes
Boat Launch: No
Hours: Dawn to Dusk
Parking: Limited metered parking on Carver Street.
Trail Difficulty: Easy
Two stone benches, coin-operated binoculars.
Dogs: Dogs must remain on leash. Scoop the poop!
Boat Ramp: No
ADA Access: Yes
Scenic Views: Yes
Waterbody/Watershed: Town Brook watershed