Owned By: Town of Norwell
In a certain section of the North River in Norwell, at low tide, a series of Atlantic white cedar logs protrude from the salt marsh. We think that this is the remains of a late 17th- to early or mid 18th-century corduroy road! This is a historical and archaeological artifact. Please do not disturb it in any way!
Corduroy roads are known to have existed as far back as the Roman occupation of England (AD 43 – AD 410), and probably originated in ancient Egypt. The European colonists who settled in Norwell in the mid-to-late 1600s would have been familiar with them. Similar structures have been unearthed in Fairfield, Connecticut and in parts of the Chesapeake watershed.
Local historian Paul F. McCarthy has been researching this intriguing artifact. He describes a corduroy road as being distinctly different from a landing or a wharf, and adds that it likely was used in the salt haying industry, as a staging area for the transfer of newly mown salt marsh hay. Using two-man hay poles, workers would transfer large stacks of hay onto boats called gundalows, and transport them downstream to landings from which they could be carted away. Salt marsh hay was used widely for animal feed, roof thatch and insulation in both homes and gardens.
When built, this structure would have stood above the high tide line. Note how it is now only visible at low tide. The river environment has changed significantly over the past few centuries! Very likely, more remnants exist, but they remain buried under the topmost layer of the salt marsh.
A note on the gundalow. According to McCarthy, this was a blunt-ended scow, approx. 30 feet in length and 15 feet wide, powered by two crew at the bow with long sweep oars, one person with a long pole to help in the shallows and to fender off the marsh bank, and one person in the stern using a long oar as a sweep and tiller.
No trails or land access. Accessible only on the North River.
These structures are best viewed on the western bank of the river (Norwell). If you are headed upstream, they are located from approximately 0.7 miles beyond the Wanton Shipyard site to just beyond the mouth of Dwelley’s Creek. Paul McCarthy adds, “You’ll require at least a minus 1.4′ tide or better at Damons Point, and need to be up at the above stated coordinates within an hour of that low tide. Heading up river between those two points will reveal the corduroy structures topped with dirt and gravel and crowned with 2+’ of marshy sod on your right.”
Habitats and Wildlife
The corduroy road is located directly in the salt marsh, a short distance downstream of Couch Beach, on the North River.
Historic Site: Yes
Boat Launch: No
Size: Two primary structures, one approx. 95 feet in length, and the other approx. 85 feet, with evidence of more.
Hours: Dawn to Dusk
Parking: No parking. Closest water access is Pembroke Town Forest (upstream) and Chittenden Yard & Canoe Launch (downstream).
Trail Difficulty: No trails.
Boat Ramp: No
ADA Access: No
Scenic Views: Yes
Waterbody/Watershed: North River