106 Summer Street, Plymouth, MA 02360, USA
Owned By: Town of Plymouth
Home to the Plymouth’s Skate Park, as well as a basketball court and a scenic overlook on Town Brook. 2.3 acres, mostly paved. Immediately adjacent to the Town Brook Trail, a 1.5-mile walking path that extends from Billington Street to the Plymouth waterfront.
Holmes Playground was named in honor of Samuel W. Holmes, who was Plymouth’s last surviving member of the Grand Army of the Republic in the Civil War. It is located on the historic site of Town Brook’s Fourth Water Privilege. A dam was erected c. 1792, forming a large mill pond above the dam. An iron rolling and slitting mill, and later a nail factory, were established there. Also the Robinson Iron Works once stood there — one of the first large industries to use water to power manufacturing machinery. According to a historic marker on site, the dam was used for hydroelectric power generation from 1903-1925, and removed in 2019.
Prior to European settlement, the Patuxet Wampanoag established a pathway along Town Brook, known now as the Namassakeeset Trail. There was a Patuxet Wampanoag settlement and/or burial ground very close-by, on Watson’s Hill, on the southeast side of Jenney Pond. It was known as Cantaugheantiest, meaning “planted fields.” The Treaty of Cantaugheanta, a verbal agreement, was made by 60 Wampanoag tribe members and 30 Pilgrims in April 1621, and is considered to be the first treaty between Europeans and Native Americans in the New World.
When the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth in 1620, they built their homes close to Town Brook, to make use of its fresh water supply. Town Brook is probably the spot where, in colonial times, it was reported that the herring were so numerous, one could “walk across their backs” to the other side of the stream.
When industry began in the area, mills and factories harnessed water power at naturally-occurring “falls of water” along the brook. Rights to these valuable sites were known as “water privileges.”
Until the 19th century, fish ladders were required at all dams on Town Brook. This practice largely fell by the wayside for a time, when industry prevailed. By the early 20th century, herring and other migratory fish were sometimes captured in a trap at the mouth of the brook and transported over land to the Billington Sea spawning grounds! Fishways were reintroduced between 1920 and 1940, but it wasn’t until the dams were removed in the 21st century that Town Brook began to see a resurgence of its anadromous fish population.
The dam at Billington Street Park was removed by 2002 by Town Brook Partners, which included the Town of Plymouth and a coalition of federal, state, non-profit and private sector agencies. This was the first coastal dam removal in Massachusetts. Natural river function was restored, allowing for the passage of migratory fish such as Blueback Herring (Alosa aestivalis) to reach their spawning grounds in Billington Sea. According to an article on the Town of Plymouth’s website, it took a long time for centuries of accumulated silt to wash out of the brook, and during the process, various “artifacts” were revealed, including abandoned rowboats, traces of old mills, and a 40-year-old stolen car! Ultimately, a total of five dams were removed on Town Brook, concluding with the Holmes Dam in 2018-2019.
Holmes Playground is immediately adjacent to the 1.5-mile Town Brook Trail. The trail “officially” begins at Billington Street, at the site of the Second Water Privilege, and extends through the woods along the edge of Town Brook past numerous historic markers. A red wooden covered bridge provides passage across the brook to Billington Street Park. The trail continues along the edge of the brook, and eventually turns to gravel, extending over a ridge with some captivating views of the water and homes below, as well as Holmes Park. At the edge of the trail, across the brook from Holmes Park, there is a parking area for 8 cars. Cross Newfield Street to follow the remainder of the trail, the rest of which is paved. It zigzags down a small hill, crosses Willard Place, and enters Town Brook Park via an arched wooden bridge. On the other side of the park, it continues behind the Plimoth Grist Mill, and along the edge of the brook as it flows out to sea, bypassing the busy roads nearby. At its terminus in Plymouth Harbor, the trail connects directly with Brewster Gardens and Pilgrim Memorial State Park.
This trail was originally part of the Native American pathway known as the Namassakeeset Trail.
Habitats and Wildlife
The park is mostly concrete and pavement, with very little shade. In the back corner, there is a small scenic viewing area overlooking Town Brook, with benches and a historic marker.
Town 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. 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 removal of five local dams that impeded fish passage.
Historic Site: No
Boat Launch: No
Size: 2.3 acres
Hours: Dawn to Dusk
Parking: 8 car parking lot on Newfield Street. Additional parking nearby at Town Brook Park, and in various lots within Plymouth's downtown area.
Trail Difficulty: Easy
The skate park, updated in 2019, was designed by Grindline Skateparks and features among other things, a whale’s tail. Also on site, a basketball court, benches, trash receptacles, lighting, a scenic overlook, and historic markers.
Dogs: Dogs must remain on leash. Scoop the poop!
Boat Ramp: No
ADA Access: Yes
Scenic Views: Yes
Waterbody/Watershed: Town Brook