Historical Sites

Howlands Mill Site

937 Franklin St, Duxbury, MA 02332, USA

Town of Duxbury: (781) 934-1100

Owned By: Town of Duxbury

Duxbury’s Howlands Mill Site features the remains of a water powered grist mill and sawmill. Located on Phillips Brook, within the 344-acre Lansing Bennett Forest.


According to Settlement and Growth of Duxbury 1628-1870 by Dorothy Wentworth, this is the site of one of the last mills built in Duxbury. The first mill at this site, circa 1830, was a grist mill. Known as Howlands Mill, it had several owners (it was common for several men to form a partnership to finance a mill). There wasn’t enough water flowing naturally here to power the mill, so a ditch was dug into the side of the hill to the west of Franklin Street, tapping Black Friar Swamp and channelling water to the mill. Many of the cobblestones remain in place today. This mill site was last operated as a sawmill by the Lot Phillips Company (c. 1850).

After the sawmill closed, part of the property became a trout farm (trout were prevalent in Phillips Brook). Fish were raised here, and then sold to markets and restaurants. Both wild brook trout and brown trout still inhabit the brook.

Prior to European contact, the Mattakeeset band of the Massachuseuk (or Massachusett) Native American tribe lived for thousands of years in the North River watershed. Their village included most of today’s Pembroke and Hanson. Meanwhile the Patuxet band of the Wampanoag tribe inhabited the Jones River watershed, and the area now known as Kingston, Plymouth and Duxbury. This property lies within the upper portion of the South River watershed — right between those two territories. It’s possible that both tribes utilized the area.

To learn more about local Native American tribes, we encourage you to interact with their members. The Mashpee Wampanoag, the Herring Pond Wampanoag, the Mattakeeset band of the Massachusett, and the Massachusett tribe at Ponkapoag all share information on their websites.

Trail Description

There are two trailheads that provide quick access to the mill site. The closest is at 937 Franklin Street. Park on the roadside and look for the trail. It’s just a 0.05-mile walk to the mill site. Or park at the roadside at 1013 Franklin Street. From this trailhead, proceed to an intersection and turn left. The trail leads to Phillips Brook after 0.1 mile and runs along the brook for another quarter mile, with numerous footbridges. When you see the blue blazes and the bridge on the right, you have arrived at the mill site. After viewing the mill site, which is quite enchanting, you could complete a loop by exiting to the 937 Franklin Street trailhead and walking along the road for 0.25 mile to your starting place.

For a longer walk at this location, check out the larger trail system within Lansing Bennett Forest. There are additional access points on Summer Street, Union Bridge Road and Cross Street, The Lansing Bennett Trail system extends beyond this parcel both to the north and to the south. Visit the Lansing Bennett Forest listing for details.

Habitats and Wildlife

Mice, chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, and opossums call this forest home. You may also spy a white-tailed deer. In the wetlands, look for turtles, salamanders, toads, and frogs. Birders might spot chickadees, sparrows, blue jays, woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, or even a great horned owl.

Wild brook trout and brown trout are drawn to cold water streams like Phillips Brook. They especially favor secluded spots where they can hide, such as deep pools, whirlpools, and the covered edges of stream banks.

The pond at Lansing Bennett Forest (near the Summer Street entrance) is named Phillips Mill Pond. It is not a natural pond, but instead was created by the construction of a mill dam. Phillips Brook flows through the pond, heading northeast, and then flows through Peterson’s Sawmill Pond a little farther downstream. It continues northeast into the Camp Wing Conservation Area, where it flows into the South River.

This property is mostly a pine and oak upland forest, with a small portion of hemlock, yellow birch, and holly, and lots of fern, sweet pepper bush, and high bush blueberry. Wetlands areas are primarily red maple swamp. The land here is within the watershed of Phillips Brook, a tributary to the South River.

The South River originates deep in Duxbury. Its source is in the Round Pond area, and from there it winds unobtrusively through the woods for several miles. Although one can view it from Route 3, and also from both the South River Bog and the Camp Wing Conservation Area, it remains a narrow and mostly un-navigable stream until just below Veterans Memorial Park. From there it flows through South River Park, behind the playground of South River School, and under the Willow Street and Francis Keville Bridges. Wider at that point, and navigable at most tides, its course winds through the marshes as it runs parallel to Route 139, all the way to Rexhame. From there the river turns northward. It flows for 3 miles between Humarock and the mainland to Fourth Cliff, where it joins the North River at its outlet to the sea.

  • A photograph of a footbridge over a stream in a forest.
  • A photograph of the remains of a stone foundation in a forest by a stream.
  • A photograph of a stream, bordered with rocks, flowing through a forest.
  • A photograph of the remnants of a stone foundation, in the woods, beside a stream.
  • A photograph of a stream flowing through an old stone foundation, in a forest.
937 Franklin St, Duxbury, MA 02332, USA

Historic Site: Yes

Park: No

Beach: No

Boat Launch: No

Lifeguards: No

Hours: Dawn to dusk.

Parking: Limited roadside parking at 937 and 1013 Franklin Street.

Cost: Free

Trail Difficulty: Easy

Dogs: Dogs must remain on leash. Scoop the poop!

Boat Ramp: No

ADA Access: No

Scenic Views: Yes

Waterbody/Watershed: Phillips Brook (South River watershed)

Other Things to Do at This Site