Indian Head River Fish Ladder

415 W Elm St, Pembroke, MA 02359, USA

Owned By: Town of Pembroke, Town of Hanover

It’s hard to miss the fish ladder at Luddam’s Ford Park! The large concrete structure spans the Indian Head River on the Hanover/Pembroke town line. Fish ladders help migratory fish such as herring and shad get past obstacles so they can swim upstream to their spawning grounds each spring.

The pond behind the dam is part of the Indian Head River. It is a popular spot for catch-and-release fishing and non-motorized boating. Due to mercury contamination from 19th and 20th century industries upstream, fish caught here may not be consumed. When boating, be careful to stay away from the dam.

Each town maintains a conservation area on its side of the river. There are 22 acres in Hanover, and 34 acres in Pembroke. They each include a picnic/passive recreation area and access to a network of walking trails. These extend up and down both sides of the river, through the Tucker Preserve and Rocky Run Conservation Area, and along the Indian Head River Trails. There is a canoe/kayak launch on the Hanover side.


On the historic Old Bay Path from Plymouth to Boston, Luddam's Ford was once the easternmost foot crossing on the North River. It was named for James Luddam, the guide who in 1632 carried Governor John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony across the river to visit Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Colony. Very likely, Luddam was a resident of Weymouth.

In 1704, Thomas Bardin built a dam just above Luddam’s Ford. He also erected an anchor forge, which supplied the shipyards below. Around the same time, a bridge was built here. The Curtis Anchor Forge, famous for casting the anchor of the USS Constitution, was located here, on the Hanover side of the river, in the 1700s. Also on this site was the Clapp Rubber Mill (founded in 1873), the largest of its kind in the country. It was so large, it stood on both sides of the river! Look for remains of the factory in the woods on the Pembroke side, just south of the walking trail. The dam on the Indian Head River fueled these industries as well as earlier mills.

Trail Description

From the parking area on the Pembroke side, the main trail leads across a grassy meadow, with excellent views of the fish ladder and the Indian Head River. After entering the forest, the trail continues along the edge of the river until it reaches a small stream. A bridge leads across the stream into the Tucker Preserve. The Tucker Preserve offers several intersecting loop trails, some with gorgeous views of the Indian Head River. Beyond the boundaries of the Tucker Preserve are additional trails through the river valley, both in Pembroke and Hanson.

On the Hanover side, starting at the parking area, there are several access points to trails. One trail leads away from the river, to Water Street. Several other intersecting trails lead through the woods, between the river and the former railroad bed. The railroad bed itself is a trail that extends for two miles, to the Hanson town line, offering a number of pleasant vantage points.

Ambitious hikers could explore more than 4 miles of trail here. Setting off from Luddam's Ford in Pembroke, continue through the Tucker Preserve, and then follow additional trails through the woods and along the river. This will bring you to Rocky Run Conservation Area in Hanson. Cross the Indian Head River via the bridge on State Street, round the bend turning right toward Water Street, and then pick up the Indian Head River Trails on the Hanover side. Woodland trails and an old railroad bed follow the course of the river all the way to Luddam's Ford Park in Hanover.

Habitats and Wildlife

The Indian Head River is freshwater and attracts many different species of animals to its banks and surrounding forest. Herring and shad can be seen at the base of the fish ladder in the spring. These fish attract mammals such as raccoons, striped skunks, coyotes, minks, muskrats, osprey, and fox. The meadow is excellent habitat for dragonflies.

Historically, this was a prime spot for herring, shad, smelt, bass, white and red perch, pickerel, horn pout, and even salmon. Due to mercury contamination from 19th and 20th century industries upstream, fish caught here may not be consumed.

The fish ladder was constructed here with the intention of assisting migratory fish over the dam. Sadly, it is not very effective. Some fish do manage to get over it, though! In April and May, you can sometimes view herring here as they wait to enter the fish ladder. Look downstream of the dam at the right moment, and you might see thousands of fish. Unfortunately, due to the location of this fish ladder, in the middle of the spillway, we can’t figure a safe way to monitor or maintain the fish as they pass here. Thus we have no idea what their success rate might be, in getting past this dam.

We do know that the Indian Head River is a potential jewel in the crown of herring runs with restoration potential. We have been in initial discussions with the towns of Pembroke and Hanover about the feasibility of removing this dam. Stay tuned!

415 W Elm St, Pembroke, MA 02359, USA

Historic Site: Yes

Park: Yes

Beach: No

Boat Launch: Yes

Lifeguards: No

Size: 34 acres

Hours: Dawn to Dusk

Parking: On-site parking. Look for the gravel lot off West Elm Street.

Cost: Free

Trail Difficulty: Easy

Facilities: Benches, picnic tables. Fish ladder.

Dogs: Yes

Boat Ramp: No

ADA Access: No

Scenic Views: Yes

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