Indian Head River Trails

1126 Broadway, Hanover, MA 02339, USA

Owned By: Town of Hanover

This linear property is owned by Hanover Conservation. It extends for 2 miles along the banks of the Indian Head River in South Hanover. The trails follow the course of the river and offer stunning views. A former railroad bed provides the primary trail. Several narrower footpaths lead right up to the water’s edge, often on rocky outcroppings.


A former railroad bed is the setting for the primary trail through this property. The Hanover Branch Railroad extended 7.8 miles from Hanover Four Corners, through South and West Hanover, across Rockland, to North Abington, where it connected with the Old Colony Railroad to Plymouth. Incorporated in 1846, and constructed over the better part of the next 20 years, it officially opened for service in 1868.

E. Y. Perry, who operated a large tack factory in South Hanover, was largely responsible for the creation of the railway. He also owned a general store (now Myette’s) and constructed the building in South Hanover that for many years housed a series of a shoe factories – Goodrich, Cochran, and Shanley -- and part of the Clapp Rubber Company. The railway facilitated the transport of materials and finished products to and from these and other businesses, but also offered passenger service. Amusingly, in its latter years, when the businesses along its route had shut down, it continued to carried passengers, . . . but only by self-propelled cars!

The Old Colony Railroad absorbed the Hanover Branch in 1887. In 1893, the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad took over the lease. Railroad service had dwindled significantly by the 1930s. These days, many of Massachusetts’ former railroad beds are overseen by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.

The Indian Head River Trail offers views of what used to be the Waterman Tack Factory. Remnants of its dam are visible on both sides of the river. You can also see some of the factory works (this is easier from the Pembroke side). Beginning in the 1700s, this site was home to a number of industries. The earliest was probably a carding mill, where wool fibers were prepared for spinning. Other incarnations included a fulling mill (to clean and thicken wool fiber), and later a grist mill. In 1830, a tack factory moved in. Several owners later, it became the domain of L. C. Waterman & Co. In 1860, with 12 machines in operation, it employed 8-10 people and produced to 50-60 tons of tacks per year.

Waterman tacks were used primarily in shoes, but also in the furniture and upholstery trades, and for laying carpet. Historians indicate that many shoe repair shops, even in New York and Philadelphia, would only use Waterman tacks. The business continued to expand and thrive, and by 1875 it employed 25 people and produced 250 tons of tacks per year.

Scan the course of the river, and consider how the power of the water behind the dam was harnessed to fuel the factory. You can probably guess where the water went in, and where it went out. But now, 150 years later, where has it all gone? In February 1886 there was an unusually heavy rain – what historians refer to as a “freshet.” The water rose at such speed, and to such height, that it severely damaged not only the factory but the adjacent train tracks. The railroad was repaired, but for the most part ceased operations in the 1930s. Subsequent storms in 1938 and 1954 did permanent damage to industries throughout the river valley. Since then, this spot has become a different world. It’s so quiet now – and so natural -- it’s hard to imagine it was ever any other way.

The remains of a different dam or bridge can be seen farther up the trail, upstream of Rocky Run Brook. Look for the stone abutments close to the water's edge on both sides of the river.

Trail Description

The primary trail at this property is a former railroad bed. There are secondary trails that lead to gorgeous views of the Indian Head River. The two types of trail intersect at numerous points along the two-mile stretch.

The Indian Head River Trail makes a detour mid-route to skirt around the remains of the Waterman Tack Factory. The trail opens to Water Street, continues in front of the recently-renovated factory building, and then ducks back into the woods immediately thereafter. Look for an informational kiosk here.

Access the trails at Luddam's Ford Park in Hanover, at two locations on Water Street (near what used to be the Waterman Tack Factory), and on Broadway at South Hanover, across the intersection from Myette's store.

Habitats and Wildlife

Rock outcroppings and enormous glacial erratic boulders border the trail at various points. You can walk or climb right up onto many of them! This also provides an excellent view of the river. There are a few sections of rapids along this section of the Indian Head too.

The Indian Head River rises from the Drinkwater River and Factory Pond in West Hanover. It provides the boundary line between the towns of Hanover and Hanson, with several small brooks contributing to its flow. Just downstream of Cross Street (Hanover) / State Street (Hanson), Rocky Run Brook flows into the Indian Head from the Hanson side. One of Jesse Reed's tack factories was on this brook, and before that a mill operated by Isaac Buck that produced wooden ware such as bowls, trays and skimmers. Farther downstream is Luddam's Ford, and beyond that is a spot called The Crotch, where the Indian Head joins Pembroke's Herring Brook to create the North River.

1126 Broadway, Hanover, MA 02339, USA

Historic Site: No

Park: No

Beach: No

Lifeguards: No

Size: 2 miles

Hours: Dawn to Dusk

Parking: On-site parking. Trail access and parking also available on Water Street and at Luddams Ford Park.

Cost: Free

Trail Difficulty: Easy, Medium

Dogs: Yes

Boat Ramp: No

ADA Access: No

Scenic Views: Yes

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