243 Elm St, Hanover, MA 02339, USA
Owned By: Town of Hanover
The Hanover Conservation Commission owns these 22-acres of open meadow and forested upland. The Curtis Anchor Forge was located here in the 1700s, and later the Curtis Rubber Mill (founded in 1873), the largest of its kind in the country. The dam on the Indian Head River fueled these industries as well as earlier mills. Now it forces migrating fish to scale a fish ladder as they swim upstream to spawn.
The pond created by the dam welcomes non-motorized boats and catch-and-release fishing. 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.
The property also features a picnic/passive recreation area. The adjacent former railroad bed provides a 2-mile walk along the Indian Head with several captivating views of the river. Walk across the bridge on Elm Street to access the Pembroke portion of Luddam’s Ford Park. Look for a historic marker at the center of the bridge, which was completed in 1894.
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.
According to Hanover historians (Barry, Dwelley, Simmons), 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. It is said that Bardin was the first to produce bar iron in New England. His son continued the business.
1730 town records refer to “the old iron works,” which before 1740 was owned by the Josselyn family, who had trouble with the town because their dam prevented herring from swimming upstream to their spawning grounds. Subsequent owners of the iron works included Lemuel Dwelley, Benjamin Studley, and Lemuel Curtis. The company eventually was owned exclusively by the Curtis family, who continued to make anchors and do iron work in the shipyards below. The business increased to the extent that they couldn’t keep up with it. It employed 16 people and made 250 tons of anchors per year, each ranging in weight from 1000 – 10,000 lbs. A fire in 1848 burned down the first iron works. It was rebuilt, and it flourished during the Civil War, making anchors for the US government. The iron works ceased operations sometime before 1873.
There is some confusion around the question of whether or not the anchors for the USS Constitution were forged here (the ship was launched in 1797). Joseph Grecco of Hanover has done extensive evidence-based research into the matter and has concluded that two of the USS Constitution’s 6 anchors were actually forged — not here — but a little farther upriver, at Barstow’s Forge, near the Hanson town line. (A historic sign currently marks the approximate location.)
Next at this site was the E. H. Clapp Rubber Works. In 1871, Eugene H. Clapp, a native of South Scituate (Norwell), invented a method for removing the fiber from old rubber and preparing it so it could be used again for new goods. He opened a reclaimed rubber manufacturing plant in Roxbury with two machines and two workers. In 1873 he moved the company to Hanover, where there were better water power facilities. He bought the George Curtis Anchor Works. Not having much capital, he and his cousin Fred Clapp made the minimum number of modifications to get the rubber mill up and running. Within a few days, the flumes were washed away by a flood, so they had to build new ones and also put in a new water wheel.
At first, water power was adequate to run the rubber works. It began with 2 grinding machines, but expanded quickly. Soon it could grind 1000 pounds a day. The mill was originally one story, but it increased to three. In 1879, steam power was added, which made the business grow so rapidly that they had to operate the factory day & night. In 1881, the building was destroyed by fire, and then within a month’s time, rebuilt on a much larger scale, with the best equipment available. In 1886 Clapp built another mill, on the Pembroke side of the river. By 1889, the mills employed 75-100 men – mostly locals — and could grind 20 tons per day, 40x more than when it started. According to the Briggs History of Shipbuilding in 1889, “(Clapp) has now complete accommodation for handling and utilizing all kinds of rubber material according to the latest and best known processes, both mechanical and chemical, is doing two or three times as much work as any of his competitors, and is handling more than one half of this business in the United States.”
Today, Luddam’s Ford Park is serene and naturally beautiful. It is hard to imagine that only 150 years ago, the area was a booming industrial complex.
From the open recreation area, there are several access points to trails at Luddam’s Ford Park. 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 Hanover, continue along the river and the old railroad bed for 2 miles, all the way to the Hanover/Hanson town line (you will have to walk on Water Street for one small section). Cross the Indian Head River on Cross Street/State Street, and look for the trailhead that takes you back into the woods. This will bring you through Hanson’s Rocky Run Conservation Area and along the river to the Tucker Preserve. Woodland trails follow the course of the river all the way to Luddam’s Ford Park in Pembroke.
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!
Historic Site: Yes
Boat Launch: Yes
Size: 22 acres
Hours: Dawn to Dusk
Parking: Limited on-site parking
Trail Difficulty: Easy
Benches, canoe/kayak launch, fish ladder, several picnic tables, trash receptacles.
Boat Ramp: No
ADA Access: No
Scenic Views: Yes