88 Billington St, Plymouth, MA 02360, USA
Owned By: Town of Plymouth
A small grassy park with a short ADA-accessible trail, on the banks of Town Brook. Stroller-friendly. Located at the site of the First Water Privilege, where a series of mills and factories operated from 1771 to 1930. Extend your visit by exploring the Town Brook Trail and Morton Park nearby.
This park is named for both the brook that flows alongside it and the Native American village that was located where the Pilgrims settled in Plymouth in 1620. (The village was decimated by a series of plagues in the 1610s.) Prior to European settlement, the Patuxet Wampanoag established a pathway along Town Brook, known now as the Namassakeeset Trail.
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.”
This park is located on the site of the First Water Privilege. According to interpretive signage on site, a dam was erected here around 1771. William Crombie, a tanner, along with businessman John Thomas Jr., were granted permission by the town to establish a leather mill, including a tan yard, a tan house, and outbuildings. The operation was taken over by Solomon Ingle in 1788 and converted into a mill that ground tobacco into snuff. (Inglee’s c. 1792 Federal Style home still stands nearby).
Inglee’s business ultimately failed, and his mill was demolished in 1798. The next chapter of the First Water Privilege begins in 1819, when the Plymouth Cotton Manufactory Company built a new 4-story mill on site. It was destroyed by fire in 1843. In 1855, Samoset Mills built a new factory on site to produce thread. In later years, the factory was converted into a cloth print works. Standish Mills took over the property in 1884, added steam power, and expanded the factory to six buildings. The company produced cotton and wool flannel cloth. The company reorganized as Standish Worsted Company c. 1893-1896 and constructed an extensive complex of buildings over and on both sides of the brook. The market for worsteds declined after World War I. That combined with the Great Depression resulted in the mill’s closure in 1930. Many of the mill’s buildings were eventually demolished, but one remained in use, first by the Puritan Foundry Company and later by Plymco Millwork Company.
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. The dam at the First Water Privilege was removed in 2014-2015 by the Town of Plymouth, with the assistance of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
This small park offers a short trail along the edge of the field, with access to interpretive signage and a historic marker.
Extend your walk by heading north on Billington Street to the site of the Second Water Privilege and start of the Town Brook Trail. The upstream section of this 1.5-mile trail is not paved, but that is likely to change. The trail 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, also known as the Plymouth Skate 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.
Alternatively, you can also head south on Billington Street to Summer Street. Within 0.25 mile, you will reach Morton Park, where there are numerous trails to explore.
The Town Brook Trail was originally part of the Native American pathway known as the Namassakeeset Trail.
Habitats and Wildlife
This park is grassy, and in some seasons, you can catch a glimpse of Town Brook. Along the Town Brook Trail you’ll find oak, cherry, birch, maple, and pine trees.
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
Hours: Dawn to Dusk
Parking: Limited on-site parking lot on Billington Street.
Trail Difficulty: Easy
Interpretive signage, granite block benches.
Dogs: Dogs must remain on leash. Scoop the poop!
Boat Ramp: No
ADA Access: A stone dust circular path provides ADA access.
Scenic Views: Yes
Waterbody/Watershed: Town Brook