6 Spring Ln, Plymouth, MA 02360, USA
Owned By: Plimoth Patuxet Museums
A reconstruction of Plimoth Colony’s 1636 mill on Town Brook, now managed by Plimoth Patuxet Museums. Enjoy views of the brook and the 14-foot water wheel from outside. To learn more, take a tour and learn some history, as well as how the mill itself functions. Fresh stone-ground cornmeal is available for purchase. Stop by in the spring to see alewife herring swimming upstream past the mill to their spawning grounds. On the map linked here, the mill is located at Jenney Park (the former name of Town Brook Park).
Plimoth Grist Mill is situated near one end of the 1.5-mile Town Brook Trail, which begins downstream at Brewster Gardens, and continues past the Plimoth Grist Mill, through Town Brook Park, Holmes Playground, Billington Street Park, and along a quiet section of the brook to the Town Brook Patuxet Preserve.
Tours feature up-close views of the grinding floor, with its 54-inch diameter bed and runner stones, as well as the mill’s face, wallower, and lantern gears.
Prior to European settlement, the Patuxet Wampanoag established a pathway along Town Brook, known now as the Namassakeeset Trail. There was a Patuxet Wampanoag settlement and/or burial ground on Watson’s Hill, on the southeast side of Jenney Pond. It was known as Cantaugheantiest, meaning “planted fields.” The Treaty of Cantaugheanta, a verbal agreement, was made by 60 Wampanoag tribe members and 30 Pilgrims in April 1621, and is considered to be the first treaty between Europeans and Native Americans in the New World.
Please bear in mind that Native American cultures often favor oral histories to written ones. Much of what’s recorded about the history of the South Shore is from the perspective of European settlers. It’s not the whole story. To learn more about our local tribes, we encourage you to interact with their members. The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe and the Herring Pond Wampanoag share information on their websites.
When the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth in 1620, they built their homes close to Town Brook, to make use of its fresh water supply. One of the colony’s first corn mill was built at this site, by Stephen Dean, on what was known then as the Sixth Water Privilege. In 1636, John Jenney established a grist mill on site. After his death in 1644, his wife Sarah continued to operate the mill. One of their sons, Samuel, sold it to Charles Stockbridge in 1683. (Stockbridge also owned the Stockbridge Grist Mill in Scituate.) Stockbridge died soon after the purchase, and his widow sold the mill to Nathaniel Church. He and his family operated the mill until the 1720s, and then ownership was divided among several other people.
The original mill burned down in 1847, but other enterprises continued to employ the brook’s water power at this site into the 20th century. In 1969, a replica of the Jenney Grist Mill was constructed on its original site. After a few more owners, the property was acquired by Plimoth Plantation (now Plimoth Patuxet Museums) in 2012 and renamed the Plimoth Grist Mill. In addition to being a historic site and tourist destination, it is once again a fully-functional mill, processing corn, wheat, rye and barley!
With mills and factories come dams. 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 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, and remain in place today.
The dam at Billington Street Park was removed by 2002 by Town Brook Partners, a coalition of federal, state, non-profit and private sector agencies including the Town of Plymouth. 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 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.
Also noteworthy, 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.
For a longer walk, proceed to Town Brook Park, and cross the wooden bridge at the foot of Jenney Pond, to Willard Place. Look for the short path that leads to Newfield Street and the Holmes Playground. Continue past the playground, to the left, to find Town Brook Trail, which runs along the edge of Town Brook for another 1/3 mile, to Billington Street Park, and beyond. This trail was originally part of the Native American pathway known as the Namassakeeset Trail.
You can also continue your walk in the opposite direction, passing through Brewster Gardens, crossing Water Street, and proceeding through Pilgrim Memorial State Park, along the waterfront, to the Plymouth Harbor Jetty.
Habitats and Wildlife
The pond at Town Brook Park is known as Jenney Pond, Poorhouse Pond, and Alms House Pond (Plymouth’s poor house was once located on site). Please do not feed the waterfowl.
Town Brook finds its source in the 269-acre freshwater pond known as the Billington Sea, and flows for 1.5 miles through several small ponds 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: Yes
Boat Launch: No
Parking: Limited on-site parking at Town Brook Park.
Cost: Outdoor admission is free. Visit the website linked above for current indoor admission prices.
Trail Difficulty: Easy
Benches, informational kiosks, trash and pet waste receptacles.
Dogs: Dogs must remain on leash. Pets are not permitted inside the facility.
Boat Ramp: No
ADA Access: Yes
Scenic Views: Yes
Waterbody/Watershed: Town Brook