325 Standish St, Marshfield, MA 02050, USA
Owned By: Town of Marshfield
Marshfield Town Beach property. Trails through the sand dunes lead to the South River. A popular access point for paddlers.
Tide Math: High tide on the South River at Rexhame is about 45 minutes after the Boston high tide.
Rexhame a beautiful sandy beach in Marshfield. On one side of its dunes is the ocean, and on the other side is the South River. The name "Rex-ham" (meaning the king's village) was used interchangeably with "Marshfield" in the town's early days. Five families settled Rexhame from 1637 to 1641, each given 100 acre grants of land. These were: Thomas & Elizabeth Bourne, Josiah & Margaret Winslow, Robert & Elizabeth Waterman, Joseph & Rachel Beadle, and Kenelm & Ellen Winslow. For 200+ years, Rexhame was home to only these five original settlers' farms. Modern development began in 1875, with the 87 house lots of Rexhame Terrace.
The Sea Rivers Association sold 5+ acres of the land that's now Rexhame Beach to the town in 1950. Two years later the public beach opened. A housing boom commenced after 1963 when the Southeast Expressway was extended to Marshfield. The Rexhame area is now bursting with summer cottages, many of which have been converted to year-round homes.
Have you ever wondered why Humarock is part of Scituate, not Marshfield? It’s not attached by land to Scituate. It’s actually contiguous with Marshfield – by land, via the Rexhame Dunes. (It’s also attached to Marshfield by bridge, on Sea Street/Marshfield Avenue.) Before 1898, the mouth of the North River sat at the southern end of Humarock, near present-day Rexhame Beach in Marshfield. The site of the current mouth between Third and Fourth Cliffs was then a narrow barrier beach.
On November 26 and 27, 1898, a nor'easter known as the Portland Gale struck the New England coastline. It is remembered particularly for wreaking havoc on the South Shore and Cape Cod. Named after one of over 100 ships that were wrecked during the course of the storm, the Portland Gale claimed more than 400 lives in under 24 hours. It is considered to be New England’s worst maritime disaster ever, with widespread destruction of homes, railroad tracks, sea walls and bridges.
At the height of storm, a surge on the river washed right over the beach between Humarock's Third and Fourth Cliffs, and out to sea. It was powerful enough to make a permanent cut in the beach. So the outgoing river tides continued to flow through what became known as New Inlet to the sea, and the incoming ocean tide, flowed through there to the river. Thus, the North River, with its mouth now three miles farther north, became 3 miles shorter! And the South River – which originally flowed into the North River at Rexhame – became 3 miles longer. The old mouth at Rexhame soon filled in with sand and became part of the beach. It's now the northern portion of the Rexhame Dunes.
This wasn’t entirely an unwelcome change – at least for some. For years there had been a movement to make a cut in the beach between Third and Fourth Cliffs. Earlier in the century North River shipbuilders had lobbied for a “new inlet” that would make it easier to sail a newly-constructed ship downstream to the ocean. Because of the shallow and winding nature of the waterway, it often took an entire week to get a North River ship out to sea. The final few miles of river along Humarock were particularly difficult to navigate, and since this stretch could only accommodate a certain size vessel, it set a limit on the size of the ships that could be built. An inlet between Third and Fourth Cliffs, they thought, would alleviate this problem, but when the shipbuilders petitioned the state legislature to fund such a cut their request was denied. After a hearing with residents from all of the riverfront towns it was determined that relocating the mouth of the North River would have far too much impact on the other river industries, namely agriculture and salt marsh haying.
However . . . in 1843, a group of set out under cover of night and with shovels, picks, and teams of oxen and made a clear cut across the beach. They were unable to complete the task, as they discovered a rock-hard meadow bank beneath the sand. Water flowed through their cut temporarily, but the beach soon filled back in. A similar effort, for which a dredging machine was hired, was made in 1858. There is some speculation that these attempts to relocate the river mouth weakened the resolve of this stretch of beach so that when the Portland Gale arrived in 1898, it was all the more susceptible to the force of the water.
In the years since the Portland Gale cut a new inlet for the North River, the size of the mouth has increased fifteen times over. What was once only 200 feet wide and ten feet deep is now 1/2 to 1 mile wide and up to 60 feet deep. The Rexhame Dunes now stand at the site of the old mouth. The dunes rise at least 20 feet above the mean high tide level, helping to enclose one of the more unique landscapes on the South Shore.
The opening of the New Mouth affected agriculture, because of increased flooding. Fields near the river couldn’t be farmed in the same way, or at all. Salinity levels of the marshes increased, salt haying business ceased as more coarse grasses took over, white cedar trees as far as Job’s landing in Pembroke died. You can still see the dead cedars. Before the coming of the new mouth, the ocean's high tides flowed to the North River's 5,000 acres of salt marsh with the spring tides, only twice each month. With the opening of the inlet at Fourth Cliff, the frequency of these high tides increased to twice each day.
Unmarked but easy-to-follow trails lead from the parking lot through the sand dunes and along the edge of the South River to the Marshfield/Scituate (Humarock) town line. The Marshfield side is open to the public. The Scituate side is private property and is not open to the public. Trails continue through over high dunes to the Atlantic Ocean. Please respect trail boundaries (they are often delineated with snow fencing) to protect the fragile dune habitat.
The South River at the Rexhame Dunes is a popular spot to launch a canoe, kayak or paddleboard. This requires an approx. 600-foot carry over sand, from the parking lot to the river. Park close to the basketball court, and carry your boat past the metal gate, down the wide path, and then over (to the left) to the river. If paddling downstream into Humarock, be especially careful at the Julian Street Bridge, where the current can be strong due to the tides and the narrowing of the channel caused by the bridge abutments.
Habitats and Wildlife
There are three distinct habitat on this property -- open beach, sand dune and salt marsh.
In the Rexhame Dunes, you'll find cedar trees and other seaside dwelling vegetation such as beach plums, heathers, and deep-rooted dune grass. American Beachgrass acts like glue to hold the dunes together. Snow fence (aka sand fence) helps to control erosion.
Red and grey fox can be spotted in the dunes in the early hours. Eastern cottontail rabbits are common along the low shubbery. Shorebirds are abundant.
Rexhame Beach is a popular fishing spot -- both on the dune side (in the South River) and in the ocean, near Beadles Rocks. Striped bass in particular are a common draw for anglers.
The South River originates deep in Duxbury. Its source is in the Round Pond area, and from there it winds unobtrusively through the woods for several miles. Although one can view it from Route 3, and also from both the South River Bogs and Camp Wing conservation areas, it remains a narrow and mostly un-navigable stream until it makes its first “public” appearance at Veterans Memorial Park in Marshfield. From there it flows under Route 3A, through South River Park, and behind the playground of South River School, emerging again at Willow Street. But due to fences, dense vegetation, traffic, and relative navigability none of these are ideal places to access the river by boat. By the time it reaches the Francis Keville Footbridge in Marshfield Center, the river is wider, and navigable at most tides. Its course continues as it winds through the marshes, running parallel to Route 139, all the way to Rexhame. From there the river turns northward. It flows for 3 miles between Humarock and the mainland to Fourth Cliff, where it joins the North River at its outlet to the sea.
Just downstream from the Rexhame Dunes, Clapp Creek flows into the South River from the Marshfield side. At higher tides, this is an interesting place to explore. You can paddle quite a distance through the marsh toward Coast Guard Hill.
Historic Site: Yes
Boat Launch: Yes
Hours: (add hours)
Parking: Marshfield Beach sticker or fee required for on-site parking area.
Cost: Free with Marshfield Beach sticker. If no sticker, in season fees are: $15 per weekday, $20 each weekend day, $5 after 5pm.
Trail Difficulty: Easy
Facilities: Restrooms available in season during business hours. Benches.
Boat Ramp: No
ADA Access: No
Scenic Views: Yes