2 Meadow Farm Way, Norwell, MA 02061, USA
Owned By: Town of Norwell
184 acres of Norwell Conservation land along the North River with 2-3 miles of intersecting trails. Named for Cornet Robert Stetson, who settled here in 1634.
Stetson Meadows is remote — tucked away in the woods, in a corner of Norwell that is accessible only by a single dirt road. The Town of Norwell purchased the 184-acre property in 1972 with the intention of providing public access, as well as to curb further development along the North River. Over the past 40 years, volunteers and the town have worked together to establish a network of trails. Now visitors can enjoy the property’s forests, meadows, wetlands, and woody swamps, along with impressive views of the salt marsh and the river.
Until it earned its own name in 1888, Norwell (also known as South Scituate) was part of the town of Scituate. Europeans began to settle there around 1628. While there were no formal roads back then, native tribes had created trails over the land. However it was often easier to travel by water, in small boats and canoes. The river was essentially the highway. The original farms established by European settlers in Norwell were along the North River.
The first European to lay claim to the area that is now Stetson Meadows was Robert Stetson, who received a 100-acre land grant in 1634. Stetson served the Crown of England for 14 years, attaining the rank of Cornet, a commissioned officer. He is remembered in posterity as a member of the contingent who established the boundary between the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colonies, as well as for leading a troop of soldiers in King Philips War, and for negotiating the purchase of Abington and Hanover from the Narragansett.
Cornet Stetson and his wife, Honor Tucker, had 10 children. Four of their sons — Joseph, Benjamin, Thomas and Samuel – eventually inherited the 100-acre land grant. Thomas farmed there, while in 1660, Benjamin established a shipyard on site at Bald Hill, just upstream of the present-day Route 3 bridge. Three generations of Stetsons worked the shipyard, which was eventually taken over by Nathaniel Church. The farm also passed down through subsequent generations, and was eventually sold to Michael Ford, a shipbuilder farther upstream at Fox Hill. Three generations of the Ford Family inhabited the farm, and then the Morton family, was the final owner before the town made its purchase.
Around 1875, a petition was raised to order the construction of a footbridge over the North River from the Stetson/Ford/Morton farm across to the Two Mile section of Marshfield, but it never came to fruition. Similar efforts (for a drawbridge) occurred slightly downstream, near Wanton Shipyard, both in 1785 and 1827, but they failed as well.
These days, there isn’t much evidence on site of the Stetsons or any of the families who came after them. Forest and swamp now cover the farmland, although the occasional stone wall reminds the visitor of days past. It’s a lovely place to spend an hour or two.
To get to Stetson Meadows, from River Street in Norwell, turn onto Stetson Shrine Lane. The paved road ends in a cul de sac. Continue on Meadows Farm Way, which is unpaved, for a half mile or so to get to the conservation area’s parking lot. From there, cross the dirt road, and head downhill, along the meadow, toward the river. You’ll see a sign for the River Loop on the right. Follow the River Loop all the way around, and then continue downhill to the picnic area and the River Trail. Then follow the River Trail along the water and across Meadows Farm Way. You can access Twin Pines Trail from there, which you can either follow back to the parking lot, or extend your visit with a circuit of the loop of Stetson and Haskins Trails, another mile–plus through the woods.
Stetson Meadows borders private property in several places. It is important to be mindful of this, and remain on established trails. I recommend downloading the map/property guide
Habitats and Wildlife
Stetson Meadows is a classic example of a White Pine-Oak Forest. Among the pines and oaks is a considerable amount of low-lying shrubbery, including low-bush blueberry, huckleberry, mountain laurel and sheep laurel. Abundant wildlife make their home in the Stetson Meadows because of the mix of habitats and the sizable acreage. Watch for northern harriers in the winter.
Historic Site: Yes
Boat Launch: No
Size: 184 acres
Hours: Dawn to Dusk
Parking: Limited on-site parking. Look for the parking area and kiosk after the sharp curve on Meadows Farm Way.
Trail Difficulty: Easy
Picnic tables and benches
Boat Ramp: No
ADA Access: No
Scenic Views: Yes