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Herring Runs

Town Brook Park

10 Spring Ln, Plymouth, MA 02360, USA

Owned By: Town of Plymouth

This grassy park in historic downtown Plymouth features pond views, gravel/concrete paths, a wooden bridge, and a half mile walkway along the edge of Town Brook. The mostly-paved walkway offers a pretty and peaceful route to the Plymouth Harbor commercial area. Along the way, it connects with the Plimoth Grist Mill, Brewster Gardens, and Pilgrim Memorial State Park. Stop by Town Brook in the spring to see alewife herring swimming upstream to their spawning grounds.

Features

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.

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 mills was built here, 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 water power at this site into the 20th century. From 1826 to 1969, the park was the location of the Plymouth Alms House (or Poor House), to house Plymouth’s indigent, elderly and handicapped residents. In 1969, a replica of the Jenney Grist Mill was constructed at its original location. After a few more changes in ownership, 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.

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.

Trail Description

A half-mile, mostly paved walkway extends from the parking area, behind the Plimoth Grist Mill, and along the edge of the brook, bypassing the busy roads nearby. It connects directly with Brewster Gardens and Pilgrim Memorial State Park.

In the opposite direction, 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 Samuel Holmes Playground. Continue past the playground, to the left, to find a trail that runs along the edge of Town Brook for another 1/3 mile to Morton Park. This trail was originally part of the Native American pathway known as the Namassakeeset Trail.

Habitats and Wildlife

The pond here 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 four local dams that impeded fish passage.

10 Spring Ln, Plymouth, MA 02360, USA

Historic Site: No

Park: Yes

Beach: No

Boat Launch: No

Lifeguards: No

Hours: Dawn to Dusk

Parking: Limited on-site parking.

Cost: Free

Trail Difficulty: Easy

Facilities:

Benches, picnic tables, informational kiosks, pet waste and trash receptacles.

Dogs: Dogs must remain on leash.

Boat Ramp: No

ADA Access: Yes

Scenic Views: Yes

Waterbody/Watershed: Town Brook