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Herring Runs

Town Brook Park

10 Spring Ln, Plymouth, MA 02360, USA

Owned By: Town of Plymouth

This grassy 3.8-acre park in historic downtown Plymouth features pond views, gravel/concrete paths, a wooden bridge, and access to the 1.5-mile Town Brook Trail. Stop by Town Brook in the spring to see alewife herring swimming upstream to their spawning grounds. Stroller-friendly. Also known as Jenney Pond/Park.

The Plimoth Grist Mill is right next door. The lower portion of Town Brook Trail (paved) connects to Brewster Gardens, Pilgrim Memorial State Park, and the Plymouth Waterfront commercial area.

The upper portion of Town Brook Trail (only partially paved) connects with Holmes Playground (aka Plymouth Skate Park), Billington Street Park, and Town Brook Patuxet Preserve.

Also, don’t miss the historic Burial Hill. The entrance is just across the street from the intersection of Spring Lane and Summer Street.

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.

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. 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.

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, 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 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.

On the Town Brook Trail, heading east toward Brewster Gardens, there is a short bridge with a monument to the 1966 Urban Renewal Project, which involved tearing down Plymouth’s large brick Poor House, as well as entire blocks of 18th and 19th century buildings.

Trail Description

Town Brook Trail, 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, Pilgrim Memorial State Park, and the Plymouth Waterfront commercial area.

In the opposite direction, cross the wooden bridge at the foot of Jenney Pond, to Willard Place. Look for the paved path that leads to Newfield Street and the Holmes Playground/Plymouth Skate Park. Continue behind the playground, and look for the parking area and the trail that runs up a ridge and along the edge of Town Brook. This trail extends through the woods for another mile or so, providing access to several historic markers. This section is not paved, but that is likely to change.

A red wooden covered bridge provides passage across the brook to Billington Street Park, the historic site of a large dam and the Third Water Privilege. Or continue straight on the trail to visit the historic sites of the First and Second Water Privileges. You can continue past the end of the trail to Town Brook Patuxet Preserve and 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. Mass Wildlife stocks the Town Brook with brown trout.

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 21st-century removal of five 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

Size: 3.8 acres

Hours: Dawn to Dusk

Parking: On-site parking lot. Limited additional parking on Willard Place.

Cost: Free

Trail Difficulty: Easy

Facilities:

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

Dogs: Dogs must remain on leash. Scoop the poop!

Boat Ramp: No

ADA Access: Yes

Scenic Views: Yes

Waterbody/Watershed: Town Brook