7 Newfield St, Plymouth, MA 02360, USA
Owned By: Town of Plymouth
This walking path extends for 1.5 miles from Billington Street to the Plymouth waterfront. Alternately pavement, gravel and dirt, there are several bridges and numerous spots to enjoy the view. Along the way, the trail connects with the Town Brook Patuxet Preserve, Billington Street Park, Holmes Park, Town Brook Park, the Plimoth Grist Mill, Brewster Gardens, and Pilgrim Memorial State Park. Plus, the Billington Street trailhead is a short walk from Morton Park.
Stop by Town Brook in the spring to see herring swimming upstream to their spawning grounds. Informational kiosks along the trail provide a detailed history. Stroller-friendly from Newfield Street to Water Street.
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.
When industry commenced in the area, mills and factories harnessed water power at naturally-occurring “falls of water” along the brook. Rights to these valuable sites were known as “water privileges.” For example, one of the colony’s first corn mills was built (prior to 1636) by Stephen Dean, at today’s Plimoth Grist Mill, known then as the Sixth Water Privilege. There are historic markers and detailed informational kiosks at the sites of the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Water Privileges, where you can read about such local industries as leather tanning, iron rolling/slitting, processing tobacco, as well as mills and factories producing thread, cloth, windows, nails, tacks, rivets, anchors, patterns, machinery components, and other iron goods. Look for stone walls and other remnants from the brook’s industrial age.
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 and other migratory fish were sometimes captured in a trap at the mouth of the brook and transported over land to their 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 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.
Although there are noteworthy sites upstream at Morton Park and Town Brook Patuxet Preserve, the 1.5-mile Town Brook Trail “officially” begins at Billington Street, at the site of the Second Water Privilege. The upstream section is not paved at this time. The trail extends through the woods along the edge of Town Brook past numerous historic markers. A red wooden covered bridge provides passage across the brook to Billington Street Park.
The trail continues along the edge of the brook, and eventually turns to gravel, extending over a ridge with some captivating views of the water and homes below, as well as Holmes Park, also known as the Plymouth Skate Park. At the edge of the trail, across the brook from Holmes Park, there is a parking area for 8 cars.
Cross Newfield Street to follow the remainder of the trail, the rest of which is paved. It zigzags down a small hill, crosses Willard Place, and enters Town Brook Park via an arched wooden bridge. On the other side of the park, it continues behind the Plimoth Grist Mill, and along the edge of the brook as it flows out to sea, bypassing the busy roads nearby. At its terminus in Plymouth Harbor, the trail connects directly with Brewster Gardens and Pilgrim Memorial State Park.
This trail was originally part of the Native American pathway known as the Namassakeeset Trail.
Habitats and Wildlife
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 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.
Along the trail you’ll find oak, cherry, birch, maple, and pine trees.
Historic Site: No
Boat Launch: No
Size: 1.5 linear miles
Hours: Dawn to Dusk
Parking: Limited parking at Town Brook Park, Holmes Playground, and on the Plymouth Waterfront. Limited roadside parking on Billington Street.
Trail Difficulty: Easy
Along the trail, and especially at the parks it connects, you will find occasional benches, picnic tables, informational kiosks, and historic markers, plus pet waste and trash receptacles. Geocache location.
Dogs: Dogs must remain on leash. Scoop the poop!
Boat Ramp: No
ADA Access: ADA access is currently limited to the section between Holmes Park and Pilgrim Memorial State Park. Expanded access is planned for the future.
Scenic Views: Yes
Waterbody/Watershed: Town Brook