418 Elm St, Pembroke, MA 02359, USA
Owned By: Wildlands Trust
The Tucker Preserve is 78.6 acre property owned by the Wildlands Trust. A looping network of trails leads through the woods and across two streams, with several captivating views of the Indian Head River. At the western boundary, there is a large grove of hemlock. Peering down from the top of the ridge into the river gorge, you may find yourself enchanted with this secluded spot. Look for the remains of an old factory dam at the water’s edge.
This property was donated to the Wildlands Trust in 1993 by Sidney and Harold M. Tucker. Because of the damp darkness of the hemlock forest, and the depth of the river valley, the Tucker Preserve is often compared to Western Massachusetts or New Hampshire. Stone walls reveal the property’s agricultural past.
At the ridge along the property’s western boundary you can view the remains of the Waterman Tack Factory. The factory itself was on the Hanover side of the river. It’s hard to imagine, because now it’s tucked deep into the woods, but beginning in the 1700s, this site was home to a number of industries. The earliest was probably a carding mill, where wool fibers were prepared for spinning. Other incarnations included a fulling mill (to clean and thicken wool fiber), and later a grist mill. In 1830, a tack factory moved in.
Several owners later, it became the domain of L. C. Waterman & Co. In 1860, with 12 machines in operation, it employed 8-10 people and produced to 50-60 tons of tacks per year. Waterman tacks were used primarily in shoes, but also in the furniture and upholstery trades, and for laying carpet. Historians indicate that many shoe repair shops, even in New York and Philadelphia, would only use Waterman tacks. The business continued to expand and thrive, and by 1875 it employed 25 people and produced 250 tons of tacks per year.
Today, looking down from the ridge, you can see scattered remains of a concrete dam along the water’s edge. Scanning the course of the river, you might imagine how the power of the water behind the dam was harnessed to fuel the factory. You can probably guess where the water went in, and where it went out. But now, 150 years later, where has it all gone?
In February 1886 there was an unusually heavy rain – what historians refer to as a “freshet.” The water rose at such speed, and to such height, that it severely damaged not only the factory but the adjacent train tracks. The railroad was repaired, but ceased operations in the 1930s. Subsequent storms in 1938 and 1954 did permanent damage to industries throughout the river valley. Since then, this spot has become a different world. It’s so quiet now – and so natural — it’s hard to imagine it was ever any other way.
Enter the Tucker Preserve through the Pembroke side of Luddam’s Ford Park, near the fish ladder. Follow the path along the water’s edge. Soon a wooden bridge leads you across a brook, and then the trail begins a moderate incline. There is a wider, flatter option to the left, but the narrow trail to the right offers the best view.
This is the Indian Head River, appearing more like a pond here because of the dam downstream. The trail continues through the woods to a second stream crossing, and this time you’ll have to make your way across flat rocks to reach the other side. Some days, it’s easy. Other days, when more water is flowing, the crossing requires precise footwork.
At this point you will have entered a hemlock grove. If you look toward the river, you’ll find that you’ve climbed to the top of a ridge. Very likely you’ll spy a building in the distance. Continue along the trail, deeper into the woods. As the trail veers closer to the edge of the ridge, look down again. The valley is much narrower here, and incredibly picturesque. You are now at a spot called Project Dale. The building across the river was once the Waterman Tack Factory.
The trail continues a short distance from the factory overlook and soon reaches the Tucker Preserve’s western boundary. Turn back here, and retrace your route until you reach the brook you crossed on foot. This time, proceed to your right and follow a loop trail through the southern half of the 78-acre property. (I recommend carrying a map). This will eventually bring you back to the wooden bridge and Luddam’s Ford.
As you approach the end of the trail, you may notice brightly-graffiti’d ruins in the woods off to your right. These are remains of the E. H. Clapp Rubber Works, which stood on both sides of the river at the turn of the 20th century.
Habitats and Wildlife
The forests of the Tucker Preserve contain hickory, ash, elm, and other hardwoods such as red oak and black birch. Some of the trees are quite old! As the trail moves away from the river, it leads along the top of a ridge, into a dense grove of hemlock. The north-facing slope, leading down to the river, is cool and steep. At the water’s edge, look for the shells of fresh water mussels, very likely harvested by small mammals. Elsewhere on the property, there are several streams and rivulets. Look for wild geranium, jack-in-the-pulpit, lady slippers, cardinal flowers and rattlesnake plantain. Listen for deep-woods birds such as cuckoo, veery, scarlet tanager, wood thrush, and ovenbird. On sunny days, you may see turtles basking on logs or large rocks at the water’s edge. The Indian Head River is a major tributary to the North River.
Historic Site: Yes
Boat Launch: No
Size: 78 acres
Hours: Dawn to Dusk
Parking: Limited parking at Luddams Ford Park in Pembroke. Pedestrian access via Old West Elm Street.
Trail Difficulty: Easy, Medium
Boat Ramp: No
ADA Access: No
Scenic Views: Yes