226 Webster St, Marshfield, MA 02050, USA
Owned By: Town of Marshfield
Marshfield Conservation owns the 130-acre Webster’s Wilderness. It is part of the 1200 acres that once belonged to US Senator and two-time Secretary of State Daniel Webster. A trail network leads through lowland forest and wetlands. The property features pond views, vernal pools, and a portion of the historic Pilgrim Trail, as well as Cherry Hill, the place where Webster gave his last public speech. Located right next door to the Marshfield Senior Center, the Wheeler Athletic Complex, and the Daniel Webster Estate.
Webster’s Wilderness is rich in history. The section of the property known as Cherry Hill is remembered as the place where Daniel Webster gave his last public speech. A granite marker commemorates the event. According to “Marshfield: A Town of Villages 1640-1990,” by Cynthia Krusell and Betty Bates, Webster had returned from Washington to his home in Marshfield in the summer of 1852. His health failed shortly thereafter, and he passed away on October 24th. It’s a proud piece of local lore that Webster requested to be interred at the nearby Winslow Burying Ground, and therefore declined a state funeral and burial in the National Cemetery. Mourners traveled along the Old Pilgrim Trail (also known as Green Harbor Path) to attend the funeral service at his estate, or sailed upstream from the Atlantic to his wharf on the Green Harbor River. It’s fascinating to imagine how these old roads and waterways were the highways of yesteryear.
Webster’s home was inhabited by his extended family until it burned down in 1878. It was rebuilt on its original foundation, and in 1884, Walton Hall purchased the property. Hall developed much of the surrounding land as cranberry bogs. (About 1,000 acres total, along Webster Street and toward Green Harbor.) Those bogs — later managed by Walton’s sons, Lincoln and Lewis — are long gone now, but you can find vestiges of them as you explore the trails of Webster’s Wilderness, as well as section of the property’s old stone walls. Especially on the Cherry Hill side of the property, there are small ponds and a number of narrow streams, once part of the farm’s irrigation system. There are also culverts and dams, and occasional rusted remains of pipes and pumps.
The property’s more recent history is evident as well. 1950 marked the founding of Camp Daniel Webster, a summer day camp for children, first operated by Vincent Cohee, and later (1966-86) by James and Phyllis Anderson. Probably the most memorable landmark is the tree into which decades of young teens carved their initials.
Webster’s Wilderness has a more remote “feel” to it than some of our other, more trafficked conservation lands. But that’s part of the appeal! Another feature that some will find fascinating is the rusted, skeletal remains of a 1950s/60s Willys Jeep, visible at the side of the trail.
Webster’s Wilderness is accessible via the parking area behind the Marshfield Senior Center (230 Webster Street). Look for the kiosk in the rear parking lot. One trailhead is directly behind the kiosk. Another is within the Wheeler Baseball Complex, where a paved 1/3-mile walking trail encircles the ballfields. Looking across from the parking lot, to approximately 10 o’clock, is where you’ll find the second (unmarked) trailhead for Webster’s Wilderness. The third entrance (pedestrians only) is a trail that extends off Adelaide Road, farther up Webster Street. It is blazed in yellow.
From the trailhead, it’s just a short walk to a somewhat wider path. This is the Old Pilgrim Trail, a historic road that originally extended from Plymouth to Scituate. Only a small section of the Pilgrim Trail passes through Webster’s Wilderness. Turn left at this intersection and you’ll soon come out to Arborway and the Daniel Webster Estate. Turn right, and follow the trail to historic Cherry Hill. Continuing from there will bring you to some narrow trails around Winslow Pond and through wetlands, as well as to the main trail into the heart of Webster’s Wilderness — an area called Slaughter Island. There are two intersecting figure-8 trails here, some more developed than others, plus the occasional spur trail. There are streams and small ponds too, as well as a vernal pool, wetlands, and large groves of cedar trees. Also, on the main trail, before you reach the figure-8 trails, look for an old stone wall, to the right. There is a trail, blazed in yellow, that extends through an opening in the stone wall, up over a hill, and then down through some forest and wetlands, eventually connecting with Adelaide Way.
The Teal Trail is a great spot for wildlife observation. Follow it out to its end, and you’ll find a quiet overlook that is perfect for watching and listening to the numerous avian species that call this place home.
Slaughter Island gets its name from its agricultural past. Edward Dwyer, who owned the adjacent farm that is now the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary, is said to have used the Slaughter Island section of the property as a place to butcher cattle and dispose of their remains. Here and there along the trail you can see the occasional shallow pit, about 4-5 feet in diameter. Cattle were butchered here and then the carcasses were burned. Locals have found bones within the pits. The same story is told about traveling butcher Frank Sinnott (1881), who also lived nearby.
Habitats and Wildlife
Cedar trees abound within Webster’s Wilderness. The property is unusually diverse. While we usually see lots of pine and oak in our woods (this is true here too), Webster’s Wilderness is well-populated with maple, elm, black walnut, and cherry, as well as the occasional birch.
Watch for marshhawks hunting for frogs in the property’s vernal pools. Also keep an eye out for deer and fox.
Wharf Creek, a major tributary to the Green Harbor River flows through this property. The Green Harbor River finds its source in springs and ponds in Duxbury. It twists and turns through Marshfield via large cranberry bog complex, the Green Harbor Golf Club, the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary, property owned by the Marshfield Municipal Airport, and Peter Igo Park, and empties into the Atlantic downstream in Green Harbor.
Historic Site: No
Boat Launch: No
Size: 130 acres
Hours: Dawn to Dusk
Parking: Park at Wheeler Athletic Complex.
Trail Difficulty: Easy
Informational kiosk at main trailhead. Historical marker on Cherry Hill.
Boat Ramp: No
ADA Access: No
Scenic Views: Yes
Waterbody/Watershed: Wharf Creek (Green Harbor River watershed)