NATURE by Kezia Bacon, Correspondent
While enjoying one of NSRWA’s pontoon boat cruises last summer, I noticed a new bench in the woods in Norwell. Or maybe it was just new to me! The bench was nestled into the hillside, overlooking the North River, in the Stetson Meadows Conservation Area — a place I hadn’t visited in over 15 years. I could vaguely recall reading about trail improvements at that site, but how long ago was that? It was time for a return visit.
It’s so easy to forget about Stetson Meadows – so easy to be unaware that it exists. This is largely because of its location, tucked away in the woods, in a remote corner of Norwell accessible only by a single dirt road. Driving there, progressing carefully along uneven terrain, puts the visitor in a certain mindset. This is not a place to be raced to — or through. One is inspired to slow down and savor the experience.
Stetson Meadows was established as conservation land in 1972. The Town of Norwell purchased the 184-acre property with the intention of providing public access, as well as to curb further development along the North River. Over the past 40 years, volunteers and the town have worked together to establish a network of trails. Now visitors can enjoy the property’s forests, meadows, wetlands, and woody swamps, along with impressive views of the salt marsh and the river.
Beautiful and serene, the landscape of Stetson Meadows is also rich in history. Until it earned its own name in 1888, Norwell (also known as South Scituate) was part of the town of Scituate. Europeans began to settle there around 1628, with a large contingent arriving from County Kent, England, in 1633. Timothy Hatherly and the Conihasset partners received the first land grant, and the town itself was founded in 1636. Soon thereafter, settlers moved away from the rocky coast to the more accommodating interior, and built farms along the North River. While there were no formal roads back then, native tribes had created trails over the land. However it was often easier to travel by water, in small boats and canoes. The river was essentially the highway.
The first European to lay claim to the area that is now Stetson Meadows was Robert Stetson, who received a 100-acre land grant in 1634. Stetson served the Crown of England for 14 years, attaining the rank of Cornet, a commissioned officer. He is remembered in posterity as a member of the contingent who established the boundary between the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies, as well as for leading a troop of soldiers in King Philips War, and for negotiating the purchase of Abington and Hanover from the Narragansett.
In 1656, along with Timothy Hatherly and Joseph Tilden, Cornet Stetson established one of Plymouth Colony’s first sawmills. It was located on Third Herring Brook, at the foot of Old Pond, on what was commonly known as “the Old Indian Path,” (near the junction of present-day Tiffany Road and East Street). Sawmills were hugely important to the developing colonies, instrumental in the construction of dams and ships.
The sawmill stood for 20 years but ultimately became a casualty of King Philips War. In 1676, as part of a three-year battle between the European Colonists and the native tribes, a party of Narragansetts and Nipmucks raided the area. They began their attack in Hingham, and then proceeded into Norwell and Hanover. They burned down Stetson’s sawmill, and continued east to Greenbush, destroying thirteen houses and barns along the way.
Cornet Stetson and his wife, Honor Tucker, had 10 children. Four of their sons — Joseph, Benjamin, Thomas and Samuel – eventually inherited the 100-acre land grant. Thomas farmed there, while in 1660, Benjamin established a shipyard on site at Bald Hill, just upstream of the present-day Route 3 bridge. Three generations of Stetsons worked the shipyard, which was eventually taken over by Nathaniel Church. The farm also passed down through subsequent generations, and was eventually sold to Michael Ford, a shipbuilder farther upstream at Fox Hill. Three generations of the Ford Family inhabited the farm, and then the Morton family, was the final owner before the town made its purchase.
These days, there isn’t much evidence on site of the Stetsons or any of the families who came after them. Forest and swamp now cover the farmland, although the occasional stone wall reminds the visitor of days past. It’s a lovely place to spend an hour or two.
To get there, from River Street in Norwell, turn onto Stetson Shrine Lane. The paved road ends in a cul de sac. Continue on Meadows Farm Way, which is unpaved, for a half mile or so to get to the conservation area’s parking lot.
From there, cross the dirt road, and head downhill, along the meadow, toward the river. You’ll see a sign for the River Loop on the right. Follow the River Loop all the way around, and then continue downhill to the picnic area and the River Trail. Then follow the River Trail along the water and across Meadows Farm Way. You can access Twin Pines Trail from there, which you can either follow back to the parking lot, or extend your visit with a circuit of the loop of Stetson and Haskins Trails, another mile–plus through the woods.
Stetson Meadows borders private property in several places. It is important to be mindful of this, and remain on established trails. I recommend downloading the map/property guide from Norwell’s town website (https://www.townofnorwell.net/conservation-commission/pages/conservation-trail-brochures). You can also consult the informational kiosk in the property’s parking area.
Kezia Bacon’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to protecting our waters. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. To browse 20+ years of nature columns, visit http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com