All photos by Mark Horowitz
Learn what many rivers looked like hundreds of years ago before development changed the landscape
You don’t have to go very far out of town to get to some real wilderness, which is definitely the case when heading south of Boston. The vast area between Routes 3 and 24 includes some pretty unspoiled places, including the waterway that few have heard of, one of the only flowing rivers in the entire state.
The Indian Head River in Hanover, Hanson, and Pembroke feels like the kind of remote area you’d find in northern New England, and if you have a car, it doesn’t take long to get from the Boston city limits.
The South Shore map notes the area’s rich history, with Native American names for cities, towns, and neighborhoods along with parks, ponds, and rivers (including some very familiar species like Wompatuck, Ponkapoag, Neponset, and Sagamore). Another one you may encounter is Massachusetts, a tribe named the state where the state got its name from, which lived mostly south of present-day Boston including the Indian Head River. Over the past few centuries, the waterway has become the site of factories, mills, and dams, but today it is slowly returning to what it was before development.
There are many places where you can begin a stroll along the Indian Head River, but perhaps the best is the parking lot at Luddam Ford Park, a quiet recreation area on Elm Street next to the Hanover/Pembroke Line off Route 53 (and below) more than 10 minutes from Route 3). A broad, flat lane begins on the north side of the river, following an old railroad base just south of Water Street; Even before the trail begins, it’s worth wandering the park for its serene views of the water and surrounding forests.
The Indian Head River Trail generally heads west with views of the river here and there, including from a short trail about half a mile in, and a sign describing what free-flowing river to be found along the trail here. So what or whatyou can ask, Is a river flowing freely? Simply put, it is a river that flows undisturbed and is not altered by dams or any other man-made structures. This particular section of the free-flowing Indian Head River, standing on the rocks overlooking the moving water at the end of the spur path, you can get a sense of what many rivers looked like hundreds of years ago before evolution changed. the scene.
A short distance west from the spur trail, the Indian Head River Trail comes out of the woods on Water Street and here you’ll find the old Waterman Tack Factory, which made nails for shoes, furniture and more in the 19th century and is now a historic site where you can still see parts of the dam supplying Factory powered. The path follows the old railroad for a while before turning away from Water Street, taking a left turn into the woods and going down the river banks twice before rising high above the waterway that can be seen through the woods.
About halfway from the elevation (about two miles in), the trail emerges from the woods again, this time on Broadway in south Hanover, following that road briefly before turning left again on Cross Street and going over a bridge at Hanover/Hanson Line but Just before you cross the river, take a left at a small cul-de-sac for views of the water flowing under the bridge and the slowly flowing river behind. Whether you are sitting on the rocks or on a bench in this wonderful spot, it is a great place to contemplate just a few meters from civilization.
The Indian Head River Trail continues along the other side of the river past the bridge, where you take a left and quickly discover that the track on this side is very different from the first half of the hike. Here, you’ll tackle more rugged terrain and hills while occasionally catching a glimpse of the water from the deeply wooded path. This section is called the Rocky Run Conservation Area, which leads from Hanson to Pembroke and to Tucker Preserve where the river runs through a gorge with some of the best views of the entire hike. It’s worth continuing along the water here, but for a different experience (and make sure you use a GPS-based app so you don’t get lost), it can be fun to wander through the woods in this quiet area before heading back to the river’s edge. And back to Elm Street – called W Elm Street on the Pembroke side.
Just before you cross the bridge and head back to the parking lot on the other side, head to the river where you’ll see something rare in the Greater Boston area – a fish ladder. The Indian Head River passes under Elm Street and eventually flows into the North River which continues into the Atlantic Ocean where the Scituate and Marshfield meet, and fish such as herring and shad migrate up the ladder in the spring to spawn. The stone bridge on Elm Street is located downstream directly from the staircase and includes an old plaque that mentions “The Bay Path at Ford’s Lodam across the Indian Head River” while also showing the boundary where Hanover and Pembroke meet, and the view of the river from this point continues to be breathtaking, especially in the fall .
It’s hard to believe that the Indian Head River and corresponding trail are completely unknown to even the most knowledgeable hiker in eastern Massachusetts, but that’s part of what makes the area so special. All it takes is a 25-mile drive from downtown Boston to reach this special spot, which is a million miles away from traffic jams and city crowds.