Restoring a brook that sustained the Pilgrims


While nearly everyone who grew up in the United States knows the story of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims coming to Plymouth, Massachusetts, not everyone knows why they landed where they did. A big part of that decision was a spring-fed stream that they called Town Brook. Town Brook was a source of fresh water for the Pilgrims and the marsh at the outlet of the brook provided protection for their boats. The Native Americans taught them to fertilize their corn fields with the herring that swam up the brook in incredible numbers every spring.

Over the years, as the region became more industrialized, the small Town Brook was dammed in six locations over a stretch of just a mile and a half. While the dams helped provide mechanical power for mills, they also led to the decline of the herring that helped sustain the Pilgrims. State staff have had to capture and truck herring around the dams to bring them to their upstream spawning area to help sustain their population.

More than 380 years after the Pilgrims landed, Town Brook is once again drawing attention, as the Town of Plymouth is working to restore the brook and its fish run back to the vibrant health it had in 1620.  The dams on Town Brook stopped powering mills decades ago and so the town is leading a group of partners including American Rivers, the NOAA Restoration Center, and the state’s Division of Ecological Restoration to remove dams and track the return of the brook’s herring. The Billington Street Dam was removed in 2002 and the Water Street Weir was partially removed in 2005. The project team is currently working to pull together funding to remove both the Off Billington Street Dam and the Plymco Dam in summer 2011.

It’s been nearly four hundred years since the Pilgrims first landed in Plymouth, but their needs then were not very different from ours today. Removing the Town Dam is another step in ensuring the pure water and ample fish supply the Pilgrims came upon at Plymouth will be available for another four hundred years.