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New England by Heart

Plymouth MA

Photo of downtown Plymouth

Plymouth – where New England began.

Well, sort of. Natives were here long before the English, and later there was fur trading up north and Spanish conquistadores down south. But Plymouth Plantation marked the first permanent European settlement in what is now New England. And so it’s only fitting that I start my blog here, in my adopted hometown of Plymouth.

Its European beginnings are well known – 102 Pilgrims crossing the ocean to seek freedom of worship. Blown off course from their destination in the Virginia colonies further south, they endured a miserable winter with only half of them making it through.

But make it through they did, and with the help of the local Wampanoag, began a fledgling colony which today remains Plymouth, a pretty, thriving town an hour’s drive south of Boston (if there’s no traffic, should you be so lucky). Many cruise by Plymouth on Route 3 heading to “the Cape” (Cape Cod), but it’s worth stopping by for a visit, or even making a special trip. Because not only is it rife with history that we think we all know (you’d be surprised), it also has a hopping waterfront and that rare thing, a thriving downtown.

Before I go further into modern day Plymouth, I must address its beginnings a bit more deeply. As we become more aware of the less pleasant history that lurks behind the picture of Wampanoag and Pilgrims breaking bread together, there can be an urge to avert our eyes too quickly.

The truth is that there was indeed a three day harvest celebration, documented by William Bradford in his journal Of Plymouth Plantation. The  Wampanoag did join that celebration, and even brought five deer to contribute to the feast. It’s also true that there was a peace treaty executed by Ousamequin (Massasoit) and Governor John Carver that provided for mutual protection and peace that lasted half a century.

Meeting of Governor Carver and Massasoit

This was a treaty of convenience, of course, the Wampanoag having been decimated by disease brought by the European explorers and struggling to defend themselves against their enemy, the Narragansett. And of course, the Pilgrims needed the help of the Wampanoag simply to survive in the new land. But aren’t most peace treaties around the world instruments of mutual need?

The ending for the Wampanoag and other American tribes is a sad one. They were no match for the technology and weaponry, or the diseases, of the Europeans.

It is good that we are beginning to acknowledge the misery that was inflicted upon these peoples, and I support the call for a national apology and reparations. But I don’t want that to take away from the fact that the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag found a moment of peace and cooperation in the midst of a violent world.

That, to me, is what we celebrate, with hopes that we can come to the table once again.

Plymouth has had its ups and downs through its four centuries. It seemed to degrade for a while, with malls pulling people away and downtown becoming more a deteriorating mix of kitschy waterfront tourist spots with a seeming absence of any rational zoning laws, and a Main St/Court St (don’t ask) strip of bars interspersed with a few historic spots of note.

No more. The waterfront is spruced up, with great shops and restaurants from the Rock all the way up to the town wharf. Downtown bars are now taverns, and interspersed with other restaurants and shops. The town hall has been moved back downtown into the old 1820 Courthouse, which has been spruced up and expanded and now sports a visitor center. Art and music venues are dotted throughout.

What strikes me most in recent years is how vibrant it is even in off season. Plymoutheans have embraced downtown Plymouth.

Beyond Pilgrims and downtown life, Plymouth is made up of a collection of villages stretching nearly all the way to the Cape Cod Canal, and inland well out past Route 3. It encompasses a geographic area larger than Boston. There are ocean excursions and beaches, lakes and ponds, golf courses, preserves, the Myles Standish State Forest, and miles of trails.

You will not run out of things to do, no matter how long you are here.

Self-Guided Tours

About my self-guided tours

My Walk and Drive With Me tours are self-guided and designed to take no more than 2-3 hours. This allows you to easily incorporate them into an overall travel itinerary or simply enjoy one as a morning or afternoon excursion.

Walk With Me Tours

Enjoy these tours of Plymouth – these are shown in the order that I recommend – enjoy them in one longer visit, or look forward to returning for another visit.

Other Excursions & Experiences

There is lots of other fun to be had in Plymouth. For easy and scenic hikes there are a multitude of options. Myles Standish State Forest, with its pine barrens, has multiple trails and you can cool off after with a swim at College Pond, hiking. Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary in Manomet, previously a working cranberry farm, is the result of a freshwater ecological restoration and offers wonderful trails through varying landscapes. This is one of my favorite places to walk. And Ellisville Harbor State Park, farther down south, has a wonderful trail around the beautiful salt marshes.

Also, be sure to stop at the Monument to the Forefathers before heading out of town.

National Monument to the Forefathers

National Monument to the Forefathers

The stunning 81 foot high National Monument to the Forefathers is touted to be the largest solid granite monument in the world and it hits you like a rock (so to speak) when you come upon it on the unassuming residential Allerton Street. This is a true get-out-of-your-car-and-marvel kind of monument. 

Commissioned by the Pilgrim Society as a commemoration to the Mayflower Pilgrims, it was designed by architect Hammatt Billings and completed in 1888.

You can walk the roughly half mile from town to the monument, but my recommendation is to make a stop here on your way in or out of Plymouth.

Events not to Miss

Every town has some number of events throughout the year. Some have staying power, some don’t. Some are geared to special interests, like road races, while others appeal to a wide audience. Even some special interest events can become so iconic that they attract wide swaths of audiences and participants. My goal it to bring forth those events in a town (or nearby) that are enduring and treasured by the local community. For other events, be sure to check the local listings.

America's Hometown Thanksgiving Celebration

America’s Hometown Thanksgiving Celebration

Forget Macy’s. Where better to have a Thanksgiving parade than in Plymouth? 

America’s Hometown Thanksgiving celebration takes place every year the weekend before Thanksgiving.  The parade is the centerpiece of the event. Whether you sit along the route downtown or on Cole’s Hill (my favorite spot) with the grandstand and harbor as a backdrop, you won’t be disappointed. 

Touted as a historically accurate parade, it focuses on the various periods in America’s history, with beautiful floats, marching bands from all over and other marching groups. And of course, it ends with Santa Claus coming to town.

The celebration also includes concerts and a waterfront festival. Come spend the day – it’s a great way to start the Thanksgiving and holiday season.

Check out my musing on the 2021 parade to get a glimpse of this great event.

Notable Eateries & Watering Holes

I invite you to search for overall options and ratings on eateries and watering holes. My focus here is to point out those places that have historic or iconic value.

Bramhall's Country Store

Bramhall's Country Store

Bramhall’s was founded in 1828 and is still run by the same family – as of this writing on its seventh generation, if I’m counting right. It was any number of businesses through those generations, including (according to its website) a cobbler’s shop, a carpentry barn, and one of the first post offices in the United States.

Today, and for a long time standing, it’s been an eclectic mix of a lobster shack (not on the water, but yes those are fresh lobsters in that tank), ice cream stand (Ben & Jerry’s and Crescent Ridge, your choice), farm stand, mini-museum and more. It’s also a favorite of the Chiltonville crowd, of Plymoutheans as a whole and of those intrepid visitors who wander beyond the well trammeled tourist areas. 

If nothing else, it’s a most picturesque little red building that requires a photo opp or two or three.

The Lobster Pound

The Lobster Pound

Sitting high upon historic Manomet Point, The Lobster Pound is an impossibly picturesque little seafood market serving the summer crowds since 1963, replacing an earlier 1937 market.

Still a family run business, on its third generation, this is primarily a fresh market, but you can order up a lobster roll and enjoy it at one of the picnic tables overlooking the splendid views of Manomet Point.

Rye Tavern

Rye Tavern

Old Sandwich Road once connected Boston to Cape Cod, long before Routes 3 and 3a were even conceived. A portion of that road remains today, much of it still unpaved, stretching from Jordan Road in Chiltonville, all the way to Ellisville Harbor, where it connects with 3a and Ellisville Road. It is claimed to be the oldest unpaved road in the US in continuous use. Before that, it was a well-traveled Native American path, and Sacrifice Rock stands as a testament to that history.

Along this historic portion, roughly halfway between Plymouth Center and Ellisville, sat Cornish’s Tavern, opened in 1792 as a most welcome stage stop and favorite local meeting place. John Adams, our second president, wrote of the comfort he derived, arriving cold and wet, of a good fire and the presence of local men discussing politics, while his room was made up.

Now called Rye Tavern, it has stood the test of time, as the surrounding wilderness became the beautiful and award-winning planned community The Pine Hills. The development has thankfully preserved Old Sandwich Road and the tavern, leaving both well buffered from the bustle of life beyond.

The menu is limited and not very imaginative, but it is a great place to sit on the patio or at the outdoor bar in good weather, or channel John Adams by cozying up by the fire in winter. 

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