The NORTH RIVER, over 100 years ago


This blog contains excerpts from the Story Teller of Damonds Point, Walter Crossley, “as he remembers”.  This one was published in the Mariner Newspaper on June 1, 1972.

*Walter takes you from  points inland of the North River  and travels downstream to the New Inlet.                              There are location notes by me  ( * —–.)

“A brief description of the river is perhaps a necessity to bring things to a starting point.”
“North River is a small semi-tidal river in the area known as the South Shore of Massachusetts. The river touches or takes drainage from Marshfield, , Norwell, Hanover, Pembroke, Hanson, Rockland, and, I believe, parts of Whitman, Abington, and Hingham.”
“Before the November storm of 1898, the river was three miles longer, entering the bay at the present day parking lot in Rexhame.

The mouth, at that time, was partially choked with sand bars and prevented a large portion of the present rise and fall of the tide.  This condition resulted in a fresher (*fresh-water), quieter stream.”

“I have heard my father,  and several others in his generation, tell of skating from Brick-Kiln Landing (* Pembroke), to the Life Saving Station on the end of Fourth Cliff (* Humarock/Scituate). They all agreed that the bridges had to be circumvented and that caution was required at several places, such as at the narrows ( ? ),  and at stream entrances.”

“Spearing eels and netting white perch through the ice were winter occupations.”
“A successful catch was shipped to Boston and it brought in some welcome money.  In the spring, there were runs of smelt, shad, and alewives, all commercially valuable in those days.  I can remember only the alewives or herring as they were often called.
After the storm of 1898, saltwater came much farther up-stream than it had before. When I first began to go up and down the stream, there were many acres of white cedar and blueberry swamps that had been killed by  the increase of saltwater.”

North River Ghost Trees.
Photography by Mike Sleeper.

“I was pleased to see on my most recent trip up river, that new cedars and other vegetation are growing again in the marshes. And on my uncle’s farm  (still in the family), there are now many trees.  In 1908, there were many dead trees in the low-lying area of the farm, and I was told the saltwater killed them. The fact that fresh water species, meadow corn, cattails, wild rose, and cedar, are pushing out farther into the marsh and much farther down river would seem to indicate that the old conditions are being restored”.
“Sixty years ago (* 1913 ), it is a fact that the rivers are much easier to navigate down stream than up, so, with that in mind, let us begin our trip at the first convenient place at the Pembroke Herring Run on Barker St. in Pembroke. Actually those are  shown on some maps as Barker’s River. ”
“The North River does not appear until it reaches the junction of the Barker and Indian Head Rivers, a short distance from the site of the old rubber mill (*The Clapp  Rubber Mill Co.), off Elm St. , Hanover.”
“Years ago a run of perch was the first good fishing of the spring, and it coincided pretty well with the schools’ vacation.  Almost all the boys in the neighborhood would be at the brook from early  morn’ ’til dark.  Armed with nets, hooks, sticks, spears and anything else that was available, we took some perch, a few herring, and an occasional eel. ”
It wasn’t often I got to fish alone
at my favorite spot.

But, mine is a better spot.

“Soon the real herring run started and the boys were chased off the brook. The herring in those days were serious business.”
” One of my earliest memories is of being taken to the brook to watch men with dip nets scoop out fish at the weir. Teams were hired by the town to transport live herring to sawing ponds. They lashed large hogs heads (* Wood Barrels) to wagons, filled them with water and placed the herring inside. They were then unloaded in Furnace Pond, opposite where the Nine Owls now stands.”(* Pembroke).
This loading and unloading continued until the town officials felt that enough herring had been transported to insure continuation of the run. I think every taxpayer was entitled to 100 herring.”
Barrels of live herring waiting to be unloaded.

“Sticks were a common sight in these days.   I believe a dozen fish per stick were hung on the sides of barns and sheds to dry. I cannot, however, agree with those that tell of the joys of eating roast herring and hot biscuits. I will only go so far as to say the biscuits were good.”
“The herring run was at the site of the first house and the first mill in what is now Pembroke, and, before the first European settlements, Indians camped there.  In fact, one can easily imagine a group of crude shelters with fires burning at intervals and Indians eating large quantities of fish after a long hard winter.”
“Leaving the herring run, we must  leave the river and go on foot for some distance.  A thick alder swamp, which offers only a few places to pass, reached out to the junction of the brook flowing by West’s Mill ( *Junction of Rte 3, now 53, & Rte 14).
“These swamps were believed to have been created by the saw mills on the brooks. The custom was to dispose of saw-dust by dumping it into the stream. This procedure worked fine if there was a good flow of water, but as the current became sluggish, saw-dust settled and accumulated on the banks, which in turn, diverted the streams in several directions instead of one main channel.  I understand there is now a beaver dam and a pond in this area. The only use we could find for the stretch was muskrat trapping and an occasional mink and duck shooting in the fall. There may have been fish there but impossible to catch them.”

Next, PART 2 ….. to be continued as my time permits.

Keep in mind these excerpts were written in the ’70’s by Walter Crossley, ((1899-1991),  for the Mariner newspaper. I am fortunate to have a capitulation of his works that I find most interesting.


W, Ray Freden.

5 Replies to “The NORTH RIVER, over 100 years ago”

  1. Absolutely love your blog Ray. Thank you for creating, recording & sharing this rich and fascinating history of our beloved Marshfield. You witnessed & experienced a time of such great changes in the land and the people living on it. What a gift you have given those of us who have grown up here…as well those just making acquaintance. Wow.

  2. Ray,

    I believe that Walter Crossley would be delighted to see his words and remembrances read by a wider audience once more. Your addition of period photos and illustrations round out the Crossley narrative. We all enjoy reading, hearing, and repeating first person accounts.

    Walter Crossley’s gift of remembrance lives on, and makes us all better with the knowledge of what has gone before.

    Paul F. McCarthy

  3. I was fortunate enough to have known Walter very well since I was born on Damon’s Pt Cir in ’74. I grew up there and my family is still there. I spent a lot of time with him sitting, listening to stories…fishing, and he even helped me whittle a few birds. I became close with his family and still go to his house on DP where his grandson lives. He was every bit as interesting, even more so in real life than he seems thru his writings.

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