Thursday, February 3, 2011

In My Footsteps: Trip 100: Norwell, Massachusetts

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund

Trip 100:  Norwell, Massachusetts
December 16, 2010

            For all of my travels up and down the coasts of Massachusetts, the South Shore and North Shore, there are still places that are completely unfamiliar to me.  Some of them are very close by to where I live.  One such spot is Norwell; it lies in between the places I have visited along the South Shore and some of the places further inland that I have seen like Easton and Brockton.  I was very interested in finding out what this area was about and I was not disappointed.
Norris Reservation
            Ironically even though it is not along the shore the town of Norwell was originally settled as a part of Scituate and was known as South Scituate up until 1888.  It was then that the name was changed to Norwell after dry goods merchant Henry Norwell who provided funding to maintain the town’s roads.  Norwell was originally settled for agriculture and relied heavily on shipbuilding through the 19th century.  Now the small town of under 10,000 people is a very affluent community.
Stetson-Ford House c.1674
There are plenty of historic homes and buildings inside the borders of Norwell which I always enjoy but it was the conservation lands which stood out for me.  Chief among those was Norris Reservation on Dover Street.  I knew this spot was going to be special from the moment I spotted the small pond on the left hand side about a thousand feet from the parking lot.  The pond was iced over but it was still draining frigid water underneath a wooden footbridge and down a small creek.  With a bright sun in the sky it made for some amazing colors on the rushing water below and some impressive photos of the ice that had collected around the bases of a few trees and rocks partially submerged in the water. 
I don’t recommend what I did next to everyone but I did manage to scale down the small gully to the water’s edge to get some more incredible views of this unexpected surprise at Norris Reservation.  Afterwords I also found a fir tree decorated for the Christmas season complete with colored ball ornaments and some silver streamers.  It definitely got me in the spirit.  There are also other smaller parks in Norwell including Gaffield Park which is only a short drive from Norris Reservation on River Street.  It was established in 1896, has a nice playground area and some interesting names of point of interest such as Hemlock Hollow and Lookout Point.
The North River
There were a few spots that combined the natural with the historical and I was glad to get to experience them.  One particular spot was as nice as it was hard to get to.  Stetson Meadows and the Stetson-Ford House are located in a very remote area of Norwell, although the road to get to it is actually bordered by Rt. 3.  Stetson Meadows is a conservation area with a lot of trails and a marsh on the eastern side.  The Stetson-Ford House located near the dirt parking area of the property was built in 1674 by Thomas Stetson.  His father, Cornet Robert Stetson, was the first colonial resident of Norwell.  From the parking area down to the marsh’s edge is a short walk and it was quite enjoyable thanks to the sun and some tall pine trees which border a field running along the dirt path.
I did however mention that it was a long drive out to Stetson Meadows but that should not deter any potential visitors to this conservation area.  It is about a mile out to the house and conservation area, much of that along a rough dirt road along the highway.  It is worth the bumpy ride; just take your time getting there.
Jacobs Farmhouse c.1726
After leaving Stetson Meadows I stopped at an overpass on Bridge Street to view the North River.  The spot I chose has a small parking area and is located just before the border with neighboring Marshfield.  The North River played a very important role in the economy of Norwell back when it was still known as South Scituate.  This spot on Bridge Street is where most of the boats enter the water and there are scenic foliage tours offered in the fall.
The final spot I visited is the location of Norwell’s Historical Society.  The Jacobs Farmhouse, on the corner of Main Street and Jacobs Lane was built in 1726 and descendants of the Jacobs family lived in the home until 1939 when it was given to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiques.  The house is across the street from the fifty-nine acre Jacobs Pond.  The pond is man-made, created in 1730 when Third Herring Brook was dammed where Main Street is now. 
It was deserted on this day so I was able to walk around the grounds freely and snap some great photos.  There is an acre and a half field beside the farmhouse which is run by the non-profit Norwell Farms.  There was some farm equipment in a building across the street from the farmhouse including a really neat tractor.  Even though there was nobody around I did not dare get too close to the equipment.  I am sure if you arrive at the Jacobs Farmhouse while folks from the historical society are around they will show you the equipment close up.
Not quite the South Shore, not that far inland, Norwell has a charm all its own.  The historic homes and places are topped only by the amazing conservation areas like Norris Reservation.  It was a virtual unknown area to me before but now it has become a spot I will fondly remember.  I believe that any visitor will enjoy their time in Norwell.  Have fun and happy traveling!

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DirectionsNorris Reservation:  From Rt. 3 take Exit 12, turn left at Church St., take 1st left onto Old Oak St.  Continue onto Union St., follow for 3.3 miles, continue onto Bridge St.  Turn left at Rt. 123, follow half a mile, take a slight left at Dover St.  Parking area is on left.
            Jacobs Farmhouse:  From Rt. 3 take Exit 13, turn right at Rt. 53, turn right at Rt. 123, follow half a mile.  Farmhouse is on left on corner of Jacobs Lane.


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