Friday, March 23, 2012

Rockport’s Millbrook Meadow and Pond

Saving Rockport’s Garden Jewel…

Mill Pond in Rockport, 1975
In foreground, young Paula Cole*

            At the start of the 18th century, men built a dam here in what is now Rockport, Massachusetts, to create the power for a saw mill.
            That saw mill turned out lumber that built some of the first piers in Boston, and furnished the wood for houses all over Cape Ann.
            Rockport, then a part of Gloucester, was all about work.  The Mill Pond provided the water power for a grist mill, and then, into the twentieth century, an isinglass mill, grinding up the dried swim bladders of fish for use in brewing beer.  
            Kids loved playing hockey on the frozen pond, and Reuben Norwood harvested ice from the pond all winter long.

Kids on Mill Pond ca. 1910

            Other mills in town provided the power for a new industry of quarrying the rich  granite beneath the whole town.  In 1840, the village separated from Gloucester and became Rockport.
            Then in 1920 came Prohibition and the mill shut down, then burned to the ground. 
            About this time, artists discovered Rockport’s beautiful seashore and amazing light, and this grungy, working-class town began to become an art colony. 
            Lura Phillips led the charge in the 1950s to beautify Millbrook Meadow, and with the Rockport Garden Club turned it into a wonderful, green place to play, stroll, picnic, and have festivals, concerts and weddings. 

Each year at Summer Solstice Rockport’s large Scandinavian 
community celebrates  Midsommer in Millbrook Meadow.

Here’s our dam on May 15, 2006, just after it blew out.

Millbrook Meadow after the 2006 Mother’s Day storm
(looking west, toward the pond)

Millbrook Meadow as it flooded, May 15, 2006
(looking northeast, toward the ocean)
In May 2006 we had several days of heavy rain (about 15 inches), and our Mill Dam blew out.  Our Public Works department quickly built up a temporary replacement dam, and soon, we hope this summer, we’ll see our fine old granite dam rebuilt.
The failure of the dam, and the flooding that followed made us look critically at the whole Millbrook watershed, from the hills that send water down to the area around our Commuter Railway station, then into the Millbrook, into the Mill Pond, then into the lower Millbrook, and out to the Atlantic Ocean at Front Beach.
Our Pond is choked with invasive plant life and its bottom probably laden with over a century’s worth of oil and other pollutants from the railroad yard around the station.

Mill Pond has become heavily silted and full of non-native invasive plant life.

Mission: Create a Sustainable Landscape

            It’s time for Rockporters to join together to take action to preserve this beautiful jewel of ours, before the pond disappears into a weed-clogged swamp, and our Meadow, with poor drainage getting worse with each year, slumps into a soggy wetland during much of the year. 
            We must protect our Front Beach from harmful pollutants.
            The stones lining our Millbrook need to be rebuilt, the culvert under Beach Street needs work.
            After the dam is rebuilt, we’ll need to rebuild the sluiceway.
            The Meadow needs to have expert help in improving its drainage.  We need to plant new trees and shrubs.
            With a little help, and a lot of sweat and agitation, we can make it all happen.
Look at this jumble of rocks along the Millbrook as the water heads out to Front Beach.

            We need volunteers to join the Millbrook Watershed Conservancy  [This is a brand new name!].  If you live in Rockport, you can help, by joining us.
  • Your energy, your enthusiasm and your experience can help.
  • We need energetic neighbors to help on cleanup days.
  • We need Rockporters to help us in learning about the ecology of the Pond and Meadow, and helping us fight to get government and private funding to protect this wonderful little piece of our town. 
            Protecting our fragile watershed will take work, and we hope you’ll help!

            If you can help, Contact Sam Coulbourn at 978-546-7138
( ) or John Sparks at 978-546-9098

The photo at the top was provided by Jim and Stephanie Cole, showing the Pond when it was much clearer and cleaner, not clogged with invasive plant life.  Paula, their little girl, shown in the picture, grew up to become a nationally-known singer, winner of one Grammy and nominated for seven more. 

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