Massachusetts is filled with incredible natural beauty, but there’s something special about the majestic rivers that flow through this land. They represent the power, patience and persistence that helped make this state so great. Read on and learn about the history and ecology of these fascinating waterways.
1. Concord River
One of the most famous small rivers in U.S. history, the Concord River was the scene of an important early battle of the American Revolutionary War and was the subject of a famous 19th-century book by Henry David Thoreau, “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.” Unfortunately, dams built along the river have caused the native fish population to decrease, and water pollution continues to be a problem.
2. Charles River
Often referred to simply as the Charles, this stunning river passes though 23 Massachusetts cities and towns before flowing into Boston Harbor. The problematic pollution of the Charles River was made famous by The Standells’ 1965 hit song, “Dirty Water.” During the 1950s, it was not uncommon to see patches of river colored bright pink and orange due to toxins from local factories. Today, the river’s condition has been greatly improved (though I still wouldn’t recommend taking a dip) and is a beloved Boston landmark.
3. Deerfield River
The Deerfield River extends for 76 miles through northwestern Massachusetts and eventually joins the Connecticut River. This waterway is one of the most heavily used rivers in the entire country, and there is a dam approximately every seven miles. Notable attractions along its banks include the glacial potholes and beautiful Bridge of Flowers, both in Shelburne Falls.
4. Connecticut River
The Connecticut River is the longest river in New England. The Connecticut River Valley is one of the most fertile areas of the state and the whole of the northeastern United States. The river also supported and continues to support many native groups, including the Pequot, Mattabesset, and Mohegan peoples.
5. Sudbury River
This beautiful river in Middlesex County is 32.7 miles long and a tributary of the Concord River. In 1999, nearly 17 miles of the river were recognized for their outstanding ecology, history, scenery, recreational value, and place in American literature by the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Due to mercury contamination in the 1970s. fish that are caught downriver are not fit to be eaten.
6. Merrimack River
This river is 117 miles long and flows through multiple cities in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The spelling of its name has varied over the years; Merrimac, Marrymac, Merimacke, Merrimacke and Merrimake have all been common in their turn. The current spelling was made official in 1914 by Congressman John Jacob Rogers.
7. Taunton River
Another gorgeous river, Taunton River runs along for 37 miles until it joins Mount Hope Bay. The river is home to many species of animals and plants found nowhere else in the state. It’s also the longest coastal river in New England without dams and supports the habitats of over 154 different types of birds. Otter, milk, grey fox and deer can also be found in and around its waters.
8. Bass River
The Bass River is an estuary in South Yarmouth. It was once considered a viable location for a canal connecting Cape Cod to mainland Massachusetts and is the largest river the Mid-Cape Highway spans. Part of the Bass River becomes an underground stream that nearly bisects Cape Cod!
9. Housatonic River
The Housatonic River measures a whopping 149 miles in length and flows south to southeast, eventually draining into the Long Island Sound. Indigenous people began using the river for hunting and fishing at least 6,000 years ago, according to archaeological evidence. Over 30,000 Mohican people lived along the river by the year 1600. In 1734, Mohican inhabitants attempted to establish the Indian Town of Stockbridge in the Housatonic Valley. This settlement was a success for a time, but European settlers soon crowded the native dwellers from the town. Today, the Housatonic is a great place to spot charming wooden bridges, like Bull’s Bridge in Gaylordsville and the West Cornwall Covered Bridge in Cornwall.
10. Ipswich River
A relatively small river (only 35 miles long), the Ipswich River is often reduced to mud flats in some areas when the tide recedes or during times of low rainfall. Interestingly, the river was first mentioned in historical documents in 1638, when it was recorded that a John Winthrop had bought the river from Chief Masconomet for 20 pounds sterling.
11. Nashua River
The Nashua River is 37.5 miles long and is formed in eastern Worcester County. This meandering waterway was heavily used for transportation during the Colonial Era. During late 18th and early 19th century, local paper mills disposed of waste and dye in the river, turning it various bizarre colors and badly polluting the waters. Clean-up effort have been ongoing since the 1960s, with positive results. Many parts are now safe for swimming.
12. Saugus River
Native Americans originally called this river Aboutsett, or “winding stream.” The Saugus River was once an important source of water power for local chocolate mills and flannel mills.