Oliver Mill Park: Herring, History and a Whole Lot More

The Muttock area of Middleborough, Massachusetts has a history of occupation and use that dates to the early Archaic Period, attracting Native Americans who came to fish in the Nemasket River and established a village nearby. In 1734 a dam was built across the Nemasket River here, replacing an old native fish weir.

Between 1744 and 1776, Judge Peter Oliver, an important provincial Tory official and judge, as well as an industrial entrepreneur, operated an ironworks that included one of the earliest rolling and slitting mills in New England. Oliver's works dominated Middleborough's early economy and were significant for the degree to which they exploited the power of the Nemasket River, using as many as eight water wheels to run an integrated cluster of iron works, grist, saw, and other water powered mills. The Olivers continued to gain in wealth from their salaries for serving the colony and from their business enterprises on the river. At the outbreak of the revolution in 1776 one might have expected the town of Middleborough to stay loyal to the king. After all, the Olivers were influential people and had greatly helped the growth of Middleborough. But the town was opposed to the British from the beginning of the war. Judge Oliver "was impeached for receiving a salary from the crown" and he and his family then left the country along with the other Tories. The Judge's home, Oliver Hall, was burned to the ground in 1778. His son's house was sold and although owned by others, has returned to the ownership of Oliver descendants.

After 1800, the site was converted to a shovel shop under the ownership of General Abiel Washburn and operated into the 1840s. This part of the park was restored in the mid-1960s, in time for Middleborough’s 1969 Tercentenary celebrations.

Following the abandonment of the site in the 1870s, the area was largely ignored until the 1960s and 1970s when it was restored for recreational purposes. Oliver Mill Park survives as one of the most significant industrial archaeological sites in Middleborough and in the southeastern Massachusetts region.

While Oliver Mill Park is one of the most picturesque spots in town – perfect for everything from an impromptu picnic to weddings – its historic and natural resource significance cannot be overlooked. Archaelogists have found evidence of Native American settlements here – dating back almost 10,000 years. And, in 2013 almost one million herring traveled up the fish ladder to spawn in the Assawompset pond complex. 

For the people who live here, the return of the herring every year is a rite of passage into Spring and we welcome everyone to join us in standing on the river banks to enjoy the awe-inspiring show of herring running through the river.

Photo courtesy of Nicole Jacquelyn Photography and Design