The North River winds its way eight miles through Plymouth County from the hills of Pembroke at its origin to its Mouth at Scituate, where it empties into Massachusetts Bay. Near this mouth lies a large sand spit and a vast area of flats which are exposed at low tide. This geological feature is typically referred to as the Scituate Spit or just “The spit” by locals and nearby residents of the towns of Marshfield, Norwell and Scituate which the North River divides. Visiting the area at low tide yields a broad open area consisting of several miles of accessible beach and moor lands. Below is a photo of the walkway out onto the moors that lies between Third Cliff and The Spit:
The head of Scituate’s Humarock section, know as Fourth Cliff, is visible across the river. Humarock remains part of the town Scituate although it was physically separated by this “New Inlet” by the fierce Gale of 1898 (also known as the “Portland Gale” for the ship that met its fate in this storm). The original inlet was near the dunes that now separate the south side of Humarock from the Fieldstone section of Marshfield. Distantly visible in the photo above is the Fire Control Tower at Third Cliff, which was built in the early twentieth century as part of Boston’s coastal defense system. Below is a photo looking upstream, with some debris including a lobster trap, evidence of the areas exposure during storms.
Historically speaking, the North River and surrounding area has played an important role in Boston’s early development. Most notably, its shipyards, which were located far upstream in Norwell, Marshfield and Pembroke. These yards produced some of the major trading ships that sailed from Boston and Salem in the early 19th century. The area was also conducive to settlement given its natural estuary and ample supply of fish. Notable early residents of the area south of Satuit Brook (the likely origin of the name Scituate) Included Chief Justice William Cushing. Appointed the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court by George Washington, Cushing lived on Neal Gate, just adjacent to the North River’s moorlands. Route 3a bears his name to this day. Pictured below is an old dead tree in the moorlands which likely washed up on this area from upstream during a storm:
The large expanse of flats which are typically underwater at any time other than low tide. Scituate’s wind turbine is visible in the distance:
Looking North from the spit toward Third Cliff:
A closer look at Fourth Cliff and the mouth of the river at low tide:
A view over the moorlands adjacent to the North River:
A summer time view of the North River looking east, as seen from the Route 3A bridge connecting Scituate and Marshfield:
A chart of the North River’s mouth and the large area of tidal flats. The exposed area that can be accessed is the green shaded area labeled “New Inlet” referring to its newly opened status since the Portland Gale:
Source: NOAA Nautical Chart. See disclaimer at NOAA.gov
The spit is typically visited by hundreds of boaters on an average summer afternoon. One must take great caution in bringing a boat into this area due to the swift current caused by the large volume of water discharging from the North River. By comparison, Bassings Beach in Cohasset, just a few miles to the north is a tie up for boaters that has a less severe current and more space. The Spit has been the target of several police crackdowns aimed at curbing noise and intoxication for which parties on the spit have become notorious.
Access to the spit can be obtained by boat (the easiest way) or by walking from the Driftway onto the access point near Moorland Road on Third Cliff. When attempting to access by land, it is best to go just before low tide, and carefully watch the incoming tide and the swift currents of the river.