Hard of Herring

A rare fish run and a quirky free museum

brewsterPhoto: Nicole Pasquale

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n industrial site for more than 300 uninterrupted years, the Brewster Mill is powered by a water wheel spun by Stony Brook, which drops 26 vertical feet in its two-mile journey to Cape Cod Bay. Begun in 1663 as a grist mill to grind grain into meal and flour, it became America’s first woolen factory in 1814. But perhaps the most coveted product made here in the 19th century was ice cream. Corn is still ground for sale in the summer by volunteers in the lower level of the mill, whose upper level is a free museum with an eclectic collection including antique ice-cream freezers that pre-date refrigeration, a 1635 hand loom, wooden pipes from an old salt works, a whale-oil lamp, and coal foot warmers for sleigh rides. Stony Brook is also a herring run where saltwater herring return each April and May to spawn. You’ll find them during high tide, though not in numbers as high as when colonists described the stream as black with fish; since that time, pollution, obstructions and overfishing have thinned the run.

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Early New Englanders called certain types of herring “alewives”—so that’s what that means!—purportedly because the front of their bodies were bigger than those of other fish, eliciting comparisons to busty female tavernkeepers.

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