Between Boston and Plymouth, along the Atlantic shore, lie historic small towns that are among the oldest towns in America. Visitors to New England often miss these towns as the hurry from Boston to Cape Cod. If one day you find yourself driving south from Boston, choose the old colonial road now called Route 3A rather than the faster highway (Route 3). You’ll pass through five ancient towns founded in the early 1600s by the first white New Englanders. Each of the towns faces the Atlantic ocean making them both historic villages and beach towns. These towns are (from north to south) Hingham, Cohasset, Scituate, Marshfield and Duxbury.
Situated on gently rolling terrain, the locations of hundreds of early American houses, these towns are worth exploring on any trip to Massachusetts. The first Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth in 1620. Once their community was established other brave settlers followed. They cleared the forests along the coast and built tiny homes. (A visit to Plimoth Plantation provides a good demonstration of the lives of the first New Englanders.) Scituate claims to be the first town after Plymouth. There six men from County Kent in England were the first to arrive and to claim plots of land for themselves and their families. The official date of town incorporation was the date the first church was established. In Scituate that’s 1636. Duxbury, home to some famous pilgrim families such as the Aldens, may in fact be older, as a sign on the church there says it was founded in 1634.
None of those earliest home survive today. Built of wood with wooden foundations, they quickly rotted away. There are, however, many houses that date from the 1700s and 1800s. The oldest of these are simple story-and-a-half homes with huge fireplaces, two rooms down and an attic for hay storage and sleeping children. Most of these homes have been expanded over the years.
Active historical societies in all these towns welcome visitors. Each town’s historians are found in some of the regions oldest buildings. Genealogists with New England roots may discover ancestors here. When a friend from Texas visited us 20 years ago, we found the grave of one of her ancestors in Scituate. Very old cemeteries are found in all of these towns.
For the next few days I’ll be sharing photos and brief histories of the five towns along the South Shore. I had fun photographing these towns during my recent visit there.
Tip: Some of these towns have long been summer towns, beach towns for Boston families. Renting a beach house in this area or an AirBnB room and a rental car is the best way to discover this area.