We headed toward a place every American schoolchild grows up hearding about. Plymouth! Place where the Mayflower landed. Home of the Pilgrims. And apparently there is a big rock there.
First, we decided to tour a cranberry farm. Everyone who has seen the Ocean Spray commercials has seen the cranberry bogs, and we wanted to see one in person. Since it is cranberry harvest season, we hoped to see more than just a really big pond.
Sure enough, when we reached the first cranberry bog, the farmers were in the middle of the cranberry harvest. The farmers were using these machines which looked like Zamboni ice machines, except that they were for cranberries. Apparently the berries float, so the machines shake them free of the cranberry vines. Once the berries are free they float up to the surface of the pond. The machines go over the pond like big lawn mowers, shaking the berries loose. Rather than leaving short grass behind though, they left berries. Once the “mowing” is done, the field is covered with floating cranberries. Time to round them up! The farmers use floating rubber booms kind of like what we see used to clean up oil spills. These sections can be linked together to expand the size of the boom.
There were a LOT of cranberries to corral. About 2/3 of the pond surface was empty water and 1/3 was nothing but floating cranberries!Farmers direct the cranberries to an intake pump which is specially designed to pump the berries without damaging them. The berries are vacuumed up into a hose where the stems and leaves are separated from the berries. The berries end up in a big truck which we could see on the right. Berries exit the sorting process and cascade into the truck. The field we saw will fill over 8 full trucks. We learned that wet harvests like the one we saw lead to berries which must be quickly processed. So those berries are used for cranberry juice and cranberry jam. What we didn’t know is that plenty of cranberries are also grown in dry settings. These cranberries are harvested by hand and the dry berries last much longer. The dry-harvest berries tend to be used for eating. Example: Craisins.
After our tour, we were on to Plymouth. We parked downtown and almost immediately saw Mayflower 2. She is a completely accurate replica of the original Mayflower. The first think I noticed is that the ship is quite a bit smaller than I had imagined. How 100 pilgrims plus crew lived on this is beyond me. Some of the pilgrims were actually on the ship for almost 9 months before landing in the New World.
The pilgrims were seeking a place to practice their own form of religious practice. Since the Church of England is the official religion of the UK, the Puritans were not welcome to practice their religion there. They relocated to Holland where they were free to practice their religion. Unfortunately as immigrants they found themselves forced to work less desirable jobs. After a short time in Holland they decided to seek out a new life in America.
On September 6th, 1620 the Mayflower set sail from Southhampton in England for America with 100 pilgrims on board. Many of them had already been living on the Mayflower for nearly 2 months before the real journey even began. The trip would take 2-3 months depending on weather. It ended up taking 66 days.
They were aiming for the Hudson river near what is today modern New York City. However, they were off a bit and actually landed in what is now Massachusetts. They spotted Cape Cod on November 9, 1620. At first, they though they would head south. However, after a rough crossing due to storms and more storms as they ventured south, they decided to just stay in the area around Cape Cod. on December 25, 1620 they finalized their choice of Plymouth.
By this point, the Mayflower had been home for nearly six months. A long time to be cramped below decks in an unheated drafty ship with limited space and no creature comforts.
In spite of coming ashore right into the heart of the New England winter, the colony was ultimately successful. Due to peace with the Native Americans in the area, the colony not only avoided conflicts it actually established the Thanksgiving tradition we still observe today.
The colony was combined with the Massachusetts colony in 1691.
Today, Mayflower 2 carries on the experience. Costumed docents and actors tell and retell the stories of the voyage for tourists like us. They really put their hearts into it and while it is a little cheesy, it is mostly entertaining and informative. Mayflower 2 remains seaworthy and every year it goes out to sea on a voyage down the coast.
The other famous item is “Plymouth Rock.” It is purportedly the rock onto which the first pilgrims set foot on Plymouth. Over the years, the rock has been broken and shrunken. A monument has been built around one of the larger remnants of the original rock. The rock itself has been carved with 1620 (that carving happened in 1880). When we looked down, the rock was totally submerged in seawater. This was due to a freak “King Tide” which had rolled in. Between sea level rise in this area and the unusually high tide, the rock was completely invisible.Since the rock was not visible, we walked into town toward a park and gardens we had read about. The King Tide had rolled all the way into the park, making the trails impassable.
This was a good opportunity to walk around admiring the local lobster sculptures which are individual decorated. Much like Norfolk has its mermaids, Plymouth has its lobsters. Having time to kill, we walked to the old flour mill. This mill has been around for hundreds of years – literally. It still operates to this day, producing small amounts of artisan flour including wheat flour, corn grits, and corn flour. The grinding wheel has been in use since the early 1800s and is still powered by the water wheel. The rotation of the water wheel turns a series of wooden gears, taking the 10rpm of the water wheel and increasing it to around 120rpm. The gears are authentic and nearly 100 years old themselves. I didn’t realize wood gears would last so long, but they do. The mill has a fish ladder that dates back to the 1800s. I was impressed that the town though of fish ladders from that long ago. After we finished with the mill, we walked back to Plymouth Rock. The King Tide had retreated and the rock was visible. Hundreds of little fish that got stranded as the tide went out were trapped inside the enclosure. That was kind of sad to see. Fog had started to clear, although it was definitely still hanging around in pockets. Still, we had enough sunlight to snap a selfie like the tourists we are. With the Mayflower 2, the Mill, and the Rock all seen, we headed into the downtown to see what modern Plymouth is all about. It is a very cute downtown area full of shops and small restaurants. Outside a bakery, we saw the most sensible commentary on our election and political process that we have seen so far. Kind of like Vermont where the Presidential choices were A) Hillary B) Trump C) Pizza with Pizza being the winner. Most days, I think we’d all be better checking box #3.
Plymouth isn’t very close to anything, which was kind of surprising considering how old it is. It is worth a drive for the history, but honestly the rock is not very impressive, the mill is a quick visit, and the Mayflower is also pretty small. You can see everything you need to see in Plymouth in 2-3 hours.