Visiting Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts

Plymouth Rock is a Popular Massachusetts Landmark

Historic Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, MA
••• Mark E. Gibson / Getty Images

What is the most visited rock in New England? It's Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts, of course. This famous landmark is housed within the smallest state park in Massachusetts, Pilgrim Memorial State Park, which is visited by nearly one million people each year.

History of Plymouth Rock

According to legend, Plymouth Rock is the boulder upon which the Pilgrims landed when they arrived at the location of their permanent settlement in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620. Most first-time visitors to "the rock" are a bit startled by its smallness. How could such a monumental artifact in American history be so, well... puny?

For starters, the well intentioned residents of Plymouth who first set out to preserve the symbolic rock in 1774 had the unpleasant experience of watching the rock split in two when a team of oxen attempted to raise it. Only the upper portion of Plymouth Rock left the waterfront originally for display in the Town Square.

Souvenir seekers who desired to bring home a "piece of the rock" caused further deterioration until Plymouth Rock was moved to safety inside an iron fence at the Pilgrim Hall Museum in 1834. It had a rough trip to the museum, though, falling off its conveyance and obtaining its distinctive crack.

Remember the bottom part of the rock that was left behind at the waterfront? The Pilgrim Society acquired the other half of Plymouth Rock in 1859, and in 1867, a Plymouth Rock canopy structure was completed at the waterfront to house it. Unfortunately, due to some poor planning, the canopy was not large enough to hold the whole rock, so a few pieces had to be hacked off and sold as souvenirs.

Finally, in 1880, the upper chunk was united with the lower piece of Plymouth Rock—cement did the trick! And "1620," the date of the Pilgrims' arrival in Plymouth, was permanently carved into the rock.

Plymouth Rock was moved for the last time during the celebration of Plymouth's tercentenary (300th anniversary) in 1921 to a new canopy designed by famed New York City architectural firm McKim, Mead and White. The majestic structure was built by Roy B. Beattie of Fall River, Massachusetts. Would you believe that Plymouth Rock broke apart once again during this move to its elegant new digs?

That Famous Rock

Massachusetts' most famous rock, though a bit battered by time, remains a powerful tribute to the courage of the 102 Mayflower passengers who founded the land we know as New England. When you visit, after your initial surprise at its size, standing in the presence of Plymouth Rock will connect you to the Pilgrim story in a way no history textbook can.

Getting to Plymouth Rock: Follow Route 3 South to Route 44 (Plymouth). Follow 44 East to the waterfront. GPS Users: Set the destination address for 79 Water Street, Plymouth, MA 02360. The memorial is always open free to the public, 365 days of the year.

Staying over? Compare rates and reviews for Plymouth hotels with TripAdvisor.

While You're in Plymouth: Step back in time at Plimoth Plantation.