What is the most visited rock in New England? It's Plymouth Rock in seaside Plymouth, Massachusetts, of course. This famous landmark south of Boston is housed within the smallest state park in Massachusetts, Pilgrim Memorial State Park, visited by more than 1 million people each year.
The Story 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, 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 an ornate new canopy designed by famed architects McKim, Mead and White and built by Roy B. Beattie of Fall River, Massachusetts. Would you believe that the rock broke apart once again during this move to its elegant new digs?
Visiting This Rock Icon
Massachusetts' most famous rock, though a bit battered by time, remains a powerful tribute to the courage of the 102 Mayflower passengers who established a settlement in the region we know as New England. When you visit, after your initial surprise at its small 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. When using a GPS, set the destination address for 79 Water Street, Plymouth, Massachusetts, 02360. The memorial is always open, free to the public, 365 days of the year. Free visitor parking is available at the monument. If all spaces are filled, look for metered parking spots on nearby streets.
Staying in Plymouth: The John Carver Inn, a family favorite thanks to its Pilgrim Cove Indoor Theme Pool, is just an eight-minute walk from Plymouth Rock. The hotel sits on the historic site of the Pilgrims' original village. Compare rates and reviews for this and other Plymouth hotels with TripAdvisor.
While You're in Plymouth: Visit the Pilgrim Hall Museum, the nation’s oldest continuously operating public museum, and step back in time to the 17th century at Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum that faithfully recreates the original Plymouth Colony. You'll also want to step aboard the newly restored Mayflower II, a replica of the famous ship that carried the Pilgrims to Plymouth Rock, when it returns to Plymouth Harbor in 2020.
Join in the Plymouth 400 Celebration
Visitation to Plymouth Rock will soar in 2020, as Plymouth celebrates the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims' journey and landing. Few sailings have had such monumental impact on the course of history, and Plymouth 400 will commemorate the story and the legacy of the Pilgrims' quest for freedom to worship as they wished. "America's Hometown" and surrounding communities will host events throughout 2020, and related commemorations are being held in the UK and the Netherlands and by Wampanoag Nation tribes in Massachusetts.