Visiting Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts

Historic Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, MA

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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, visited by nearly 1 million people each year.

The Story of Plymouth Rock

According to legend, Plymouth Rock is the boulder marking the spot where the Pilgrims landed in 1620 to found their permanent settlement in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Most first-time visitors to "the rock" are a bit startled by its small size. 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 haul it into the middle of town. Only the upper portion of Plymouth Rock left the waterfront to be displayed in the Town Square. Souvenir seekers who desired to bring home a "piece of the rock" caused further deterioration so, in 1834, that part of the rock was moved to Pilgrim Hall Museum and placed inside an iron fence enclosure.

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 on the waterfront? In 1859, the Pilgrim Society, ancestors of the original Pilgrims, acquired the other half of Plymouth Rock and in 1867, a canopy structure was completed at the waterfront to house it. Unfortunately, due to some poor planning, the structure was not large enough to hold the whole rock, so a few pieces were chipped off and sold as souvenirs.

Finally, in 1880, the upper part 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.

In 1921, Plymouth Rock was moved for the last time during the celebration of Plymouth's tercentenary (300th anniversary) to a new canopied monument 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?

Visiting That Famous Rock

Massachusetts' most famous rock, though a bit battered by time, remains a powerful tribute to the 102 Mayflower passengers who established a colony on 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. When using 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.

Staying in Plymouth: Compare rates and reviews for 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 at Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum which closely replicates the original settlement of the Plymouth Colony.