For centuries, the area called the Middlesex Fells provided rich hunting and fishing grounds for Massachusett, Naumkeag, and Pawtucket (or Pennacook) Native Americans. Grain, corn, squash, and beans were planted, harvested, and stored. While the Pawtucket are no longer a distinct tribe, many descendants still live in Massachusetts. Please learn more about the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag here.
In 1632, Governor John Winthrop and others explored the area and named the largest body of water “Spot Pond” because of the many islands and rocks protruding through the ice. The Fells was used for farming and timber, and Spot Pond Brook became the focus of industrial activity, which culminated in 1858 with the Hayward Rubber Mills. In the 1880s and 1890s, Middlesex Fells was a key property in the Boston metropolitan park movement, driven by conservationists Wilson Flagg, Elizur Wright, Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles Eliot, George Davenport, and Sylvester Baxter.
In 1894, the Metropolitan Park Commission began acquiring Fells land. Electric trolleys crossed the Fells from 1910 to 1946, and in 1959, with the car culture in control, Interstate 93 was built through the area. Today, the Fells, as envisioned by its founders, remains a forested haven for city dwellers.
Comprising over 2,200 acres of forest, wetlands, and rugged hills, it is one of the nation’s first state parks and contains the world’s first public land trust, Virginia Wood.
Flora & Fauna
The Fells are rich with fascinating plant and animal life. Each spring, visitors go crazy over lady slippers, and if you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of a red fox or an owl.
Would you like to identify species in The Fells? iNaturalist is a great resource for that. Take a picture with your smartphone, and the app will provide you with suggestions. It’s easy! Find it on Google Play or the App Store.
Beloved member Bryan Hamlin wrote Found in the Fells, a monthly guide of nature happenings in the Fells. Please note some of the terms are outdated.
Ever wonder what “Fells” in “Middlesex Fells” actually means? It’s a Scandinavian term for a high and barren landscape feature, such as a mountain or rocky outcropping. And there are a lot of rocky outcroppings in the Reservation!
Check out Jack Ridge’s excellent site about the geology of the Fells, including self-guided geologic hikes.