An upscale community on the South Shore, Duxbury’s is a town that made a name for itself at the end of the Age of Sail in the early 19th century.
Duxbury has a stunning public beach park, on a long crescent of sand that curves out into Cape Cod Bay for six miles.
Behind the beach, the protected waters of Duxbury Bay proved to be perfect for shipbuilding, and at the turn of the 18th century the shipyards here progressed from schooners to three-masted ships.
These vessels endowed local merchants with unprecedented fortunes, and you can view this wealth two centuries later at the Old Shipbuilder’s Historic District along Washington Street.
The majority of the residences in this district are in the Federal style, and date from a flurry of construction. This was caused by a temporary crisis following the Embargo Act of 1807, when town’s skilled woodworkers were employed to work on houses rather than ships for a time.
1. Duxbury Beach Park
Six miles long and bending out into Cape Cod Bay, Duxbury Beach is one of the most scenic and most accessible beaches in Massachusetts.
If you have a parking sticker the bridge is the best way of getting to the lifeguarded beach park, and if you’re a day-visitor you can get here via Marshfield to the north.
Always well maintained, and with warm waters in summer, the beach is particularly beautiful at low tide when there’s a massive swath of sand and shallow water, and fewer rocks.
For a bite you’ve got Blakeman’s Restaurant, making New England seafood classics fish & chips, clam strips, scallops and lobster rolls.
2. Alden House Historic Site
Posted on a knoll over the Bluefish River, is the place where Mayflower cooper John Alden (c. 1598-1687) and wife Priscilla (c. 1602-c. 1685), also a Mayflower passenger, settled and raised their ten children and became respected members of the Plymouth Colony.
The couple were made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s fictional poem, The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858).
The Alden family continues to own this land, which contains the foundations of John and Priscilla’s home (c. 1630), and an extant house, mostly likely built by Alden’s grandson at the turn of the 18th century.
The grounds, with heirloom gardens, are open all year, while guided tours of the surviving house take place on Saturday afternoons, June through October.
3. Myles Standish Monument State Reservation
Close to the site of his home on the Nook in Duxbury, there’s a state park and tower dedicated to the military leader of the Plymouth colony, Myles Standish (c. 1584-1656).
This has a spectacular position, crowning Captain’s Hill, which rises steeply to 200 feet above sea level.
The monument is a 116-foot granite tower topped with a 14-foot statue of Standish, and was erected in the late 1890s, around the time Duxbury started attracting tourism.
You can climb the 125 steps to the top of the tower on weekends, beginning on Memorial Day weekend, for a stupendous view of the South Shore.
The panorama encompasses the Blue Hills, Duxbury Beach, Plymouth Harbor, and numerous spires and lighthouses. If the tower isn’t open when you come, the view from the hilltop is still worth the climb.
4. Old Shipbuilder’s Historic District
One way to experience Duxbury’s compelling maritime history is simply to drive along Washington Street, occasionally taking a look down the side streets.
From Hall’s Corner to Powder Point Avenue, this road runs parallel to the shore, and is flanked by some 200 historic houses, the majority of which were built in the Federal style between 1780 and 1840.
The prosperity of that period was powered by sea trade, and those wealthy shipbuilders and shipowners built themselves elegant wood frame houses, befitting their affluence.
A conspicuous example is the Nathaniel Winsor, Jr. House at 479 Washington St., now owned by the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society (more below).
Also check out the Charles Drew, Jr. House at 685 Washington St. (1826), the Samuel Delano, Jr. House (1780) at 36 Plumfield Lane, and the Benjamin Bosworth House (1794) at 310 Washington St.
5. Island Creek Oysters
The restless, cold and salty waters of Duxbury Bay are perfect for producing world-class oysters.
What’s curious is that nobody had picked up on this fact until the 1990s when Skip Bennett, the local son of a lobsterman, started harvesting oysters here with the help of friends and family.
Today, Island Creek Oysters is one of just a few shellfish hatcheries in the Northeast, but also a shellfish distributor representing some 100 farms, an online retail business, a Boston-area restaurant business and an international development NGO.
In summer you can go right to the epicenter, taking a tour of the farm aboard the Nathaniel Winsor, a 27-foot Carolina Skiff, discovering what goes into oyster farming, and what makes Island Creek Oysters so special.
This experience involves drinks, lots of firsthand anecdotes, and delicious oysters, with shucking tips so you can open them like a pro.
6. Nathaniel Winsor, Jr. House
The headquarters of the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society is a grand Federal-style house built for the wealthy shipping merchant Nathaniel Winsor, Jr., and his wife Hannah Loring Winsor.
Winsor was in the third generation of a renowned shipbuilding family, and his father had pioneered the large-scale manufacture of schooners after the American Revolution.
Nathaniel Winsor, Jr.’s son would later found one of the first clippership lines between Boston and San Francisco. The house was acquired by the society in 1997, and is open to the public, free of charge, Monday-Friday.
You can take a closer look at the house’s stately proportions and ornamentation, with pilasters on the corners and a sumptuous portal, with an elliptical fanlight and sidelights.
Nathaniel Winsor, Jr., who was noted for carving figureheads, is thought to have carried out at least some of the interior’s woodcarving. This building is used by society all year round for educational programs, special events, and meetings.
7. Myles Standish Burial Ground (Old Burial Ground)
In Duxbury you can visit what is thought to be the oldest maintained cemetery in the country. On a triangular plot about 1.5 acres in size, the Myles Standish Burial Ground was established around 1638 and is the final resting place of several Mayflower pilgrims, including Myles Standish.
His likely remains were located in the early 1890s, and an imposing fort-like monument was built on top, with cannons (cast in Boston in 1853) placed on each corner.
The oldest surviving gravestone in the cemetery is that of Jonathan Alden (d. 1697), the youngest child of Mayflower pilgrims John Alden and Priscilla Mullins Alden.
Second-oldest is Ichabod Wiswall (1637-1700). He is remembered for his role in the merger of the Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth Bay Colonies in the 1690s, after traveling to London to petition for a new royal charter for the Plymouth Colony.
8. North Hill Marsh (Eastern Greenbelt)
More than 1,000 acres of Duxbury’s interior is taken up by a wetland area, with a jigsaw puzzle of properties owned by public and private groups, like the Conservation Commission of Duxbury and Mass Audubon.
The good news is that these parcels are all interlinked by a vast trail system in ever-changing landscapes.
Some of these paths are extremely old, especially on the east side of the marsh, which incorporates a piece of the Green Harbor Trail between Plymouth and Marshfield, going back to 1623.
On the southern shore of the North Hill Marsh Pond is Mass Audubon’s wildlife sanctuary, where you might see rare box and spotted turtles by the water, as well as water birds like hooded mergansers, herons, buffleheads and black and ring-necked ducks.
Mass Audubon has also installed nesting boxes around the marsh to support around 100 nesting pairs of tree swallows.
9. Bradford House
Also in the care of the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society is a Federal-style wood-frame house built in 1807 by one Captain Gershom Bradford.
The residence had interesting beginnings, as Bradford’s wife, Sarah Hickling Bradford supervised the early phases of construction when her husband was a captive of the French at the time.
Something remarkable about the Bradford House is that it was owned and operated by a succession of women in the 19th century.
Meanwhile, Gershom and Sarah’s four daughters had remarkable careers, in the Abolitionist movement, as Civil War nurses, or as an artist and amateur botanist.
You find out more about the Bradfords on a public tour, taking place June through fall. You’ll see Bradford family heirlooms, correspondence, log books, photographs, and volumes of other records relating to one of the town’s best-documented families.
10. French Memories
A cherished culinary asset for Duxbury for more than three decades, French Memories is an authentic French patisserie making baguettes, croissants, tarts, eclairs, macarons, mousses, choux pastries and other dainty creations.
The co-owner, Philippe Odier, grew up in Paris and comes from a long line of pastry chefs. The shop has become a destination for the entire South Shore, and as well as sweet treats, prepares a large menu of baguette sandwiches, paninis, croissants sandwiches, wraps and quiches.
Many of these savory options use imported French ingredients, from cheeses like bleu d’Auvergne and brie, to cornichons and pâtes
11. Art Complex Museum
In a striking building near the Alden House is a regional art center, established in the early 1970s and sitting in 13 acres of grounds.
Founded by Carl A. Weyerhaeuser (1901-1996) and his wife Edith Greenleaf Weyerhaeuser (1912-2000), the museum has a 8,000-strong collection, noted for Shaker furniture and artifacts, contemporary art, American painting, European prints, Asian Art, and works on paper.
You can visit this space for engaging contemporary art shows, as well as exhibitions curated from the museum’s superb inventory, while the grounds are embellished with works of sculpture.
The Art Complex Museum is a dynamic place, with a year-round schedule of concerts, lectures, educational programs, demonstrations, and tea ceremonies at a tea house on the grounds, brought here from Kyoto in 1975.
12. Farfar’s Danish Ice Cream Shop
One more essential, family-owned business to keep on your radar in Duxbury is an ice cream shop open for more than four decades.
Farfar’s, meaning “father’s father” in Danish, is named for patriarch Walter Simonsen, a Danish immigrant who had a successful career in the frozen treat industry, developing recipes for HP Hood.
This shop has a manageable choice of flavors compared to the usual litany. Some must-tries are the black raspberry, the peanut butter, negative chocolate, and the Danish sweet cream, which is a great base for toppings like mixed nuts and crushed oreos.
You can create your own sundae, and the shop also makes ice cream cakes, from four to eight inches.
13. King Caesar House
Duxbury’s biggest 19th-century shipbuilder and merchant was Ezra Weston II (1772-1842), who inherited the nickname King Caesar from his father, Ezra I (d. 1822).
His stately Federal-style house was completed in 1809, and was in the family until the 1880s when the property was sold off as a school, and the house became the headmaster’s residence.
The Duxbury Rural and Historical Society acquired the property in the 1960s, and furnished the building with artifacts and memorabilia evoking Duxbury’s shipbuilding days.
On the water here, fragments of King Caesar’s old wharf can be seen at the public Bumpus Park, named for Tuft’s College president, Hermon Carey Bumpus (1862-1943), who restored the house in the 30s and 40s.
The society offers tours June through fall, and among the highlights are Weston’s bedchamber and the Counting Rooms, the engine room of his business.
14. Bay Farm Trails
Contiguous with Kingston’s Bay Farm Conservation Area, this town-owned land on the Kingston Bay shore is the southern terminus of the Bay Circuit Trail (more below).
Purchased in stages since the 1960s, Bay Farm has a history of agriculture reaching back as far as 1627. Before that, this is believed to have been a seasonal encampment for the Patuxet.
On 80 acres, with two miles of trails, Bay Farm is made up of a diversity of habitats, including grasslands, hardwood forest, wetlands, salt marshes, beach, and rocky ledges that have tide pools.
There’s a majestic stand of cedars along the yellow trail, and on the Kingston side there’s a marker pointing out the 42nd Parallel, which runs through the property.
15. Bay Circuit Trail
Curling around Boston’s outlying suburbs for 230 miles, the Bay Circuit Trail runs all the way to Plum Island in Newburyport.
Where possible the trail crosses reservations, parks and conservation areas, and passes many places charged with cultural and historical importance, like the Minuteman National Park.
From the trailhead at Bay Farm, the trail breaks into two branches, one through Kingston and Pembroke, and the other traveling northwest through Duxbury.
Hiking the latter, you’ll travel across North Hill Marsh, but also a chain of picturesque conservation lands not on this list, like Cranberry Bog, Duxbury Bogs and Ashdod Forest.