clipper ship

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The Mystic River is distinctive in New England history. The Massachusetts and Pawtucket Indians called it "Missi-tuk," or great tidal river, and that's probably how it got the name "Mystic." Some historians, however, note that the river possessed a somewhat mysterious quality for the settlers who came to it in 1629, because the current flowed sometimes in one direction and sometimes in the opposite. These settlers and their descendants built more than 500 great ships -- like the clipper pictured here -- that sailed the world over through the 19th century.

They also finished the Middlesex Canal, linking the Mystic to the Merrimack River in Lowell, in 1805. The first bridge across the Mystic was built in 1637. Neighboring towns argued over who should pay for the bridge for over a hundred years. Today, another toll bridge gets commuters from the North Shore over the Mystic to Boston: the Tobin Bridge is longer than San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge!

Few people realize that they have been singing about the Mystic River since they were kids. In 1844, Medford abolitionist and writer Lydia Mariah Child described her journey across the Mystic to her grandfather's house in the poem "Over the River and Through the Woods." The house, restored by Tufts University in 1976, still stands watch over the river on South Street in Medford.

grandfather's house

As the communities on the Mystic swelled, houses, shops, factories, brickyards, tanneries, and chemical plants were built along the river and within its watershed. Some of these facilities polluted the water. Today, municipal sewers and highway trash befoul the Mystic. Wildlife still live in and around the river, and people use it for recreation. Click on the Wildlife and Recreation buttons to find out more about them. And click on Activities and TeleCom City to find out what the Friends of the Mystic River do to make the river a better place for wildlife and humans alike.