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clipper ship


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!


grandfather's house


Few people realize the link to Medford in the song they have been singing since they were kids. Medford-born Lydia Maria Child was a famous 19th century writer and abolitionist. In 1844, she described a Thanksgiving journey across the river to grandfather's house in the poem that begins "Over the River and Through the Wood." Local tradition has it that the Paul Curtis house on South Street in Medford is the house of the poem A Boy's Thanksgiving Day. The house, restored by Tufts University in 1976,  still stands by the river.

Nature is beautiful, always beautiful!    Every little flake of snow is a perfect crystal, and they fall together as  gracefully as if fairies of the air caught waterdrops and made them into artificial  flowers to garland the winds of the wind.
- Lydia Maria Child 

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, sewer overflows, storm runoff,  trash, and invasive plants trouble the Mystic. Yet wildlife still live in and around the river, and people regularly use it for recreation. Click on the wildlife or recreation links to learn more. Find out what the Friends of the Mystic River do to make the river a better place for wildlife and humans alike.