The Friends of Hemlock Gorge

Charles Eliot and the History of the Hemlock Gorge Reservation

In 1892, Charles Eliot proposed the creation of a Metropolitan Parks System. Eliot was a member of the Frederick Law Olmsted Landscape Architectural Firm. He was the first landscape architect to work on development of the parks system. Eliot believed that particularly in a crowded urban area, people needed easy access to and contact with nature and open space in order to relax, unwind, and escape the pressure of city life. To that end, Eliot developed a plan that would provide the growing city and its suburbs with scenery, parks and reservations to be held in perpetuity for public use and enjoyment.

Eliot's idea was to set aside beach front along the bay, lad along the Charles, Mystic, and Neponset rivers, and high ground throughout the Metropolitan area, and to turn this property into regional parks. He envisioned the creation of a series of parkways and roads built and maintained with aesthetics in mind, to make travel between the parks easy and attractive design had begun to take shape as the state created the Metropolitan Parks commission and placed with it 9,177 acres of reservations, 13 miles of ocean frontage, 56 miles of riverbank, and 7 parkways. Among the reservations that Eliot created was Hemlock Gorge.

Hemlock Gorge through Eliot's Eyes

"Passing now up the Charles River valley toward the southern highlands, it is well to stop for a moment at the wonderful little gorge of Newton Upper Falls, where the river cuts its way through ledges clothed with hemlocks."

Charles Eliot, 1893

Eliot was not the first to be drawn to this spot. Long ago, Native Americans came here to fish for alewife and shad. Colonists in the late 1600s harnessed the river to power their mills. Newton Upper Falls grew into a large producer of both textile goods and machinery.

"The narrow stream flows swift and dark between quaintly broken rocks, and the great stone arch which bears the Sudbury River aqueduct leaps boldly across from bank to bank," wrote Eliot of Echo Bridge. When constructed in 1876-1877, the bridge was the second largest of its kind in the nation with its central arch spanning almost 130 feet across and nearly 60 above the river. Echo Bridge obtained its name from the remarkable acoustic qualities of its main arch which can produce up to fifteen echoes from a good stout yell.

In 1893, when Eliot first proposed the inclusion of Hemlock Gorge into the newly established Metropolitan Park system, it was already a popular place, sometimes attracting 5000 people on a warm weekend day. Shortly thereafter, his vision was realized then Hemlock Gorge Reservation was preserved as a reservation for all generations to enjoy.

Charles Eliot's Commitment to Open Space Lives On

Since 1893, the Metropolitan Parks System has grown. The commission acquired and preserved thousands of additional acres of park land that fit into Olmsted and Eliot's original design. It also build new parks, skating rinks, swimming pools, athletic fields, band shells, and other recreations outlets. Even today, more property is being preserved; more historical sites are being restored; more ways to make the regional parks system safe and accessible and attractive are being devised.

Nearly a century after Olmsted and Eliot's pioneering began, their vision remains strong; our metropolitan parks system remains vibrant.

We can only maintain this great park system with public support and cooperation. Please consider helping in this effort by supporting the Friends of Hemlock Gorge.

This page last modified on March 9, 1997

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