Getting Political–Pearl Street Mill Complex and Charles River Meadowlands


Alan Earls speaks to area lawmakers and advocates of open space about the possibilities for access to the Upper Charles River in Bellingham

Open space can be a hot button topic since development pressures are immense in this part of eastern Massachusetts, especially right here in Bellingham and Franklin. But there was a lot of interest from local lawmakers who showed up on a recent cold January morning to see what has happened with the removal of a dam on the Charles River in Bellingham, as well as the demolition of the entire Pearl Street Mill complex, which used to straddle the Charles.


The Charles river is now visible, hidden for years underneath the Pearl Street mill complex

As we walked in the area formerly concealed by the mill complex, we were able to see a fast-moving Charles, flooding through the former millrace. Until the mill complex was removed, it was difficult to see that the river even passed through this spot. Franklin resident Alan Earls invited local and state officials to come see the potential for recreation alongside the river near the Pearl Street site.


The Charles River, once a dammed pond, is now flowing freely, across the street from the Pearl Street Mill complex

Bellingham town selectman Mike Soter pointed out that the town owned property across the street from the mill complex as well, and that with the removal of the dam, there was opportunity to create a walkway alongside the river, increasing access to what has often, in this area of the UPper Charles, been called, “the Hidden Charles.”

The group carpooled from Pearl Street over to Franklin to Oak Street Extension and took a short walk along a trolley bed that reaches out into the Charles River Meadowlands–property owned by the Army Corps of Engineers and designed to provide flood plain for seasonal flooding of Mine Brook, a tributary of the Charles.


At the water’s edge on the trolley line embankment at the Charles River Meadowlands, Franklin, MA

As we stood at the edge of the water, Alan pointed across the water to where the trolley line clearly had once traveled. “That embankment goes all the way to Bellingham, up to the Mall where Whole Foods is, in North Bellingham. With some work this could be a path connecting Franklin and Bellingham.”

As we left, Bellingham selectman Don Martinis pointed out that it didn’t have to be either/or when talking about development. “I think a lot of times people simply don’t think about how we can achieve development while allowing for public access. Often times it’s a lack of imagination.”


There’s lots of water in the flood plain zone, but there are also opportunities to put to use existing paths created long ago when trolleys crossed this area to ferry residents From Franklin to Bellingham and back.

At least for today, there was a lot left to the imagination, but with effort, awareness, and even more effort, what today might be only imagined may someday become reality.


Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd editionMore Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. Just out is her latest book, Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress. She is a co-author of the recent community history, Bellingham Now and Then.

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