Daniel Webster's Farm
by John Galluzzo

Daniel Webster, the great statesman and orator, once owned a large swath of Marshfield land, but not just because he wanted to prove his worth to folks on the outside. He was a "gentleman farmer" when not speechifying or otherwise doing the work of the federal government, at times an experimenting farmer. He walked his land with none other than John James Audubon, to understand and enjoy the wildlife living thereon.

A century and a half removed from his passing, Webster's land - at least 500 acres of it - has been preserved as open space, purchased by Mass Audubon, New England's largest land conservation organization and maintained much in the same way that Webster kept it, save for one small fact.

The Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary is a polder, a place that is below sea level. In olden days - Webster's days - when the tide rushed in and up the Green Harbor River, the low spots of what is now the sanctuary flooded, leaving only certain points like Fox Hill high and dry. But Marshfield installed a dike a few decades after Webster's death, to the consternation of the local fishermen, and dried the land out for good. Today it's one of the last remaining major grassland complexes in southeastern Massachusetts.

And that's what one mostly sees on the two miles of walking trails that meander through the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary. There are two red maple swamps, a raised oak hummock, Webster Pond, the Green Harbor River and a manmade "wet panne" complete with bookending observation blinds, but the grasses are the star of the show.

Those grasses bring in species of birds that cannot thrive anywhere else, Bobolinks travel from as far away as Argentina each spring to breed at the sanctuary, and it's one of the few spots to catch a glimpse of an Eastern Meadowlark, if you're lucky enough. And those grasses, because they grow so tall before late summer haying, are the perfect hideaway for breeding mice and voles, at least until the whole system dies back in winter. When those rodents get exposed, the hawks and owls move in. The lost of owl sightings each year includes Great Horned, Eastern Screech, Saw-whet, Barred, Long-eared and Short-eared. Hawks, too, find plenty of sustenance on the property, from Red-tailed to Red-shouldered and beyond.

As you walk the land today, know that Daniel Webster would be proud to see his land so preserved - even if he might not recognize it in its current conditions!

End of Winslow Cemetery Road, Marshfield

For more information:
Mass Audubon South Shore Sanctuaries



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