|Plymouth Rock, Plymouth MA|
|Such a grand temple for a simple granite boulder? There's no proof that the Pilgrims even landed on Plymouth Rock, but the Rock does have a fascinating history.|
Plymouth Rock is an American icon, a symbol of intrepid discovery, liberty, and freedom of conscience.
From anywhere in Plymouth, Massachusetts, road signs and residents guide you to Plymouth Rock on the waterfront.
A Bit of Geology
The stone itself is granite, probably from a formation known as the Dedham granite, formed 608 million years ago (give or take 17 million years)—that is, a long time before 1620!
The Rock was picked up from this formation at a spot south or west of Boston and transported by a glacier to the spot later named Plymouth about 20,000 years ago. The spot it left was somewhere in the terrane (specific geologic area) called Atlantica, which surrounds Boston.
Geologists who study plate tectonics say that many millions of years ago there was a huge continent called Pangaea (pan-JEE-uh) which split into eastern and western parts, the eastern becoming Europe and Africa, the western part North America.
The Dedham granite is found mostly in Africa, so it is surprising to consider that Plymouth Rock came over from another continent just as the Pilgrims did, only millions of years earlier!
The Pilgrims Arrive
When the Pilgrims arrived, they may or may not have stepped on Plymouth Rock. If they did, they never mention it in their letters and written accounts. In any case, the Rock was much larger in 1620, but erosion by sea and wind has reduced it to a mere fraction of its former self.
Nature played havoc with the Rock, but humans did worse, chipping off small pieces for patriotic souvenirs, taking large pieces to put on display to build patriotic fervor, even using it as part of a wharf at one time.
In 1774, 20 yoke of oxen came to move Plymouth Rock, and it split in the process. Half of the Rock was put on display at Pilgrim Hall Museum from 1834 to 1867, but was then brought back here.
In November 1989, the Rock was repaired and strengthened to withstand the blows from the sea and the laserlike gazes and tossed coins of a million affectionate visitors.
Today Plymouth Rock is sheltered by a monumental enclosure, designed by McKim, Mead & White and built in 1921, which stands in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' Pilgrim Memorial State Park.
Just as the Rock marks the beginning of the Pilgrims' adventure in America, so it can serve as the beginning point for your tour of Plymouth. After your look at it, head for the Mayflower II, moored only a few minutes' stroll away.
—by Tom Brosnahan