Natural History of Breakheart Reservation
Acre for acre, Breakheart is perhaps the most naturally diverse park in metropolitan Boston, with over 700 acres of pine-oak forest and numerous fresh water habitats such as ponds, marshes, and rivers. Scenic vistas that can be seen from seven rocky hills of over 200 feet elevation revealing the area’s natural beauty. These rocky outcroppings and the lowland wetlands below them were formed by glaciers approximately 25,000 years ago. Additional glacial features include large boulders, called erratic, which dot the landscape.
In the 1700’s and 1800’s, New England was deforested for firewood and farming. Numerous farms surrounded the park. The remains of this land use can be seen today with the stone walls that meander through the park. Due to the clearing of trees, animals that depend on forest habitat largely disappeared from the area. Then, during the Industrial Revolution of the 1800’s, people began to abandon their farms to work in factories, and the abandoned farmland eventually turned back into forest. This forest has now matured enough to support many forest-dependent animal species. In the early 1990’s, naturalist David Brown reported that, after being absent from the park for decades, animals such as deer, coyote, fisher and wild turkeys had returned to Breakheart Reservation.
Breakheart’s diverse habitat serves as a home and dispersion route for wildlife, with Lynn Woods to the east and the Middlesex Fells to the west. Abundant oaks, hickories, and blueberry bushes provide food for wildlife. Coyote, fisher, owls, and hawks feed on the large populations of grey squirrel, cottontail rabbit, and chipmunk. Breakheart’s two lakes, Pearce and Silver, are home to bass, pickerel, and both painted and snapping turtles. The lakes provide food for various bird species, including great blue heron, cormorant, and osprey. After sufficient rainfall, the lakes overflow into Saugus River. The river and its surrounding wetlands provide a rich corridor for wildlife to travel and seek food and shelter.
Cultural History of Breakheart Reservation
For thousands of years, Native Americans came to Breakheart for food, shelter, and stone for their tools. Local tribes quarried Saugus Jasper, a local reddish buff stone, which was favored for its ability to be worked into projectile points and tools. The Saugus River which flows through the park was a source of food and transportation. Today the river provides drinking water to the city of Lynn.
In colonial times, the area was common land, shared by families living in what was to become the towns of Saugus and Wakefield. In the 1770’s, the Edmunds/Bailey Farmhouse was built at the entrance to the park. Its remains can be seen today next to the exercise area the Saugus entrance. In 1810, a linen mill was built along the Saugus River. The mill produced sail duck for boats and soon went of business as the war of 1812 ended and the need for sail duck diminished. The mill’s remains can be seen today at the end of the Mill Site Trail. During the Civil War (1860’s), legend has it that Breakheart earned its name when soldiers training here found it “lonely and remote,”, thus breaking their hearts. In the 1890’s, two wealthy Lynn men, Benjamin Johnson (lawyer) and Micajah Clough (businessman), owned portions of the land and used it as their private hunting and fishing reserve. To attract game and improve fishing, they dammed the two spring fed marshes, creating the upper and lower ponds, now called Silver Lake and Pearce Lake respectively. Mr. Johnson also built a few structures on the land, including a hunting lodge, which stood until the 1950’s. Its remains can be seen today on the Lodge Trail.