Bradley Palmer State Park

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Bradley Palmer State Park
Massachusetts State Park
Ipswich River from the park's footbridge
Country United States
State Massachusetts
County Essex
Towns Topsfield, Hamilton
Elevation 131 ft (40 m) [1]
Coordinates 42°38′00″N 70°53′43″W / 42.63333°N 70.89528°W / 42.63333; -70.89528Coordinates: 42°38′00″N 70°53′43″W / 42.63333°N 70.89528°W / 42.63333; -70.89528 [1]
Area 736 acres (298 ha) [2]
Location in Massachusetts
Website: Bradley Palmer State Park

Bradley Palmer State Park is a public recreation area covering 736 acres (298 ha) on the Ipswich River in the towns of Hamilton and Topsfield, Massachusetts. The state park was once the estate of noted attorney Bradley Palmer. In addition to an extensive system of multi-use trails, the park features Palmer's restored Willowdale Mansion. Bordered on the north by the Ipswich River and Willowdale State Forest, the park is managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation.[3]


The park is the former estate of Bradley Palmer, an attorney of the early 20th century, who from 1937 to 1944 willed his lands to the state for the use of its citizens as a park.[4]

Training center

During the 1960s and '70s the park was the location of the Massachusetts Civil Defense Training Academy. The academy utilized the rooms of the Willowdale Estate as classrooms, dormitory and mess facilities. A disaster town was constructed in a clearing apx. One-quarter mile east of the mansion consisted of a burn house, five story rappelling tower, shed class rooms and four collapse building simulators.[citation needed]

Natural features[edit]

The park features meadows where blueberries can be picked, equestrian runs, stands of climax white pine and hemlock, and a central paved road lined with white pine and in one stretch of a few hundred yards of rhododendron and mountain laurel thickets.[3] On its northeast edge, the park has contiguous access to the ruins of Willowdale Mill, a former textile mill.[5]

Activities and amenities[edit]


The Bradley Palmer mansion, a stone manse built in the Craftsman and Tudor Revival styles, and former host to high-level government conferences in the FDR era, has been restored as part of the state's historic curatorship program and may be rented for private functions.[4]


Park trails are used for walking, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. The park is crossed by the Bay Circuit Trail and Discover Hamilton Trail.[6][7] To the park's north, trails in Willowdale State Forest can be reached via footbridge over the Ipswich River.[8]

The park is used as the home field for meets of the Masconomet Regional High School cross-country team. In the autumn, the neighboring horse farms conduct fox hunts (they bring their own fox). Sometimes equestrian meets are held there.[9] Numerous hurdles are in evidence in the equestrian runs, which are periodically mowed. Horses brought in by trailer at will may usually be seen on any non-winter day, more so toward the autumn.[citation needed]


The park also offers picnicking,[10] canoeing, and fishing[11] in addition to handicapped-accessible wading pool and restrooms.[3] The former barn and garage facilities have been turned into a headquarters and maintenance center. Also on the grounds is a colonial farmhouse currently being restored and a caretaker's house.[citation needed]


Erosional trail damage in the park
  1. ^ a b "B W Palmer State Park". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. 
  2. ^ "2012 Acreage Listing" (PDF). Department of Conservation and Recreation. April 2012. Retrieved February 7, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c "Bradley Palmer State Park". MassParks. Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b "Bradley Palmer and the Estate". Willowdale Estate. Retrieved March 9, 2017. 
  5. ^ "Willowdale Mill Reservation". Essex County Trail Association. Retrieved March 9, 2017. 
  6. ^ "Bay Circuit Trail Map 2" (PDF). Bay Circuit Alliance. Retrieved March 9, 2017. 
  7. ^ "Discover Hamilton Trail". Essex County Trail Association. Retrieved March 9, 2017. 
  8. ^ Many of the trails over the hills were constructed environmentally improperly straight up and down slope instead of following the contours. Consequently, erosion has turned them into dry stream beds or ravines dangerous and unsuitable for hiking due to loose boulders and gravel and uneven terrain. Despite many efforts of the park attendants to level, fill and mulch, these trails remain in bad condition. This long-standing problem remains to be solved. Some are closed to the public, which is warned by signs against their use.[citation needed]
  9. ^ In the autumn group equestrian events are more frequent. The pedestrian is cautioned to be alert for galloping horses and not depend entirely on the alertness of the riders. Also in the autumn the privacy of the unsuspecting visitor is likely to be unexpectedly interrupted by teams of cross-country runners.[citation needed]
  10. ^ Poison ivy grows extensively in the picnic areas.[citation needed]
  11. ^ Although the Ipswich River has had swimming holes in the past, swimming from the bridges is not currently permitted. In places the currents are dangerous. In the spring and autumn the swift flood currents are hazardous.[citation needed]

External links[edit]