The Head of Westport 3rd Grade Lessons

Chapter 2 – The Land We Call Home – A Walking Tour of The Head of Westport, Drift Road & Old County Road, Westport, MA

Your students will be introduced to the history of Westport by learning about the original settlement at The Head of Westport and the environmental, commercial, and architectural changes that took place there over time.

Background Information for Teachers:

  •  The Town of Westport is located in Bristol County in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the New England Region of the United States of America.
  • The original Massachusetts Bay Colony went from where we are located all the way up to and including what is now the state of Maine. Westport’s harbor was the westernmost port in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, so it became known as Westport. The most easterly port is located in what is now known as Eastport, Maine.
  • Westport was originally part of Dartmouth and was primarily known as the “Coaksett” (Acoaxet) area of Dartmouth. Acoaxet is a Wampanoag word that means, “the land on the other side of the little land”. It is also the name of a tribe of the Wampanoag who lived in this area. Today, “Acoaxet” refers to the section of Westport that lies in between Westport Harbor and Rhode Island. It is also the name of the west branch of the Westport River. The east branch is called the Noquochoke River. This means “the land at the fork of the river” in Wampanoag.
  • There are nine neighborhoods in Westport. They are named as follows: Acoaxet, Central Village, the Head of Westport (also known as The Head), Horseneck, North Westport, South Westport, Westport Factory, Westport Harbor, and Westport Point (also known as The Point).
  • This section of the colony was considered unexplored frontier land. The forests were lush and full of majestic White Pine, Chestnut, and White Oak trees with trunks that were sometimes two feet wide.
  • Fish and game such as salmon, ducks, geese, deer, eels, lobster, crab, clams, quahogs, and oysters were in great quantity and provided sustenance for the Wampanoag as they traveled through the area.
  • Old County Road was formerly referred to as the “Rhode Island Way” as it joined Plymouth and Cape Cod to Newport, RI. It was based on an original Native American trail.
  • Richard Sisson was the first English settler at The Head. His farm was located west of the Noquochoke River and south along what we now know as Drift Road down to about where the Hix Bridge is located, and west to what is now Main Road. Sisson’s family came from Portsmouth, RI. Their farm at The Head comprised 900 acres. They operated a tavern in addition to farming the land.
  • A few years later, Robert Gifford established a farm on the east side of the Noquochoke River to about where Pine Hill Road is now.
  • Eventually, this area became more densely populated, developing around the access to water, and east-west and south transportation routes. The Head was the original center of activity for the area before Central Village developed.
  • From approximately 1740 through around 1850, The Head was an active shipping and ship building location. The wooden hulls of ships were floated down the Noquochoke and up to Hix’s Bridge where they were rolled on barrels around the bridge. Then, they were placed back in the river and sailed to The Point, where they were outfitted for the fishing and whaling industries. By 1871, manufacturing enterprises and stores lined the west bank of the Noquochoke River and Old County Road.


Acoaxet:                      Wampanoag  for “the land on the other side of the little land”.

Noquochoke:               Wampanoag for “the land at the fork of the river”.

Sustenance                  Something, such as food, that keeps someone or something alive.

Tavern:                        A public house or inn for travelers.

Hull:                            The bottom, sides, and deck of a ship.

Barrel:                         A wooden container that bulges in the middle.

Outfitting:                   Providing a ship with enough provisions (food, drink, tools) for a journey.


Suggested Reading:

Heinrichs, Ann, The Shipbuilder, Cavendish Square Publishing, 2012.

Papp, Lisa, The Town That Fooled the British, Sleeping Bear Press, 2011.

Bordessa, Kris, Great Colonial American Projects: You Can Build Yourself, Nomad Press, 2006.


In-Class Activity (Pre-Visit):

Westport’s Town Landings, Public Landings, and Rights of Way

Standard(s)/Unit Goal(s) to be addressed in this lesson: RI.3.4 Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases in a text relevant to geography and history. MD.3.4 Generate measurement data by measuring lengths.

Public and town landings, and town ways provide access to our ocean and water way resources that may not be otherwise accessible to all town inhabitants.

Public Landings were originally laid out by the Proprietors of Dartmouth in the early 1700’s. The landings are under the control of the Town of Westport, but, the general public is entitled to use these landings in the same way as Westport residents.

The Public Landings in Westport:

  • The east bank and west bank (considered one landing) at the Head of Westport; accessed from Drift Road and Old County Road;
  • At East Beach near the Dartmouth and Westport line;
  • Gooseberry Island;
  • The west bank at Hix Bridge accessed from Hix Bridge Road;
  • Central Wharf at Westport Point accessed from Main Road;
  • The west bank of the Acoaxet River near Adamsville accessed from Harbor Road.

Town Landings were acquired in various ways by the Town of Westport. Control and regulations are the same as public landings but Westport residents have access privileges before the general public.

Town Landings in Westport:

  • East Beach at The Let,
  • Gooseberry Neck Barrier.

Town Ways provide access to the ocean, river, beach, or shore and generally do not extend below the high water mark and do not give the Town or public the right to use the adjoining portion of beach between high and low water for a landing or a way.

Town Ways in Westport:

  • Along Cherry & Webb Lane near the Back Eddy Restaurant,
  • Cadman’s Neck.

Mark these locations on the contemporary map of Westport found in your Teacher’s Box. Ask the students if they have ever been to any of these public access points. Why were they there? What did they do? Encourage the students to visit the locations with their families and friends, making sure that they know the locations of the Public Landings located at The Head in preparation for their upcoming walking tour at The Head. Using the map scale as a reference, measure the distance between each Public Landing, Town Landing, and Town Way. How far are each from one another? Are some close to each other? Why might that be? Do the students think that there are areas where there should be a public landing, Town Landing, or Town Way where one is not located? Why should there be one? Divide the students into groups to support an argument for or against the idea.

Post-Visit Activities (In-Class or Take-Home):

1. Architectural Elements Activity Sheet

2. Public Landings Activity Sheet

3. Town Way Activity Sheet