Boston Harbor Islands
I initially wanted to start this blog at the beginning of the summer as my wife Jaime and I undertook a multi-week National Park Service (NPS) road trip. I’m a big NPS nerd, and our initial ambitions were to cross off all the remaining NPS sites in the northeast U.S. We didn’t quite make it, but we’re darn close. But with the grueling road trip schedule, I didn’t find time to write. So I’m playing a bit of catch up while things are still fresh in my mind. I’ll begin with a destination that I didn’t manage to see during my two years living in the Bay State: the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.
Start your trip from a number of loading points around the Harbor, but be careful of the schedule, as you can’t necessarily get to all the islands from the various points of origin. We began at Long Wharf North, near downtown, and set out to try to visit as many islands as possible. (Our initial plan was three: Peddocks, Georges, and Spectacle, but we got a bit burned (literally) and cut Spectacle). So we were out at the hahbah (sorry, I just can’t help myself) bright and early at 8:30a. After an easy cruise to Peddocks, we set out to explore the island.
The high point of Peddocks Island is the abandoned Fort Andrews. Built in the early 20th century, it served as a U.S. Army coastal defense location through the end of WWII (at which point it became obvious that coastal defensive positions were made irrelevant by airpower and long-range strikes). It even served as an internment location for Italian POWs–some of whom married Bostonians and stayed in the states. The island also boasts miles of hiking trails and a number of camping sites. Although the camp sites included these weird prefabricated tent structures that kind of reminded me of some dystopian future society and weirded me out a bit. Especially given they were in vicinity of the abandoned remnants of Fort Andrews. Peddocks Island (also the site of some filming of Leo’s “Shutter Island”) is not high on my destination list for overnight stays, but to each their own.
As we had a couple hours on the island, we were able to wander from one end to another, hiking through woods and along the narrow stretch of land separating the bulbous north and south sides of the island. Perhaps the most kitschy aspect of the island were the homes inhabited by what I would assume are some of the heartiest Bostonians around. A series of a number small homes stretched along a dirt path in the middle of the islands. While these sites offered a spectacular view of downtown Boston in the distance, the island doesn’t allow vehicles or have any sort of life-sustaining support, such as food stores. An interesting retreat for those who don’t care much for city life and don’t mind walking and taking a ferry for…well…pretty much anything.
From Peddocks we boarded the ship bound for Georges Island. Georges is one of the most popular islands and boasts the historic Fort Warren, built shortly before the Civil War as part of the Third System of coastal defenses. Following the War of 1812, the U.S. realized that earlier coastal defenses were inadequate, especially after the disastrous British campaign up the Potomac. Fort Warren, commanding a central position along the major shipping lane, provided a key piece in a number of interlocking firing positions throughout the harbor. Turned over as a tourist attraction following World War II, the site allows visitors to wander throughout the old gun emplacements, ammunition rooms, and storage areas. We initially began with a ranger-guided tour but tired quickly of it, and frankly we’ve visited so many former coastal defense locations throughout our travels that we figured we could get the gist on our own.
Georges Island is much more compact than Peddocks, and other than the fort, there wasn’t much there. There were spots to picnic, and the site does have a small cafeteria, but frankly between the two, Peddocks offered more opportunity for wandering and adventure.
While we were only able to visit those two islands, the Boston Harbor Islands NRA offers a number of other things to do, including guided tours to Boston Light on Little Brewster Island. With a copious amount of history, a bit of hiking, and beautiful views of downtown, this trip is definitely worth a day when visiting Beantown.