By Richard Campbell
While South Bostonians are surrounded by water and are usually happy to convene with the ocean via a walk out to Castle Island, there is no doubt that an annual sojourn to the Boston Harbor Islands is a great way to end the season. Events are more sporadic in September, but there is still plenty to discover in the early fall, as the season ends on Columbus Day. First time visitors usually only make it to Georges Island, but fall is the perfect time to explore new horizons. This year, due to storm damage, sadly there is no public access to Little Brewster Island, the home of Boston Light- the first and last lighthouse station in the nation.
Georges and Spectacle Islands are the most frequent destinations. The earliest boat out to Georges Island leaves the dock at Long Wharf at 10:00 am but you want to catch the 9:00 am Spectacle Loop boat if you plan on hopping to other islands. Spectacle is the closest island, (only 25 minutes away) and this makes it a very nice adventure for little children, but it does not hold the interest that Georges and Peddocks does for “older kids”. Ten new moorings were installed this year on Spectacle island, which has made it a stop-over for local boaters. There is also a direct route trip to Peddocks Island from Long Wharf that leaves at 9:00 am.
Georges has Fort Warren, a good history tour of the island, and more events than most islands. Peddocks is one of the most beautiful and nature-oriented islands in the harbor. The other “more obscure” islands, like Lovells, Bumpkin and Grape are worth the visit, but for first timers getting onto the island loop is tricky.
Adventuring on Fort Warren…
Historically Fort Warren is the most prominent structure in the harbor islands. Dedicated as a national historic landmark Fort Warren is a huge Pentagonal bastion fort, made primarily of granite, that was constructed from 1833 to 1861. Fort Warren is named for Joseph Warren of Revolutionary War fame. Colonel Sylvanus Thayer, the “father of West Point” supervised the construction of the fort. During the Civil War Southern prisoners were held at Fort Warren, which had a reputation of treating prisoners pretty well. Besides the elevated extensive walled defenses, where Rodman canons were once poised to strike enemies, there is a Guard House, Powder Magazine, Hospital, Bakery and multiple observation towers that allow you a view of the surrounding islands as well as the Fort’s big yard. The displays in the Visitor’s Center are well done, showing a continual history through artifacts from the islands beginnings through its WWII period up to the current day. There are small pop-up concerts on the island of varying quality, presented in cooperation with Berklee College of Music, and nearby plenty of picnic amenities.
It is duly noted that the Department of Conservation desperately needs more funds to complete some major repairs and create more of a living history museum out of the forts various rooms. South Boston Online gives a shout out to Governor Charlie Baker to see the potential for upgrades to this national treasure. You will find Rangers from the National Park Service and DCR, as well as guides from the Friends of the Boston Harbor on hand to give you information and help with amenities. The kids like running into the official Pirates of Boston, doing the Civil War dress up, and getting nature lessons as well. This makes Georges the most kid friendly island.
Peddocks Island: A Nature Tour
The 184 acres of Peddocks make it the largest island in the Boston Harbor than can be explored and has had many recent additions to make it more camp worthy. For returning island goers Peddocks offers the most adventure, with its marshes, pond, out of the way beaches, chapel, visitor’s center, Yurt campsites and the remains of Fort Andrews. Fort Andrews is named after Major General George Leonard Andrews and is classified as an Endicott fort that was built between 1898 and 1904. The fort had five batteries and was well equipped to face an enemy that hardly ever appeared. Besides playing a role in WWII, this fort actually housed some Italian prisoners of war. Interestingly enough those same prisoners were housed at Camp Mc Kay, present day Columbia Point but after a few skirmishes with local South Bostonians were quickly taken to Peddocks Island.
It is not surprising that scouts and other community groups take advantage of Peddocks camping often, so reserve well in advance. One feels like an Indian / adventurer camping out here, as the undomesticated life has a refreshingly primitive feel. Many visitors peep longingly into the old, often abandoned family cottages. From the Indians to the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and WWII and later cottage life, Peddocks has the feeling of a community from yesteryear. DCR along with New England Carpenter’s Union and Amelia Peabody Foundation rehabilitated the beautiful island Chapel in 2014, where many arts events and happenings occur. Peddocks is also known for its diversity of wildlife, as well as being a great place for birders. To camp on Peddocks, Bumpkin, Grape or Lovells Island, you need to contact reserveamerica. com or call 877-422-6762. The usual accommodation is for four people, and the Yurts accommodate up to six people.
The other island worth remembering that South Boston Online has featured before is Thompson Island, the home of Outward Bound. As we are coming upon the school year it is important to note that Outward Bound’s Connections Program which partners with the Boston Public Schools begins in fall. I didn’t see any South Boston Schools listed as enrolled, though the stated goal is to have 2,600 students of the BPS served. If you are interested in enrolling a BPS student, you can visit Thompson Island on Saturdays and Sundays by taking a boat from EDIC, South Boston Drydock 12 Pier. For more information on fees and schedules see: https://thompsonisland.org/visit/.islands,
Your adventure is only minutes away!