Anchors Away! Boston Harbor Island Series: Middle Brewster Island

middle brewster 2On Middle Brewster Island stands a manmade stone arch, thoroughly covered with ochre- and chartreuse-colored lichens, that has the power to transport you—figuratively speaking, of course—to another time. Set against a rugged landscape of tall, perpetually windblown grasses that, on the whole, is irresistibly reminiscent of Ireland, the arch belongs entirely to another age, one in which people actually inhabited Middle Brewster as a sort of summer resort. The now-crumbling arch used to mark the entryway to an extravagant white-brick villa over a cliff, and it’s one of many remnants from this Boston Harbor Islands’ heyday.

Middle Brewster 1If you ever were to get the chance to explore Middle Brewster Island—and to be fair, it’s not likely you will—you would stumble upon crumbling house foundations, dilapidated fireplaces, and disused stone walls that once made up a thriving summer community during the latter half of the 1800s. Unenthused by city life, wealthy Bostonians set up shop on Middle Brewster in order to avail themselves of the island’s exotic beauty. (The island is a veritable natural wonder, calling to mind images of the craggy but beautiful shores of the Emerald Isle with its jagged cliffs and rough surf.) Purchased by the city’s top lawyer, Augustus Russ, in 1871, the island became the site of many wealthy Boston citizens’ summer homes; alongside these stately homes were much more modest cottages, belonging to fishermen and their families.

They say you can’t have happiness and beauty without tragedy and ugliness. In 1923, an unfortunate event unfolded when a city boy, seeking out water after a long day collecting periwinkles on the island, entered the home of the island’s caretaker. The caretaker, Hjalmar Roos, did not answer the boy’s calls, which prompted the teenager to unlock and open the window over the back porch. The boy didn’t know that the window had been rigged to fire a shotgun when lifted, as Roos had been dealing with criminals who burgled his property when he was out fishing. Although the boy was ruled to be breaking and entering, Roos still had to pay a hefty fine. In light of its dangerous terrain and near inaccessibility, visitation of Middle Brewster Island is strongly discouraged. The cliffs rise at such an angle that they are nearly perpendicular to the ground; the island has no trails and is covered in thick vegetation; and there are virtually no beaches on which to land your craft. The moral of the story is that while it’s unfortunate that the landmass is practically unreachable, the mysterious beauty and intrigue of Middle Brewster hold true from afar. Go ahead: imagine you’re in Ireland—but from a safe distance.

Boston Harbor Islands_thumbFor more on the stories behind the city’s sanctuaries, pick up a copy of Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands by Christopher Klein, or check out last week’s blog. To help you explore the islands on the go, download our free smartphone app. Anchors away!

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