We’ve finally arrived at an exciting new part of our Boston Harbor Island tour—one that incorporates years of enduring civilization into its story. We’ve seen that Rainsford Island was named for its first colonist and that Gallops Island doubled as a makeshift place of residence for those who had fallen ill; we now even know that settlers had enjoyed the view from Spectacle Island for years, too. But Peddocks Island remains the only place on the chain that people still call home today, a fact to which its stippling of brightly colored cottages—some abandoned, but many still inhabited with living, breathing history—are a steadfast testament.
The history of Peddocks Island as home started in 1887, when Portuguese fishermen literally floated their houses, with belongings in tow, to the landmass after a cruel eviction from another Boston Harbor island. Upon arrival, our displaced protagonists set up their tiny shanties for hearth and home; these little structures later became lovely (though still quite modest) New England-style cottages, the likes of which exhibit every color on the spectrum. It may seem incredible, but descendants of these initial Portuguese lobstermen remain on Peddocks Island in little lodges today; their families now claim five or six generations of island life.
Portuguese fishermen aside, Peddocks Island is also home to some of the most interesting stories that the chain has to offer. During World War II, the island accommodated more than one thousand Italian prisoners of war in its now spookily deserted yet romantically captivating Fort Andrews, a military bastion that had been constructed at the commencement of the Spanish-American War. In keeping with the Bostonian penchant for treating its island-bound POWs mercifully, these Italian detainees were permitted to move about the fort and the island fairly freely, and, after Mussolini’s fall, of course, they were even allowed to visit the city on the weekends in moderately-sized groups. (Granted, appropriate supervision was required, but we still think it was pretty nice of us, all things considered.) The real kicker? Many Italian POWs ended up meeting and falling in love with native Bostonians on their excursions into the city, and upon marriage, they were able to stay in the States.
Today, the only reminders of Peddocks Island’s WWII days are a rusty old fence that divides the landmass in half and a rock that bears the abbreviation “US,” thereby demarcating the side of the island on which Italian captives did not reside. The cottages, however, remain, and—at least for the time being—they continue to imbue the island with a living heritage that the other members of the chain simply cannot claim. Unfortunately, though, we’re obligated to end this colorful and heartwarming tale on a rather sad note: the state, which claimed ownership of Peddocks in 1970, has dictated that the current residents of the island are to be the landmass’s last dwellers, citing private use of public land and pollution generation. The islanders’ end at eviction hearkens back to their beginning and marks the bittersweet conclusion of an era for Peddocks.
For 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!