In recent weeks, The Boston Globe has run a number of interesting stories about the Boston Harbor Islands national park area. Two articles, in particular, caught my attention: an editorial in Sunday’s paper on Gallops Island and a Brian McGrory column on Long Island that ran last week.
In addition to being neighbors out on the harbor, Gallops and Long Islands have much in common. They were both used to train Union soldiers during the Civil War; they both played vital roles in World War II; and they both abound with wonderful history and fascinating relics.
Unfortunately, they share something else in common: Gallops and Long Islands are both off-limits to the general public.
Gallops was once one of the primary destinations for visitors to the Harbor Islands. It was one of the few isles with public ferry transportation and visitor services. But since 2000, it has been closed to the public after asbestos was detected on the island. According to the Globe, it would cost $4 million to clean up the island. The money hasn’t come forth, and the island just sits there languishing.
Long Island is closed to the public for a different reason. The former city hospital complex on the island is home to more than a dozen social service programs, including a homeless shelter, a clinic for people with drug and alcohol addictions, and shelters for abused spouses and children. Due to the sensitive nature of these programs, the island is off-limits to the public.
That’s a shame since Long Island may have the most fascinating sights of any of the Boston Harbor Islands. There’s an abandoned Nike missile silo, a cemetery for Civil War veterans with an impressive monument, a quaint lighthouse, the ruins of Fort Strong, and some abandoned structures in the old hospital complex, such as a chapel and a theater that beg to be restored. (Check out the Dropkick Murphys’ video for The State of Massachusetts. It features the theater and a grotto on Long Island.)
It’s going to take some creativity and the involvement of the private sector to get Gallops and Long Islands open to the public. If we simply wait for the federal government to hand out some money, we might be waiting another 10 years to see Gallops open up again.
There’s one site on Long Island that might offer some hope for the fate of these off-limits islands: Camp Harbor View. This summer camp for Boston youth opened in 2007 and was built in just four months. In an area where it takes years just to install a simple shade shelter, that’s an incredible, breakneck pace. And it all happened because Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and retired advertising executive Jack Connors spearheaded the project, which was built with private funds. It serves as an example of how a civic project can happen if it receives community and governmental backing. We need more of these types of projects out on the islands.
By the way, here’s an insider tip if you’re interested in seeing a little piece of Gallops Island in an unexpected corner of Boston. Tucked away in the North End’s Langone Park is a gray stone pedestal topped by a sinking ship and a band of Morse code. The monument honors the graduates of the Gallops Island Radio Training Station, who gave their lives aboard merchant ships supplying American forces during World War II.