At my lectures about Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands, the most common question I’m asked is: “What’s your favorite island?” It’s definitely tough to come up with a single favorite, but I think it has to be Peddocks Island because a trip to Peddocks is like visiting three different islands. Near the dock on the island’s east drumlin are the ruins of Fort Andrews, in the middle of the island is a quirky summer cottage colony that dates back to 1887 when Portuguese fishermen and lobstermen floated (yes, floated) their houses over the open harbor from Long Island, and the island’s west side is an undeveloped area teeming with bird rookeries and wildlife. You can visit other islands and see fortifications, wildlife, and ruins of old homes, but Peddocks is the only landscape that offers such variety.
Given my affinity for Peddocks, I was disappointed last year when the public ferry service was suspended because of fears for public safety due to the dilapidated structures at Fort Andrews. This past Sunday’s Boston Globe had an interesting front-page article about the plans to demolish and redevelop the crumbling buildings of Fort Andrews, which hopefully will lead to the resumption of public ferry service to the island.
The Globe article details plans to demolish 11 buildings on the island and redevelop the rest. The park management plans to convert some buildings into an eco-retreat and family camp featuring yurts with electricity and water—this would mark the return of camping to Peddocks Island. What I find particularly exciting are plans to restore the fort’s historic white chapel, which looks as if it was plucked it out of the rolling woods of Vermont. After restoration, the chapel could be used for weddings and other events. Pretty cool.
Numerous comments were generated by The Boston Globe article, which I think attests to the pull that these islands have on Bostonians. Some supported the redevelopment plan; others decried the demolition of any of the fort buildings. I suspect some also lament any change to what they see as their personal hidden oasis in the middle of the harbor.
If you’ve ever walked around Fort Andrews, it’s clear that some of these structures are in really tough shape and are beyond saving. (And if you’ve never been there, check out the accompanying video on Boston.com.) There are so many worthy restoration projects on the islands waiting for funds, that I think it’s a fair compromise to tear down the buildings in the worst shape and redevelop the others.
What other projects could use funds? Well, you don’t have to look far from Fort Andrews. The summer cottage colony wasn’t mentioned in The Globe article, but it’s the last piece of living history we have on the Boston Harbor Islands, the last place where people call the islands “home.” As many as 30 of these uninhabited summer cottages have fallen into the hands of the state, which doesn’t have money for upkeep. As a result, some of these formerly quaint cottages are now in shambles. Just as we should preserve the military history of Fort Andrews, we need to be working to preserve these homes that were used by generations of everyday Bostonians and could be used again for future generations to enjoy the history (from Revolutionary War raids to Italian POWs in World War II to the filming of “Shutter Island”) and beautiful surroundings of Peddocks Island.
My bottom line is this: the Boston Harbor Islands should be used and appreciated by as many people as possible, without destroying the history and nature that make them such a special place. From Gallops Island to Long Island, there are already sadly too many incredible places off limits to the public. Peddocks Island shouldn’t be added to that list. If the Fort Andrews redevelopment prevents that from happening and gets people back to Peddocks Island to appreciate all it has to offer, I’m all for it.