Friday, February 27, 2015

Digesting Deer Island

From Dave Brigham:

As someone who didn't grow up near Boston, I associate Deer Island with its current use as a waste water treatment plant. Over the last few hundred years, however, the island has served many purposes, some ignominious, others more humane. I'm sure that before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts the native people used the island (which hasn't technically been an island since a hurricane in 1938 filled in a channel) for fishing and perhaps even hunting.

During King Philip's War in the 1670's, according to Wikipedia, the British interned as many as 1,000 Indians on the island, many of whom died. In the 1840's a hospital was established there to deal with the flood of Irish immigrants. In ensuing decades a poorhouse was built; by the end of the 19th century that facility was turned into a prison.

According to a report by Boston radio station WBUR, the remains of that prison, the Deer Island House of Correction, "are no more than a small wall dubbed the 'Great Wall of China' by local workers."

A few times in the last 20 years I've observed Deer Island from Boston Harbor (and other times from the air, coming into Logan Airport) and was struck by its massive, egg-shaped "digesters," which break down waste. I had no idea until recently that there are public walking trails on the island.

After spending some time spotting planes at a nearby beach in Winthrop with my son, Owen, I suggested we drive toward what I thought were giant sculptures I could see off to the south. Just a few minutes later we approached the area, and I realized what I was seeing were not sculptures, but a smokestack and a water tank on Deer Island (hey, I'm a writer, not an engineer).

We parked and walked around for a bit. I was surprised to see the remnants of a pier.

I was even more surprised to climb a steep, paved path and get a look at this:

Owen and I got our final surprise when we turned around and looked across the harbor.

I definitely plan to return to Deer Island and get more pictures.

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