Island Facts: Calf Island
Tidal marshes, wildflowers, tall grasses, and wild fruit trees are some of the varying aspects of Calf Island.
The island was likely used for seasonal occupation by Native Americans for thousands of years. In the 1600s, the island was granted to Elder Brewster of Plimouth Colony; later it was owned by Charles Apthorp, who also owned Long Island and other property in the harbor. In 1789, the Massachusetts Humane Society constructed a "hut of refuge."
James Turner (who later became the keeper of Bug Light at the western end of Brewster Spit) owned the island in 1845, and built his home from two deckhouses that washed ashore from the wrecked steamer Ontario. In the same year the island was occupied by a small group of lobster fisherman, who built small wooden shelters on the island. Illegal boxing matches were staged on the island in 1883.
In 1902, Benjamin P. Cheney and his wife, actress Julia Arthur built a colonial style, two-story summer estate with roofs used to collect rainwater. The last of the estate remains were burned in 1971, and one of two chimneys was toppled by vandals in the 1990s. The US Government acquired rights to the island during WWI until the end of WWII.
Agency Designation: Harbor Islands State Park
Visitor Facilities & Services
Visitor Cautions: Rocky approaches.
Natural History Overview
The windswept island has a thin layer of soil that supports grasses, shrubs and salt-tolerant trees. A 1903 newspaper article describes the island landscape: "... here are groves of wild cherries, clumps of sumac, precipitous cliffs interspersed with ideal stretches of beach, fringed with wild basaltic rocks. Here is pasturage for two Jerseys, soil enough for a garden, a miniature pond and broad stretches of lawn." Today the island supports wild cherry, beach plum, tall grasses, chives, and mock orange. Further research is needed to document remains from the Cheney's cultivated landscape.
Views and Vistas
Island names have changed, depending on ownership and the customs of the times. What's in a Name? lists alternate names for park islands (and a few Harbor islands not within the park). Following are known names for Calf Island:
Did You Know?
Shag Rocks in Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area offers roosting sites for cormorants and other seabirds that fish the surrounding waters. Better known in Britain as “shags,” cormorants gave this rocky outcropping its name. More...