• Lush vegetation on the top of Spectacle Island's North drumlin dominates the foreground. Boston's skyline can be seen in the distance.  The park's logo with tag line minutes away, worlds apart empashises the stark contrast between the city and islands.

    Boston Harbor Islands

    National Recreation Area Massachusetts

Island Facts: Calf Island

Tidal marshes, wildflowers, tall grasses, and wild fruit trees are some of the varying aspects of Calf Island.

Short History
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.

General Information
This island of Boston Harbor Islands national park area is managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

Agency Designation: Harbor Islands State Park
Current Use: Aid to navigation; park purposes
Harbor Location: Outer Harbor
Acreage: 35 (upland acres: 18.5; intertidal acres: 16.11)
Highest elevation: 38 feet
Longitude: 42° 20' 23.8" North
Latitude: 70° 53' 19.4" West
Miles from Long Wharf: 9
Visitor Facilities & Services

Visitor season:
Boat slips:
Visitor staff:
Guided tours:
Park boats:
Car access:
Flush toilets:
Composting toilets:
Group campsites:
Picnic areas:
Camping capacity:
Cooking grills:
Drinking water:
Walking trails:
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.

Survey in progress.

The island is composed of bedrock covered with a thin layer of soil rising to an elevation of 38 feet.

Water Features
The center of the island contains a freshwater marsh.

Views and Vistas
Downtown Boston and Deer Island are visible in the distance as well as the surrounding islands, the Brewsters, Georges, Lovells and The Graves.

  • Cheney House ruins
  • Belvedere ruins

Fortifications: None

Other Structures

  • Stone wall
Alternate Names
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:
  • Apthorps Island

Did You Know?

Thompson Island

Thompson Island in Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area was home to the first vocational school in America in 1833. The facility featured a farm, a wood shop and a print shop as well as America’s first organized school band. More...