• 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: Deer Island

Tour the “state of the art” wastewater treatment facility or stroll 60 acres on the shoreline path.

 
Sixty acres of park land surrounding the treatment plant offer walking, jogging, sightseeing, picnicking, and fishing. There is a 2.6-mile perimeter pathway and another 2 miles of trails on the hills of the island. (Dog walkers are reminded that dogs must be kept on a leash at all times and to clean up after their pets.)
 
Short History
Deer Island has been connected to the mainland since Shirley Gut, once separating the island from Winthrop, was filled in by beach erosion in the famous 1938 hurricane. The former-island has a rich human history. It has been used by Native Americans, quarantined immigrants, farmers, orphans, paupers, military personnel, and tens of thousands of prisoners at the former county house of corrections.

The new Deer Island Waste Water Treatment Plant continues longstanding use of the island for sewage disposal facilities. The first was constructed on Deer Island in the late 1800s and expanded in the 1960s. In the 1990s, hundreds of engineers and thousands of construction workers brought into being the treatment plant that now serves Greater Boston. People around Boston are proud today of Deer Island as a symbol of natural resource protection and environmental stewardship.

Some phases of Deer Island's history, however, are far more problematic. The low point occurred during the King Philip's War, a Native American armed resistance to 17th-century European colonization. Deer Island became a place of internment in the winter of 1675-76 for approximately 500 Native Americans, whom Europeans had removed from their homes and villages. Many of the imprisoned Native Americans died that winter without access to adequate food or shelter. In the 1800s, when the Great Famine drove more than a million Irish citizens to immigrate to the United States, Deer Island was the landing point for thousands of refugees, many sick and poverty-stricken, hoping to reach the Port of Boston. In June 1847, the City of Boston established a hospital on Deer Island. Approximately 4,800 men, women, and children were admitted for treatment in the years from 1847 to 1849. Many recovered, but more than 800 died and were buried in the Rest Haven Cemetery, where their memory now honors the struggles of their countrymen. In 1850, an almshouse was built to house "paupers." These are only a few of the fascinating historical tales from Deer Island.
 

General Information
This island of Boston Harbor Islands national park area is managed by Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.

Agency Designation: Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant; Boston Harbor Project
Current Use: Sewage treatment; park purposes
Harbor Location: Inner Harbor, Quincy Bay
Acreage: 265 (upland acres: 184.96; intertidal acres: 80.19)
Longitude: 42° 21' 04.1" North
Latitude: 70° 57' 52.7" West
Miles from Long Wharf: 5.33
 
Visitor Facilities & Services
Hours:
Park: Sunrise to Sunset
Piers/Docks:
Yes
Visitor season:
Year Round
Boat slips:
0
Visitor staff:
Yes
Moorings:
0
Guided tours:
By Appointment Only
Park boats:
N/A
Lifeguards:
No
Car access:
Yes
Flush toilets:
No
Campsites:
0
Composting toilets:
Yes
Group campsites:
0
Picnic areas:
Yes
Camping capacity:
0
Refreshments:
No
Cooking grills:
0
Drinking water:
No
Walking trails:
Yes
On-island Circulation: There is a 2½ mile recreation path around the perimeter of the island; service roads are throughout treatment plant, but with restricted public access.

Visitor Cautions: The island is primarily an industrial site and reservations must be made to tour the treatment plan. Open flames are restricted in some areas of perimeter path. Rising tides may trap the unwary visitor who leaves the pathway and enters the intertidal area at low tide at low tide.

 

Natural History Overview
Vegetation
Native plants and shrubs.

Wildlife
Survey in progress.

Geology
A glacial drumlin was relocated to form a man-made berm, which serves as a visual barrier between Winthrop and the treatment plant. Tidal flats surround the island.

Water Features
The treatment plant, designed to treat sewage, is perhaps one of the largest and most elaborate constructed water features in the country. It is designed to treat wastewater from 43 cities and towns.

Views and Vistas
The twelve 150-foot tall sludge digesters, called by many the "giant eggs", are a new landmark in the harbor, visible from many points but obscured from other points by other island drumlins. A man-made berm conceals the digesters from Winthrop. From the top of the digesters, one can see Logan Airport, downtown Boston, and the middle and outer harbor islands. The perimeter walk around the island offers views of the north shore of metropolitan Boston, the main shipping channel and the nearby Gallops, Long and Spectacle Islands.

 
Structures
Buildings
  • Historic pump house (listed on National Register of Historic Places)
  • Complex of sewage treatment buildings
Fortifications
  • Boundary wall ruins from Fort Dawes.
Other Structures
  • Pier
  • Seawall

Did You Know?