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.)
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.
Agency Designation: Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant; Boston Harbor Project
Visitor Facilities & Services
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.
Natural History Overview