The Lookout Island: Lovells Island and Fort Standish

One of the old lookout towers on Lovells Island, looking West toward the City:

boston harbor

Lovells Island is positioned in a central, highly strategic location; where the Boston Harbor meets the Atlantic Ocean. Situated at the very outer harbor between the channels of President Roads to the North and Nantasket Roads to the South, Lovells is located in proximity to all of Boston’s major shipping traffic lanes, making it the perfect lookout over the outer Boston Harbor. This is likely the reason why the military built the massive, fourbattery Fort Standish on its shores in the 1890s.

Today, while the military fortifications have long fallen into ruins, this outward island still offers a tremendous lookout onto Massachusetts Bay for recreational visitors: its position is almost like a barrier island, evenly bridging a gap between Deer Island to the North and the Hull peninsula to the South. This is truly the barrier between Boston Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean: The distant outer islands of Brewster, Calf and Green that lie East of here are not really harbor islands, but are actually surrounded totally by the open Atlantic. As a result of its rocky topography and outer location, Lovells has particularly clear water on the long and flat beach on its eastern end.

History: The island has some notable history, particularly of some famous shipwrecks and the discovery of the bones of pirates who once camped out on the island. However, the major modern historical significance of the place is Fort Standish, which was used as one of Boston’s major military fortifications over the past century. The island is likely named for William Lovell, a local trader of the early 1600s, but it is unclear whether the many roads and streets around Boston bearing the name Lovell are related to this same individual. The island was originally granted to the city of Charlestown for farming, and was subsequently used as a quarantine station and an anchorage for arriving ships. The island previously had two large lighthouses which no longer remain. Today, the island remains covered with ruins, including this crumbling old brick structure on the north side of the island, visible against the dunes of Great Brewster Island in the distance.

boston habor

The structure seen above was used to store the oil to light the Lovells Island range lights, which were torn down in 1939 to expand Fort Standish. Virtually no remains of the lights are present today, with the exception of some wooden pilings. A US Coast Guard photo of how the lights once looked can be seen below. Note the oil shed was located in the middle:

boston harbor

Source: United States Coast Guard (

Views from Lovells Island: This island provides some of the most expansive views of the rest of the Harbor. While it lacks the height of Spectacle or Great Brewster, this is made up for by its central location and long open stretches in most directions. The view to the East from atop the dunes of Lovells includes the Great Brewster Spit, The Brewster Islands, and Boston Light, with open ocean behind:

Boston Light View

Looking West from the main dock, one sees The Narrows, a frequently used shipping channel between Lovells and Gallops. Further back, the Northern head of Long Island is visible, with the city skyline in the distance:

boston harbor

Fort Standish:

This massive fort is little known, yet is surprisingly large structure with four batteries facing out toward the Atlantic Ocean. It rivals in size both of Boston’s better known military fortifications; Castle Island’s Fort Independence and Georges Island’s Fort Warren. Being infrequently visited as it is, the fort is quite overgrown and unmaintained, giving it a creepy feeling. The Fort was names after Miles Standish, and was used heavily in both World Wars after having been built in the 1890s. More detailed information about the fort can be viewed here.

lovells island

Below is Battery Burbeck, the southernmost of the four large batteries of the fort. From here, a large gun could fire at an enemy vessel approaching either harbor entrance.  A great photo of the way this battery looked when it was commissioned can be seen here, at the Boston Public Library’s photo collection.

lovells island

The area around the northern wall of the battery is particularly overgrown:

lovells island

Steps to the lookout tower at the top:

lovells island

Inside the Fort’s overgrown walls:

fort standish

lovells island

lovells island

A view of the Northern tip of Lovells, where there is commonly known to be a caved-in tunnel underneath the harbor which can still be explored (although this is not something I have attempted, nor would I recommend)! Green Island and Graves Light sit in the distance behind the collapsed seawall:

graves light view

The old roads on the island are cracked and overgrown:

boston harbor islands

A view to the Southwest, with Gallops Island sitting across the narrows. A long spit at Gallops is well marked with a large, green tower (visible at left):

boston harbor

A zoomed in city view from the island’s northwest side, with Nix’s Mate visible in the lower right corner, and Long Island Head visible on the lower left:

City of Boston view

A view across to the Brewster Island Spit at low tide. On this particular day, some brave windsurfers had taken to the spit via kayak and then launched.

great brewster spit

Lovell’s as seen from the top of Fort Warren on Georges Island:

Boston Harbor Islands

The center of the eastern side of the Island is a nice place to dock, although one must take caution of the Rams Head Flats, a long flat bed of rock outcrop only visible at low tide. The flats can be seen in the background of the photo below if you look carefully:

boston Harbor

A close-up of the crystal-clear water on Lovell’s East side, with the Brewster Islands visible in the background:

clear water

Accessing Lovells Island: The features of the island are relatively simple. Its is a flat island, with its dunes not rising more than 80 feet or so inland. On the Eastern End, the beach is long and flat, looking almost like a barrier island against the open Atlantic: Other than some cover from the Calf Island and Great Brewster Island, Lovell’s eastern shore is totally exposed.

To both the North and South, there are shallow spits extending East, probably formed over the ages by currents. The shallows at the northern end of the Island, known as the Ram’s Head Flats, are particularly expansive and can trip up even an experienced boater who mistakenly deviates outside the green buoys of the President Roads South Channel. The eastern side is particularly popular for anchoring and swimming. Two areas near Lovell’s make the top boating dangers of Boston Harbor list: Both the Ram’s Head Flats and the Great Brewster Spit.

On the western side of the island, the main dock can be found toward the southern end, as well as the ruins of an old pier further north. This area to the West of Lovells is also known as The Narrows, a channel still used today for medium or light shipping traffic heading south out of the Inner Harbor. A famous shipwreck, that of the French ship Magnifique, occurred here in 1782. The ship sunk and was never recovered, and while the exact location of the wreck is unknown and likely buried under tons of sand, a particular spot in this area shows some very jagged ocean floor on a sonar display…perhaps it is the remaining structure of the ship!  Around the corner from this area is an place of strong current which flows between Lovells and the Brewster Spit: Known as the Black Rock Channel (visible on chart below) this is a popular area for boaters to anchor and fish for flounder and fluke.

The main dock at Lovells Island up close:

boston harbor islands

A chart showing Lovells Island and the nearby area. Note the surrounding islands as well as the Rams Head Flats, Black Rock Channel and Great Brewster Spit:

boston harbor lovells island

Source: NOAA Nautical Chart. Not for official navigation. See disclaimer at
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