Photo of the week: Liberty Clipper in Boston Harbor

Boston Harbor


The Liberty Clipper in Boston Harbor on a calm day. This view is looking East from the inner harbor.

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Hangman Island: A low lying rock outcrop in Quincy Bay

City View

Located in the center of Quincy Bay, Hangman Island is comprised of several small, low lying rock outcrops connected by sandbars. Lacking prominence, the island is often only noticed as one passes through the Western Way channel and looks south. Even from points along the Quincy shoreline, one might only notice Hangman Island when gazing across its landscape at low tide, when the bay is littered with flats and pools.

A brief history: I have heard it said that Hangman’s Island was named for its original eighteenth century inhabitant, a Norfolk county hangman who after overseeing many executions became a miserable old hermit and occupied the island in solitary isolation. However, the King’s Handbook of Boston Harbor suggests that this story is likely untrue, as it reports that the location was labeled “Hayman’s Island” on a chart published in London in 1775, giving rise to the idea that the name the island was after some gentleman named Hayman, and that the previous story was just contrived over time.

It is said that the City of Quincy never took possession of the island, and I have read that when a businessman named Putnam once tried to obtain a deed to the  island in the early nineteenth century, neither the mayor of Quincy nor John Adams knew who owned the pile of rocks. The island did have inhabitants over the years, the names of many are listed by Edward Rowe Snow in “The Islands of Boston Harbor”. There are no known military structures on the island, but there are some remains of a structure which suggests the island certainly once did have some development. Perhaps it was part of a lobster shack  said to have been occupied in the late 1800s by a lobsterman named Bill Greenfield* who was said to have rescued many a stricken sailor in Quincy bay over the years. The photo below shows some type of old frame board ridded with nails, that may have once been part of a bigger structure. It also illustrates just how close the island is to downtown Boston given the perspective of the Prudential tower in the backdrop:

quincy bay

*The Boston Globe “Can’t Count Lives Saved” August 22, 1897.

A view of Hangman Island at low tide, with Rainsford Island and and Long Island both visible in the background. At high tide, the island is much less visible. I have read that the shallow flats around Hangman formed from dumping fill that was produced from the Western Way channel excavation. When traveling in that channel, as the Hingham Ferry does daily, Hangman Island is visible to the south of the Channel about half way between Nut Island and the Long Island Bridge.


A full, low tide view of Hangman Island, looking West toward Thompson Island and the City of Boston:

Quincy Bay

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The Gurnet Point Light


Gurnet Point is an isolated outcrop of land lying at the end of the Duxbury Peninsula and located within the Town of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Accessible only by driving over sand, the area is far removed from other parts of the South Shore and is more easily viewed by boat than from automobile. At the end of this sandy point lies some drumlins or cliffs similar to those found to the North in Scituate, and on top of the highest point sits the Gurnet Light, which served over the centuries as a beacon to guide ships safely into the ports of Plymouth and Duxbury.

What may not be as well known is that Gurnet Point was once outfitted with not one, but two lighthouses, or a pair of “range lights” as they were called. Like many locations in Massachusetts Bay situated near a major shipping channel-such as Spectacle Island, Lovell’s Island and Baker’s Island- two range lights were constructed to guide ships into port by following the trajectory in which the lights could be seen converging. Likely driven by the advent of more modern technology, the range lights which stood for over one hundred years were replaced in December 1923 by the single lighthouse structure that stands today. Pictured below is one of the Fresnel Lenses (3rd order) which sat atop one of the Gurnet range lights, until it was finally taken down in 1923 and placed in the Hull Lifesaving Museum:

Gurnet Light

As one can image, the documented history of the Gurnet Point goes back quite a bit further than the construction of its new lighthouse in 1923. The peninsula was likely named for a Gurnet Point in England by early British colonists, and this point was most certainly viewed by the original Pilgrims as they entered Plymouth Harbor in 1620. However, an earlier known reference to the area was recorded: In a 1613 account of Champlain, he described the are as “almost an island, covered with trees, principally pines”.*  The dense pines indigenous to the area likely have lent name to the High Pines outcrop lying less that two miles to the North and the High Pines ledge located just offshore.

* “Life at the Gurnet”, Boston Daily Globe, December 27th, 1896

Gurnet point had a well known lifesaving station, as did Manomet Point located several miles to the South- both were known to exist since the 1700′s. During revolutionary times, the area around Gurnet was home to a fortified earthwork which was occupied by up to sixty soldiers. In the war of 1812, the fort was refitted and reportedly sank a British ship which came within firing range. The fort was rebuilt during the Civil War, and renamed Fort Andrew (not to be confused with Fort Andrews at Peddocks Island). The Fort was named for John Albion Andrew, who was governor of Massachusetts during the civil war and a fervent abolitionist. While the outline of the original earthworks is very visible from any aerial view of the Gurnet Point, the exposed brick structures below the lighthouse in the first photo at the top of the page may have belonged to the original fort as well.

Gurnet Point as viewed from the approach into Plymouth Harbor and Duxbury Bay:


Below is a view of Gurnet Point and Clark’s Island looking South, with the dunes of Cape Cod’s bay side distantly visible in the background. The photo was taken from the top of the Standish Memorial in Duxbury:


A chart of Gurnet Point, south of the Duxbury Peninsula, but situated at the north entrance of Plymouth Bay:

gurnet light

NOAA Nautucal Chart. See for disclaimer.

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Whaleship Charles W. Morgan in Boston Harbor

The whaleship Charles W. Morgan left Boston yesterday morning to head back south. She had been in Boston for the past couple of days as part of her 38th Voyage. The ship is the oldest remaining wooden whaleship in the world and is the second oldest commercial ship in the country still afloat (the USS Constitution is older). You can read more about her and her home in Mystic Seaport, Connecticut here.

Castle Island

Charles W. Morgan In front of the city, heading out to sea….low resolution since she caught me by surprise and I didn’t have my preferred camera with me:

Whaleship boston harbor

Far off the Cohasset Coast on her way South down to the Cape Cod Canal:



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Picture of the Week: Liberty Schooner

One of the beautiful Liberty Schooners in Boston Harbor yesterday afternoon, July 18th.

boston harbor

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A German Ship in Boston Harbor during WWII: The story of the Pauline Freiderich

So much of Boston Harbor’s modern history and the landscape of its islands and shores was shaped by war. The story of the Pauline Freiderich is one of the more obscure WWII-era events that occurred here.

It was September 4th, 1939 when the Captain Ernest Heintzmann of the Pauline Freiderich received an important telegram off the coast of Nova Scotia. The vessel was several days into a return voyage after taking on a cargo of oil from Port Arthur, TX, en route to her home port of Hamburg Germany. After what he heard, Captain Heintzmann knew that there would be little chance of crossing the Atlantic and arriving home in Hamburg unharmed. Hoping for the best, he turned the ship around and set a course for Boston Harbor.

An artistic rendition of the Pauline Freiderich:

boston harbor


Little did crew or captain know of the events of September 1st 1939 as they headed out of the bayous of Port Arthur, around the Florida Panhandle and onto a Northeastern course.  What did happen on that fateful day- the sudden and devastating invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany- the “Blitzkrieg” -set into motion a series of events leading to the beginning of WWII, starting most promptly with the declaration of war on Germany by Great Britain.

The Pauline Freiderich awkwardly entered the port of Boston, and was permitted to dock given the neutrality of the United States at the time. While docked at Battery Wharf in the City’s North End, she was likely both a spectacle and an annoyance for British ships passing through the port. According to most reports in the news, the crew was treated well- they were allowed to attend events on the mainland and entertain visitors. While not to their knowledge at the time, the crew and their visitors were begin heavily monitored by the FBI. One visitor to this ship that caught their attention was William Colepaugh, an American traitor who would later accompany SS spy Eric Gimpel on an espionage mission through the US after being dropped off by a Nazi U-boat at Point Hancock, ME.

Maritime law at the time granted a visiting ship 60 days in port. Toward the end of that time frame, the crew sabotaged the ship, destroying the engine room so as  not to have to cross the Atlantic and return to Germany. Following this incident, the cargo of oil was confiscated, and the crew members were charged with sabotage. They were permitted to stay on the ship, but that all changed after December 7th 1941 when the US entered the war against Germany and Japan following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The crew of the ship was immediately arrested and interred at a military camp for the duration of the war. As the US entered the war, Nazi ships went from being tolerated to greatly feared: A giant field of mines lined the entrance to the harbor to prevent attack or espionage. Still, German submarines lurked off the coast of Boston and were said to even enter the harbor, with a documented encounter happening on a June evening in 1942.

Given her age and obsolescence- her capacity of 1.75 million gallons was only about half that of modern tankers of the time- one may have thought the Pauline Freiderich would be scrapped during or shortly after the war. However, with capacity in high demand and shipbuilding facility working at full steam, the tanker was repaired and used in the United Nations Merchant Marine.  This was not the only German Vessel seized by the united states- famous examples include the Horst Wessel, Now the Coast Guard Eagle, and several U-boats, one of which was scuttled offshore, and one which is on display in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.


War Tension on the Waterfront as Nazi Tanker Halts Here. The Boston Daily Globe, September 4th, 1939.
Tanker Wrecked Beyond Repair by Nazi Crew Here. The Boston Daily Globe, April 1, 1941.


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Shipbuilding and manufacturing history of the North River

ship building

For over 150 years, some of the largest shipyards in America were located along the banks of the North River, in what are now the towns of Norwell, Pembroke and Hanover. The locations of the shipyards were far upstream, several miles from the river’s mouth. The location of the Brick Kilns Shipyard, noted on this 1794 map was located near what today is its namesake street off route 139 in Pembroke. Other shipyards were located across the river near the present day location of the Brigantine Circle development in the town of Norwell. Further downstream was the Brooks-Tilden Shipyard in North Marshfield, which is a now conservation land owned by the town.

Perhaps the most famous ship to be built in the North River shipyards was the Brig “Beaver” which was owned by the British East India Company. Docked in Boston Harbor with a full load of Tea on the night of December 16th, 1773, American Revolutionaries snack aboard and threw the tea into the harbor in an event which would henceforth become known as the Boston Tea Party.

Equally interesting but likely less well known is another North River-built ship, the Columbia. The first American ship to circumnavigate the globe, she was was used in the booming trade with China. Columbia was under the command of Captain Robert Gray on trips to Canton, China. Finding himself outbid by European merchants trading gold and  silver, Gray had the idea that he would obtain furs to trade from the American Pacific Northwest en route to China. Hearing rumors of a great river in the Northern Pacific, he set out to find it. According to records* it was May 12th, 1792 when Captain Gray first spotted a great open bay and a wide river along the Pacific coast. He named the river the Columbia after his ship. This name still holds today, as does the name Gray’s Bay. Visible on any modern map, these vast bodies of water separate the states of Oregon and Washington. Today, the city of Portland, Oregon is located at the intersection of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers.

An artist’s portrayal of the Columbia:

Columbia in a Squall

By George Davidson, artist painter who served on board the Columbia Rediviva. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The banks of the North River between Marshfield and Norwell, not far from where the shipyards were located. This part of the North River is easily accessible from several Marshfield conservation land parks off of Union Street:

marshfield ma

A view of the North River from the Norris Reservation, just across the river from the land which the Brooks-Tilden shipyards once occupied:

Norris Reservation

Further upstream in the towns of Pembroke and Hanover, the North River is formed by several tributaries including the Indian Head River, the Iron Mine Brook and the Herring Run. These converge at a point called Luddam’s Ford, which was named for a guide named John Luddam who was said to carry the Governor John Winthrop across the stream on his back in 1632 while on the way to Weymouth. This are was once home to several heavy industries, including an anchor fabricating plant where the anchor of the USS Constitution was made in 1797. More recently, the area was occupied by a rubber company owned by Eugene Clapp, which was lost in a fire in February 1924. Below are several photos of the Luddam’s Ford Area, including the falls and factory remains:



Luddam's Ford

Iron Factory

Indian Head River


*The Maritime History of Massachusetts, 1783-1869. Samuel Eliot Morison** History of the Town of Hanover, Jedediah Dwelley and John F. Simmons, 1910. 
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Spectacle Island: The heart of the Boston Harbor Islands National Park

Just a short ferry ride away from downtown Boston, this accessible and tourist friendly island offers spectacular views of the City of Boston and virtually all of the Boston Harbor Islands from its high drumlins.

Boston Harbor View

 Spectacle is an island named for its original shape: It appeared like pair of spectacles- two drumlins separated by a tidal pool, which was later filled in. Today, Spectacle Island’s towering drumlins are the tallest point in the harbor islands. However, they were man made- (Great Brewster’s slightly shorter bluffs are the highest natural point in the harbor). From atop Spectacle Island’s North drumlin, perception may be somewhat distorted by the flat harbor waters that surround below- one feels much higher than 120 feet. A view of the lighthouse on Long Island Head in the foreground, with Calf Island in the distance:

boston harbor

While there is no lighthouse on the island today, two beacons once sat on the Northern end of the island. As ships approached Boston Harbor in the President Roads channel, the lights would line up. The last of the two lights was closed in the early 1950s. The Boston Public Library has a phenomenal Photo of Spectacle Island, taken from Long Island in 1937. Visible are both range lights at the North side of the island as well as the rendering plant in the center of the island. In the distance, the South Boston Power Plant and the Customs House Tower are visible.

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Spectacle Island was a source of ire for inhabitants of South Boston right across the bay due to the foul odors emanating from the garbage disposal and rendering plants island located on the island. It was in this factory that dead horses would ground up dead horses to make tallow for soaps, oils and packaging materials. The remains of the pier which served the plant still stand today on the island’s west side. The original rendering plant was expanded in 1912 to be a full garbage disposal facility. The facility was referred to as a “menace to humanity” by nearby residents who would undoubtedly smell the odors any time the wind blew from the East.  Today, waterfront residents of South Boston look across the bay at the green, rolling hills and trails of a national park. A close up view of the South Boston waterfront and Castle Island as seen from Spectacle Island:


One of the most interesting features of Spectacle is that virtually all of the other Boston Harbor Island are visible from its high North Drumlin. In this photo, Long Island’s facilities and water tower are visible in the foreground, with Hull’s Telegraph Hill visible in the rear right:

boston harbor

Dawn breaks over Spectacle Island in the dead of winter:


A large container ship leaving Boston Harbor, as seen from the top of Spectacle’s North Drumlin (looking Northeast). In the background, across the Governor’s Island Flats lies Deer Island on the right and the town of Winthrop on the left:


A view of the city skyline behind Spectacle’s rolling hills:


Looking toward the city from Spectacle Island’s dock:

Boston harbor islands

* “South Boston  Spectacle Island Odors” Boston Daily Globe, August 1, 1923
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Distant view of Provincetown across Cape Cod Bay

A view of Provincetown from all the way across Cape Cod Bay, as seen from the bluffs at Manomet, Plymouth:

Manomet Point

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Fort Sewall: The Colonial-era outpost at Gale’s Head

Built in 1742, Fort Sewall in Marblehead, MA is one of the oldest fortifications on the east coast. The fort was originally built in English Colonial times for defense against the French, but the current structure has remained active in military operations for centuries thereafter. Located at Gales Head at the northern end of Marblehead, the location was used as a defensive outpost as early as 1644.The fort is perhaps most well known for an incident in the war of 1812 in which Boston’s favorite ship, the USS Constitution, took cover underneath Fort Sewall’s cannons after being pursued by three British warships.


Fort Sewall is located on the western bank of Marblehead Harbor, knowns as Gale’s Head. This rock outcrop lies across the harbor from the lighthouse at Marblehead Neck. In this location the fort was positioned within view of open ocean and well outside the main streets of downtown Marblehead. The fort provided for defense of both the town of Marblehead and the adjacent larger city of Salem, which was also guarded by Fort Pickering further inside the sound. Both Forts Sewall and Pickering offer a broad and strategic view of Salem sound. Marblehead neck as seen from Fort Sewall:

Marblehead from Fort Sewall

The old door to Fort Sewall. Behind those doors are cave like corridors that housed old soldiers quarters, galleys, magazines and prison cells:


At the entrance to the fort on the most northeastern side of Marblehead is a noticeable sign outlining some of the history of the area, including the mention of Chief Justice Samuel Sewall, for whom the fort was named:


Some of the relics of the original Fort Sewall:


The arched entranceways of the fort’s main wall:


Inside Fort Sewall:


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