, Newburyport, MA

Local News

June 9, 2014

Plum Island's evolving role

Editor’s note: As Newburyport celebrates its 250th anniversary this year, The Daily News is publishing a series of articles that looks back on the city’s history. Today we focus on Plum Island and its role in community life over the years.

With warm weather coming, the magic name of Plum Island moves into the imaginations of locals and tourists alike.

The beach, marshes and basin have been popular destinations for almost as long as Newburyport has been a community.

Some elements relating to the natural exposure of the island, of course, haven’t changed much. Maritime engineers today are working to fortify the jetties as they did 100 years ago, so vessels can pass more easily through the river’s mouth; houses built close to the water are still being buffeted by high winds, vigorous tides and the resulting erosion and reconfiguration of the beach.

But in other ways, much has changed.

Larger homes are under construction; the last empty parcels are being claimed. What was once a collection of informal seasonal cottages has evolved into a community that includes many million-dollar, year-round residences. Also, access to the water is not as universal as it once was.

A century ago, families would take public transportation to the beach and spend the day near the ocean or basin; in the summer evenings, young men and women would flock to hotels and pavilions for dinner, drinking and dancing.

Today Plum Island is a retreat characterized by many large homes and diminishing acreage of public beaches. (Technically, the 11-mile-long barrier island complex is shared by Newburyport, Newbury, Ipswich and Rowley, but for the purpose of the 250th, the developments in Newburyport and Newbury only will be traced.)

Whatever the boundaries, Plum Island is still a very popular retreat, in the mind or on the GPS.

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