, Newburyport, MA

Local News

June 9, 2014

Plum Island's evolving role


Many of the early reports of life on the island relate to maritime disasters.

The number of wrecks off Plum Island is hard to imagine now, but in an era before ships had motors to propel them out of raging gales and wild seas, ships would often be driven onto the beach with lives lost.

A report in the Boston Evening Transcript in December of 1849 said, “Schooner Nancy of Wiscasset, with a cargo of bricks bound to Boston, went on shore on Plum Island and has entirely gone to pieces. A considerable quantity of female wearing apparel, furniture, bedding and a letter to a lady in Boston drifted ashore from the wreck. There was no one on board, and all hands are presumed lost.”

A year later, also in December, The Daily Atlas of Boston wrote, “On Monday, during a gale, a schooner was driven ashore on Plum Island, and was almost immediately torn to pieces by the sea, ... the crew were seen from the shore, struggling in the breakers, but no assistance could be rendered to them, and they all perished. Five of their bodies have been picked up from the beach but as yet no clue has been found to ascertain any of their names or that of their vessel.”

But if Plum Island was the recipient of ship wreckages that came up from the sea, it was also recognized as a seaside resource that could be an asset for those willing to stay on land.

Weare, in her 1993 book “Plum Island, The Way it Was,” wrote, “The first attempt to promote Plum Island as a resort came in 1806 when a group of Newburyport businessmen formed a corporation to build a bridge over the Plum Island River and a toll road from the corner of Ocean Avenue to the Center. A small hotel was erected near the beginning of Old Point Road.”

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