Sunday, March 22, 2015

Winter Island Park

What have all of my blog posts from 2015 had in common? They’ve all featured me complaining about the nasty winter New England has had. But I’m so done ranting about that topic, as I’m sure you are too, because it’s the second day of spring!! And my hope is that by publishing this post about Winter Island, the weather will ironically start behaving like spring. I know that thought is irrational, but one can dream!

Winter Island is a 45 acred island connected to Salem Neck in Salem, Massachusetts. It is surrounded by Smith Pool, Cat Cove, Salem Channel, and Juniper Cove. In 1994, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places and the Archeological District. Of all the places I have blogged about, this destination definitely has one of the most fascinating stories. 

This tiny island may seem insignificant, but it has been the home of the Native American Naumkeags, the birthplace of Salem’s first fishing and ship building industry, and a military establishment from the War of Independence to World War II.

It received its name because it guarded fishing boats during the harsh winter season. Eventually people began building houses along Salem Neck, and in 1637 a public house was licensed here to meet the needs of people traveling here. Winter Island didn't offer shelter and protection to just civilians, but the military as well. In 1643, the first fort was established. These forts reached colonial fame when Salem became the only port in New England not captured during the American Resolution. 

Another wave of change Winter Island brought to Salem was during the eighteenth century when it became the sight for the ship building industry. The 800-ton Frigate U.S.S Essex, completed in 1799, was the largest ship Salem ever made and it was given to the US Navy. Before it was captured in a sea battle near Chile, it seized over a dozen ships during the War of 1812. The city of Salem is such a huge symbol to American maritime that many things at my college are named after shipping terminology- Clipper Card (student/faculty IDs), Navigator (online portal), The Log (student newspaper). Today,  people can keep their sailboats here and take them out on the ocean during the nice weather. 

Though Winter Island is now a family-friendly locale for people to swim at and enjoy a picnic, from 1772 to 1821, it held the execution of four. Yes, Winter Island was also known as Execution Hill. It was selected to hold such morbid events because its open space could accommodate for tens of thousands. The last person executed here was sixteen-year-old Stephen Clark for possessing arson. At the time, Salem's population was less than 8,000, but close to 20,000 people from  across several regions witnessed Clark take the gallows. This case sparked so much controversy, petitions were written up to reconsider the use of the death penalty. Capital punishment in Massachusetts was legal from 1620 to 1984, however, the last execution happened in 1947.

The only things remaining on the island from the nineteenth century is the lighthouse and the Plummer Home for Boys. 

In 1869, $30,000 was used to finance construction of three small lighthouses along the North Shore to enable vessels to enter the harbor. 

Founded through the will of Caroline Plummer, the agenda of the Plummer Home for Boys is "that children need families, skills and community to become healthy adults."  

Though Winter Island is no longer under the control of the federal government, history is still being made here; it's just more personal and individualized. Today, this site is an RV park, popular during the summer months. It is here many city residents gather to watch Fourth of July fireworks, and private and public events draw people from all over the country. In a fortunate twist of fate, the new legacy of Winter Island is of happiness, laughter and love. Here's hoping those kind of memories are in the near future! 

50 Winter Island Road 
Salem, Massachusetts 01970

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