Castle Island in South Boston becomes a walkers' paradise
A gracious tour of Fort Independence provides a Colonial history lesson
Story and Photos by Bob Dunn
Castle Island was a true island back in Colonial time and was fortified originally by the British. It was taken over by the Revolutionaries in 1776 and Paul Revere was in charge for a short time. It was one of the many islands located in Boston Harbor but was connected to the mainland by a concrete causeway which opened in 1928 and became part of the City Point section of South Boston.
Following the short route around the Castle Island lower walk and then the shorter upper route a couple of times gives you about a mile of exercise. The longer version, walking around Pleasure Bay and then around the Island, gives you about two and a half miles. The sites that you see ó which, if you are lucky, may include catching an ocean vessel arriving or departing Boston Harbor ó will remain with you. Castle Island is a popular spot for the local residents of South Boston; but any non-locals who have enjoyed the spot are sure to return.
View of Pleasure Bay from top of Fort Independence.
View of beginning two-mile walkway around Pleasure Bay.
On a recent visit, I was most fortunate to find the door (sallyport) open to Fort Independence that sits at the top of the Island. Built in 1838, it is the eighth fort on the site. I stepped inside and observed a number of park guides standing about. One came over to me to ask if I was from the Gloucester School group. I explained that I was not, but asked if I could have a tour of the inside of the Fort and the upper walls. The gentleman said that it was open for the public on weekends, but not weekdays. The expression on my face must have triggered something, and he took down the barrier rope and invited me in for a quick tour. While we were covering the lower kitchen and barrack rooms, he mentioned that he and the other guides I had seen were members of the Castle Island Association of Volunteers, who conduct the tours and help maintain the Fort.
View looking out the "sallyport" entrance to Fort Independence.
View of one of the ovens in the kitchen of Fort Independence. Bread is all ready for the troops.
He recommended a book on Castle Island and Fort Independence by William J. Reid, tour guide, researcher and writer. It does provide historical information on the earlier Castle Island forts. Climbing up to the upper walkway on top of the walls of Fort Independence, I mentioned the cannons that were set up facing Dorchester and Boston. He explained that these are fiberglass and were recently installed; the original cannons were melted down for use during World War II. He did point out one of the original "grape shot" small cannons, which he noted had never been fired against an enemy. Apparently the only time the original cannons were ever fired was by the British on March 20, 1776, against the "rebels" who were building fortifications on Dorchester (City) Point. The range was only about 1200 to 1300 yards, and the cannons were so ineffective that the "rebels" kept right on building the ramparts. One of the cannons burst and injured seven British soldiers.
The cannons facing City Point and Boston.
The first Fort on Castle Island was built in 1634 by the Colonialists to protect the city of Boston against possible warships entering the harbor. It was rebuilt many times starting in 1776 and was used as a prison from 1785 until 1798.
View of the Fort wall looking towards Boston.
Looking back over 350 years the only period when the Fort played a truly strategic role was during the War of 1812 when enemy vessels were afraid to come within range of the cannons.
Boston Fireboat heading out on patrol probably to check out one of the islands. Fishing pier in foreground. Logan across the harbor
I recommend a visitóboth for the historical tour and the park in general. Pick a nice day to visit, bring a lunch (or purchase one at Sullivanís, which has been operating at the site for over 50 years) and sit facing the Harbor and Logan Airport across the way. Youíll have a great view of the city, of the planes landing and taking off, as well as the many vessels going in and out of the Harbor--from local ferries, fireboats, police boats to large merchant vessels and cruise ships.
Sullivan's store a great place to take a break.
It is very easy to get to Castle Island at City Point in South Boston either by your own car with plenty of parking spots nearby or by the MBTA. To take the MBTA, catch the Number 7 bus at South Station and it will take you there and return. You can reach South Station by taking C&J Trailways from Portsmouth or Amtrakís Downeast Train from Exeter to North Station and then the MBTA Orange Line to Downtown Crossing, changing to the Red Line one stop to South Station.
Much of the information on the history was gathered from Reid's book "Castle Island and Fort Independence".
(Map, copyright Google)
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