Located at the end of Carson Beach, on Pleasure Bay in South Boston, Castle Island is a 22-acre recreation site, and the site of Fort Independence. Castle Island was really an island until several land reclamations through the years extended causeways and eventually roadways. Today it is operated as a state park by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Castle Island is where the past, present and future of Boston collide. It is not just a destination it is a state of mind, where else in Boston can you be surrounded by the ocean, have a place for the kids to play, go for a run, take a tour at the site of one of the United States oldest military fortifications and be with great people who are there for the same reason?
If you were one of the lucky ones to get a tour of Fort Independence with the late, great William “Doc” Reid you walked away knowing that you had just walked the earth that the early colonial settlers tread upon in the 1630’s. Today, dedicated volunteers offer free tours of the Fort from Memorial Day through Columbus Day weekend. Check out our EVENTS page for information on the tours conducted by the Castle Island Association.
Published in 1995, “Doc” Reid captured the full history of the many fortifications in Castle Island and Fort Independence. In his own words he describes the book: “Here is the history of Castle Island, the eight forts that have defended the town of Boston, and the people who served in them. Here is the story of the park, heavily used day in and day out-and the visitors who have trod its walkways, examined its fortifications, picnicked with their families, and gazed at the harbor for years. Castle Island’s saga includes war and peace, joy and tragedy and mystery. It has been the site of historic firsts and lasts, and its history continues.”
The first five sided fort was built in 1643. Named Fort William and Mary by the English, it was renamed Fort Independence in 1779 and is one of the oldest fortified sites in British North America. In the late 18th-century it served as the first state prison in Massachusetts. The present structure, built between 1834 and 1851, is the eighth generation of forts. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
During the Siege of Boston at the start of the American Revolution “Castle William” served as the main base of military operations for the British. The leaders of the Massachusetts royal administration took refuge there with their families, as did some prominent loyalists or “tories.” Long recognized for its strategic location, the fort helped protect Boston from British attack during the War of 1812.
The island is also the site of an obelisk dedicated to Donald McKay, the builder of the famous clipper ships Flying Cloud and Sovereign of the Seas. In 1991, the stunning Korean War Memorial was dedicated. To the right of the memorial is a granite marker identifying the location of a harbor explosion that occurred during the Spanish American War in 1898. The John McCorkle Fishing Pier and the Robert Greene playground honor Boston Firefighters that died in the line of duty. That painted red bench you walk past on the causeway heading back to the mainland? It is the stomping ground for retired Boston Firefighters.
Sullivan’s Castle Island’s current brick building is a replica of the Commandant’s House built in 1807. As this country celebrates the bicenntennial of the War of 1812, Fort Independence’s granite passageways still echo a time when defending the sea and port towns of the young nation forged America’s identiy.