A few months back, while I was working at the lab on a Saturday, I ran into a gentleman who had driven all the way from Texas just to visit East Point, Nahant. Only a few minutes into our conversation the reason became clear – he had been stationed at East Point from 1954 to 1955 while serving in the U.S. Army…
Although some of us grad students feel like we’ve “been here forever”, the Marine Science Center is a relatively recent addition to East Point. (East Point is the name of the eastern tip of Nahant and is the site of the Marine Science Center.) East Point, and Nahant in general, has gone through many changes over the past few centuries – transitioning from an island used by farmers to graze their cattle in the 17th and 18th centuries, to a vacation spot for the wealthy in the 19th century, to a military defense sight in the first half of the 20th century, to the sleepy and quiet community it is now. All of these phases and transitions have certainly left their mark on the land where the Marine Science Center now resides.
To those of us who work here now, the most apparent ‘historical marks’ at East Point are those left by the military. In 1917 the US army purchased East Point from Henry Cabot Lodge (US Senator) to build a defense site for the Northeast coastline to guard against possible attacks. The defense site here at East Point included an indicator loop receiving station, a bunker which housed guns and ammunition, triangulation towers, and eventually the development of a Nike missile site during the Cold War. The gentleman I had crossed paths with did not know that the base had been sold to Northeastern University in 1967. Nevertheless I think he was still happy to see many of the prominent features from his time still remained and enjoyed seeing some of our ‘renovations’ such as the bright blue paint and electric lighting that are now in the bunker. Although I don’t have his first-hand perspective, I do appreciate and enjoy learning about the history of East Point and seeing the changes it has undergone. Just before Christmas I received a letter which included copies of some of his pictures he had taken during his post at East Point.
Walking around the property it is easy to see what has changed and what still remains…
Prior to it hosting a military defense site, East Point first held a hotel (1823-1859) and then the homes of the Lodge Family.
Unfortunately for us, the home was burnt down by a few teenagers in the late 1960’s but the military used it as a bunk house and the gentleman who gave me the photos stayed in the room indicated by the arrow. Today the site is covered by sumac and other plants; I’ve been told you can find remnants of the home’s foundation and cellar but I have not ventured through the shrubbery to find these.
The bunker was built in 1942 and had two gun ports on either end. Prior to the bunker, East Point was actually flat; they poured thick concrete walls to form the bunker then covered it with dirt which makes it look like a hill.
On the left you can see four of the 6-inch (?) guns in position and the two radio antennae which were controlled via systems in the white hut which is next to the opening of north gun port. On the right is that same area today; you can just see the opening to the gun port through the trees. Today the field is being used by graduate student Sean Kent as an experimental site testing the effects of invasive plant species on native species interactions. You can also see the addition of the solar observatory. Do you notice any other features that are the same? The houses on Nahant Rd. and one of the radio towers are still present.
Another pre-military feature is the ice house. Originally built to hold ice for the hotel, we now use it for storage of various odds and ends.
You’ll notice many of the trees are down/damaged which was due to Hurricane Carol which came through in 1954. If you look closely through the trees in the 1954 picture you can see one of the three triangulation towers that still remain today. The blue building in the recent picture was built in the around the time of the Nike missile installation and was used as a bunk house and office building for the military. Today we use it as office and laboratory space.
So what does the future hold for East Point?
The Marine Science Center is expanding both its infrastructure and its intellect. We’ve already seen some of these changes with the hiring of Dr. Jon Grabowski as our fisheries biologist, the renovation of lab space, and the ongoing modernization of our flow-through seawater system. Over the next five years we’ll be seeing many more changes with more renovations, new buildings, and new faculty… So stay tuned!
Some interesting websites and wikipedia pages on the military history of East Point: