History & Nature

For a list of the birds sighted at the park between October 15, 2015 & August 31, 2016, click here: cumulative-species-list-summer-2016.

To download a 14-page publication about the park History on the Charles:
The Story of Captain’s Island and its Powder Magazine 
click here:
Magazine Beach History  (small file)
Magazine Beach History  (high res)

Paper copies are available for $5 plus $1.32 postage. Write a check made out to the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association, Inc.  Mail it to: Cathie Zusy, 202 Hamilton St., Cambridge, MA 02139.  Questions? contact: cathzusy@gmail.com.

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Videos about Magazine Beach!

About the Powder Magazine and Captain’s Island, featuring Cambridge Historical Commission Ex. Director Charles Sullivan: 

About the Riverside Boat Club, featuring RBC Historian Richard Garver: 

•••

Chronology of the Powder Magazine and Magazine Beach

  • 1818. Commonwealth builds powder magazine on Captain’s Island to store state and private powder.
  • 1845. Adjutant General’s report lists 290,000 cartridges stored there.
  • 1861-1865. The Independent Corps of Cadets guards the magazine during the Civil War.
  • 1863. The state prohibits storage of public powder at the magazine due to citizens’ petitions.
  • Early 1880s. Magazine roof collapses after invasion by group of small boys.
  • 1882. The Commonwealth sells magazine to private party.
  • 1889. The City of Cambridge considers purchasing Captain’s Island and the surrounding land to erect a public park and bathing beach.
  • 1893. The newly organized Cambridge Park Commission determines that Captain’s Island will become the largest park in the city.
  • 1894. The City of Cambridge takes Captain’s Island and the surrounding land by eminent domain.
  • Late 1890s. Cambridge hires the Olmsted Brothers to develop a plan on the site.
  • 1899. The powder magazine, converted into a bath house by the Olmsted firm, opens. Cost $1,500. With 136 wooden lockers and a full time attendant on duty.
  • 1900. Additional grading work removes 12 feet of elevation next to the bath house. Electric lights installed on land and in the water to enable bathing until 9pm on weekdays. The current at Magazine Beach is swift, sometimes over 60 feet per minute. Three lifeguards kept on duty.
  • 1901. Annual attendance: 60,000.
  • 1910. The Charles River is dammed and becomes fresh as a result. The number of swimmers declines dramatically.
  • 1917. The City Council appropriates $20,000 for the construction of a new bath house. Architect Charles R. Grecco designs the new building, with toilets, showers and lockers.
  • 1920. Cambridge conveys Magazine Beach to The Metropolitan District Commission
  • 1940s. The MDC begins to use the powder magazine/bath house as a storage facility.
  • 1949, the MDC closes Magazine Beach due to concern about river pollution.
  •  1950s, the powder magazine/bath house is renovated as a garage; the extension is partitioned into a foreman’s office, a common room, heating/utilities area and bathroom.
  • 1950s, new bath house is built with three swimming pools. John M. Gray Co., architects. Cost: $295,000.
  • (Courtesy of Masako Ikegami and Paul Laszlo, from “Powder House Revitalization: An Integrated Approach,” April 2009, updated March 2013 by Nina Cohen)

2 Responses to “History & Nature”

  1. Maurice Sheehan March 1, 2016 at 1:09 pm #

    I grew up in Cambridge port, specifically Hamilton Street, during the 1950’s as a child, when neighborhoods were safe. As a child Magazine beach pool was a delight and exploring the area near the river was great fun. It is hard to even imagine people were at one time swimming in the Charles. Now at 65, I have time to reflect on this spot. Thank you for the historical incite.

    CAPT Sheehan
    U.S. Public Health Service

    • Jo Patterson September 17, 2016 at 10:10 pm #

      Our neighborhoods are still safe! My boys, now young men, loved growing up here and have friends throughout all of Cambridge, a city that gets better and better because so many people in all parts are committed to making continual improvements.

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