Plum Island, Massachusetts is an island located off the northeast coast of Massachusetts, north of Cape Ann. This barrier island is approximately 11 miles in length and is divided among the four townships of Newburyport, Newbury, Rowley and Ipswich.
The northern portion of the island is bordered by the mouth of the Merrimack River, the western portion by the Plum Island River in the north, Plum Island Sound in the south (into which empty the Parker, Rowley and Eagle Hill Rivers) and the southern portion by the mouth of the Ipswich River (into which the sound empties). The Atlantic Ocean lies to the east. The sound is a tidal estuary.
Developed areas of the island, with public beaches, businesses and private residences, lie wholly within the boundaries of Newburyport and Newbury, the latter containing the village of Plum Island. The island’s pristine largest section is managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.
Plum Island is accessed by one road running from Newburyport to the north of the island on a causeway and drawbridge over the Plum Island River. A charter to build the road between Rolfe’s Lane (Ocean Avenue) and the island was granted in 1806 to the Plum Island Turnpike and Bridge Corporation. The road remained a private one until in 1905 the General Court required Essex County to lay it out as a county road, compensating its then owners with a cash settlement.
Plum Island Drive runs along the inland side of the island. In the north it is lined with homes. In the refuge it is paved for about half its distance and is a dusty dirt road for the remainder. Along it are numbered parking lots with boardwalks leading to the beach, overlooks and trails, and facilities for the maintenance of the refuge.
Toward the south is the former site of Camp Sea Haven, a therapeutic camp for those stricken with polio. Visitors are restricted from the levelled site. At the southern end of the road, the tip of the island, is Sandy Point State Reservation, a state park. It is for day-use only.
At the northern end of the road, the northern tip of the island, is the Plum Island Lighthouse, the only lighthouse remaining on the island. It marks the narrow entrance to the mouth of the Merrimack River. The swift tidal currents through the outlet and through the channel between Ipswich Bay and Ipswich Harbor on the southern end make boating and swimming hazardous.
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