Running Thompson Island: Then and Now   3 comments

February 24, 2011

By: Paul Lamoureux, Program Director

On another recent winter visit to Thompson Island, I observed all of the work being conducted by our operations department to prepare the way for the island opening in the spring of 2011.  Work projects abound in a valiant attempt to maintain an island battered by winter storms and buildings constructed, for the most part, prior to 1942.

As our operations crew attends to winter structural, infrastructural, and beautification projects with equal zeal, I had an opportunity to reflect upon island life 100 years ago.  At that time, World War 1 had yet to begin and the Farm and Trade School was nearing its 80th year of operation on Thompson Island.

I am further reminded of these hearty students of a bygone age as I spot a trench which has been newly dug by our operations department.  The long trench runs from the Classroom building (built in 1909) up the hill to our most popular dormitory, the Thomas building (built in 1941), in order to augment and enhance electrical capacity to meet 21st century demands.

In 1911, electricity had yet to be connected to Thompson Island from the mainland.  Imagine life, if you can, on an island in the winter of 1911 without electricity!  A hearty bunch of students and staff, indeed!

It was during this era, as students learned both agricultural and industrial skills, that one of the earliest “Boys towns” was created on Thompson Island with the blessing of school administration.  On the northern end of what is now the “Football Field” and very near where our newly constructed Gazebo stands, the boys built numerous wooden buildings to create a “Cottage Row” that extended eastward across a clearing to the Bowditch Grove of trees.  Three to five boys typically owned each of the cottages.  Adults did not participate in the construction or maintenance of the buildings.

Cottage Row, Circa 1911

The boys were granted a charter by school administration for self-governance. Students elected a 3-person board of alderman, as well as a clerk, a street commissioner, a 5-person jury and a 3-person police force. Adults did not participate in decision-making at town meetings, or in the police or court systems. Other positions evolved to include a “pest-control” department that included “rat inspectors.” A code of conduct was established and, if breached, fines and punishment were levied.  One example of a punishment occurred for a boy who repeatedly teased a tethered pet goat. He was “sentenced” with the care and feeding of the goat for the remainder of the term!

Cottage Row Police Force standing in front of City Hall, Circa 1911

I can fully imagine this “Boys town” during the warm weather months; however, with cold and dark winter nights lit only by lamp, Cottage Row must have been a formidable place indeed.  But yesterday, as today, Thompson Island produced young people who overcame intimidating challenges, tapped into inner strengths and persevered through difficulties in order to achieve their goals and to succeed.

These same qualities can be attributed to Thompson Island’s operations department as they continue with the daunting task of reversing the ravages of both Time and Mother Nature to ensure today’s youth and clients are served in well-maintained facilities, outdoor trails, meadows, and beaches while visiting the island.

Operations lynchpins Steve, Marvin & Wallace in front of only remaining Cottage Row House

It is clear to me of the importance of stewardship of Thompson Island, as well as the commitment by Thompson Island staff, volunteers and trustees to maintain and develop the island’s resources in order to serve students through another 100 years of operation.

Whether in the boardroom or in the maintenance building, it is equally clear that all stakeholders in Thompson Island strive to provide the best possible facilities and outdoor classrooms for the youth in our care. In effect, a 21st century version of “Cottage Row” where students will live and work together to create a positive community that they are fully invested in, regardless of the challenges they face.

It is our fervent hope that, like the students of the Farm and Trade School, the students of Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center bring positive community values and strength of character back to the greater world community when they leave their temporary home and the “classroom” of Thompson Island.

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3 responses to “Running Thompson Island: Then and Now

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  1. A very interesting history ! Thanks so much.

    Dick

  2. Thanks for the story and pictures. Well done.

  3. What an informative and well done blog – Paul thank you for sharing a bit of Boston Island History – You are doing Great Work. Blessings and Much Success. Mary

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