I know it’s just February 1st and that we are in the middle of winter but I’m already thinking of my summer getaway. I’m looking for a rustic summer home or small cottage on a secluded island. I’d like beautiful vistas in a picturesque Norman Rockwell New England setting. I also want it to be fairly private but close enough to civilization so I can have access to the world if I need it. At first I was thinking of Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket but they are too overpopulated and not very rustic. Next I thought about an island off the coast of Maine or maybe a cottage on a lake island in New Hampshire or Vermont. Those places are nice but I need to be closer to home. Then I hit the jackpot. I found exactly what I was looking for, a hidden real estate gem right in our own back yard, Bakers Island.
What the heck is Baker’s Island?
Most people are familiar with Salem’s 8.1 square miles of land but know nothing about our 10 miles of water or what exists out there. Salem maritime properties include Children’s Island, Ram Island, Cunney Island, Tinkers Island, Great Misery Island, Little Misery Island and Baker’s Island. While some of them have summer homes none are inhabited year round.
The 60 acre Baker’s Island lies 3.5 miles off shore. In addition to its one light house (visible from the Salem Willows) the island is home to 55 cottages most built in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. The island also has a store, fire house, meeting hall (Sherman C. Burnham Hall), and gift shop known as Driftwood. Baker’s Island it’s Massachusetts’ largest residential island north of Boston.
History of Baker’s Island
During the golden age of sail, Salem was the wealthiest city in the States all because of her port but there were no major aids to navigation to help mariners past the islands and rocks outside her harbor. A conical day beacon erected in 1791 was 57 feet tall, painted red, and topped by a two-foot diameter black ball. Unfortunately this beacon was not much help at night or in the fog and after three wrecks in 1796 killing 16 men the Salem Marine Society sent a message to Congress stating they needed to replace the beacon with a lighthouse.
That much of the property and many of the lives of their fellow citizens are almost every year lost in coming into the harbour of Salem for want of proper lights to direct their course… This calamity can, in the opinion of this society be prevented only by erecting a lighthouse on the northern end of Bakers Island . . .
Congress authorized $6,000 for the establishment of twin lights on Baker’s Island which first lit up on January 3, 1798. The two towers were located on top of a two-story keeper’s house, about 40 feet apart at either end of the building with four lamps being fueled by whale oil. In the early part of the 1800’s there were some configuration changes to the light houses, one was shortened then later restored to its previous height after some confusion with Boston light. In 1926 one of the lights was removed and by 1938 the sole remaining light was electrified.
In addition to the light house (set on 10 acres) the remainder of the island was privately owned. In 1888 a homeopathic doctor from Salem named Nathan Morse built a hotel/spa on Baker’s Island called the Winne-Egan. It had 50 guest rooms and catered to seekers of “health, pleasure and needed rest.” In addition to island activities such as sailing, fishing and swimming, guests could play tennis, or even shoot a short round of golf on the hotel’s six-hole course. Like many of Salem’s old buildings the hotel met its demise in 1906 when an accidental fire burned it to the ground.
Baker’s Island real estate; old money, private sales and coastal views.
There is not an abundance of information available about properties on Baker’s Island. No rentals what-so-ever and according to my real estate agent “There hasn’t been a public sale (in MLS) of anything on the island since 1999 – all private sales, and at that only a few”. I examined Salem’s GIS (Geographical Information System) viewer and found most parcels of land have been owned by family’s since before 1900.
Today access to the island is limited to residents and their guests. The islands one pier is where all visitors arrive and depart. Many residents have their own boats but a water shuttle the Double Eagle, is available from Salem harbor.
a view from the pier at sunset
I am still looking for my summer retreat. Many Salem residents visit this site, so if you have a place out on Baker’s Island contact me, I would love to learn more about what is in our own back yard. And for all my out of town readers, if I get the opportunity to go over there, walk around and shoot some photos, you can be sure to find them right here at theSalemInsider.com.