The travel and lifestyle blog of In My Footsteps Podcast host and author Christopher Setterlund. Discovering and sharing the best of today and yesterday. Beautiful and inspiring places to visit now, along with incredible stories of times gone by. From Cape Cod to New England and beyond, from present-day, to some classic 1980's nostalgia, to days long gone by. There is something for everyone here much like with the podcast.
In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - The Baxendales and Amrita Island
Cod hides many fascinating out of the way locations, especially for a
place that is less than 400 square miles
in size. Nestled snugly in the Cataumet
section of Bourne lays an island. Surrounded by Squeteague Harbor
and sheltered from Buzzards Bay by Scraggy Neck this island is as
difficult to find as a parking spot at the Cape Cod Mall on a rainy
summer afternoon. It is a hidden gem with a mesmerizing story. It
is Amrita Island.
on the way to Megansett Beach in
Cataumet is Baxendale
rural side road heads west toward
Buzzards Bay over a creek to an island of roughly 430,000 square
feet. Today there are ten homes on the island however at the turn of
century there was only one. It belonged to Thomas Baxendale.
on February 29, 1840 in Blackburn, England, Baxendale dreamed
of the American life and emigrated to
the United States in 1867. He settled in Brockton where he met and
married Esther Minerva Simmons in 1871.
Baxendale would make a fortune in the shoe business in the latter
decades of the 19th
century by perfecting the ‘box toe’ boot. These tougher, rounded
toes helped the leather toes of boots last longer and added to their
and Esther made a fortune in business in
Brockton with Thomas running the plant and Esther keeping the books.
Eventually the couple purchased land
along Buzzards Bay in 1890
as a summer residence and christened it ‘Amrita Island.’ The
word Amrita is from Sanskrit, the language of Hinduism,
Buddhism, and Jainism, and means ‘immortality’ and in mythology
it is the name for the nectar of the gods which gave said
Baxendales brought in scholars and deep thinkers of the day to
deliver lectures at their estate on the western tip of the island
which they named ‘Island Haven.’ One such topic they often
hosted lectures on was animal welfare, of which they both cared
deeply. The couple frequently donated money to the Animal Rescue
League of Boston. Established in 1899, Esther was dear friends with
the organization’s founder Anne Harris Smith. Esther even wrote a
book written as an ‘autobiography’ of her Italian-gazelle hound
Fairy in 1904 entitled Yours
with All My Heart.
A loving tribute and further proof of her love of animals.
Portuguese builder named Manuel Brazil in 1908 to add a unique
entrance to the island. Brazil was born in the Azores Region of
Portugal in 1836 and emigrated to Provincetown in the mid-19th
century. He constructed medieval
castle towers, eight in all, which beckoned
you across the 120-foot
bridge leading to Amrita Island. This
bridge to this day seems out of place for Cape Cod and creates a feel
as if one is heading into a different world.
The Bridge to Amrita Island
the lectures got going the Baxendales made Amrita Island more
inviting for scholars by having cottages built for visiting Harvard
professors. These had names like Sorrento, Castle-la-Mare, and
Thomas and Esther retired from business leaving the reins of the
company to Esther’s brother John Simmons.
Thomas Baxendale began having stone carted across the bridge to the
island. Reports at the time thought it was for a sea wall, in
reality it was for a mausoleum. His health failing Baxendale
commissioned the elaborate final resting place that was christened
‘Sunset Terrace.’ It was built on the bluff on the west side of
the Baxendale mansion facing the sunset. Sunset Terrace was complete
with forty-four steps and three broad piazzas leading to the
died on March 31, 1910 at age seventy at his home in Brockton. He
was buried in Sunset Terrace in December of that year with a big
dedication of the mausoleum.
Baxendale continued spending summers at Amrita long after Thomas’
loved Harvard so much in fact that after Esther’s death on
1927 the entire island was bequeathed to the university. Shortly
thereafter Harvard in turn donated the land to the Animal Rescue
League of Boston in
1934 who opened a school of humane education there.
Until 2007 there was a summer camp for inner city children held on
The Sunset Terrace mausoleum
Baxendales never left Amrita though. They, along with the previously
mentioned dog Fairy, are interred in a striking mausoleum on the
western edge of the Island Haven property. It faces the sunset and
the phrase ‘Love Is Eternal’ is inscribed on the mausoleum door.
Beautiful words on a beautiful hidden gem of an island. With no more
summer camp held there it is important to remember that the homes
across the bridge are private residences and they must be respected.