East Point cultural history

Archaeological records suggest that Nahant was first used by Native Americans 10,000 years ago. Beginning in 1630, several families settled in Nahant, farming and fishing as their livelihood. In the early 1800s, it began to be fashionable for Boston elites to build summer homes along the shore, and Nahant began to be developed as a destination for such. The Nahant Hotel was built in 1823. After its final expansion in 1853, the hotel had 300 rooms and a 1,000 person dining room. It enjoyed prosperity until burning down in 1861. The Lodge family purchased the property and built a mansion, which was later torn down when the US government acquired the property for coastal defense use in 1941. A second home, known as the Lowland mansion, was build in the 1870s. It was later used as the military headquarters, and stood until it burned down in 1965. The mansion’s ice house still sits on the grassy oval between the Edwards building and the bunker, as well as the stone support columns at the MSC entry gate, reminders of a bygone era.

The location became of interest in the fields of marine biology and geology with the construction of the Agassiz cottage on the island of Nahant in 1851.  In this cottage, Louis Agassiz opened his marine laboratory and studied specimens from East Point as well as nearby Sanders Ledge.  The Agassiz laboratory is one of the earliest known marine laboratories in the United States.  A geologist by training, Agassiz’s research provided the first scientific proof of ice ages. The work Agassiz performed paved the way for a long tradition of marine ecology research at East Point. Even before the MSI was founded in 1967, the site was popular among marine ecologists from nearby universities, and later supported the foundational research of prominent marine ecologists such as Bruce Menge and Jane Lubchenco in the 1970’s.

East Point transitioned from a residential location in 1940 when the Lodge estate was sold to the US government to become part of the Harbor Defense Modernization Project (see military history.) Following the closure of the military base in 1961, the Town searched for an academic institution that might be interested in taking ownership on a portion of the property for use in academic research. A number of Nahant residents petitioned the Town that Northeastern should be pursued, and this effort was obviously successful. Site ownership was transferred in part to the Town of Nahant (Lodge Park extending down past the current DPW storage building) and in part to Northeastern University. The former Nike Ajax missile site on East Point was capped with material dredged from the Deer Island tunnel project in the 1990s. This site was named Lodge Park in memory of Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., a US Senator and Ambassador. In 2008, Martin Scorsese used the Cunner Ledge site and other East Point cliffs to film small portions of the film Shutter Island.

Special thanks to the Nahant Historical Society for their contributions