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Thompson Island is one of the Boston Harbor Islands, located about one mile from downtown Boston, and part of the Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park. The 204 acred island has been in use for many hundreds of years, originally by native communities, but gained significance when David Thompson established a trading post on the island in 1626. The island’s primary function then transformed a couple of times over the next few hundred years: from grazing livestock, to establishing a boys farm school as well as an asylum, to becoming a center for outdoor and natural education for Boston students. As of 1988, Thompson Island is operated by the Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center. Every year, the Island hosts hundreds of student groups from the Boston area for educational purposes, though it also welcomes weddings, family reunions, business retreats, and more.


Thompson Island originated as a summer meeting ground for native communities, until 1626 when Thompson’s trading post granted the island greater historical significance and trade was facilitated. There is not much historical information about the island’s use prior to the trading post. After the trading post was established, until the mid 19th century, the island was used for grazing livestock, primarily sheep. In 1833, a group of Boston philanthropists purchased the island to create an educational center, and they established the Boston Farm School to instruct young men in “agriculture, gardening, or other useful occupations as would contribute to their maintenance and tend to form in them habits of industry and order.”[1]

They were mainly targeting local at-risk students, and, a few years later, merged the farm school with the Boston Asylum for Indigent Boys. The island remained as a sanctuary for at-risk male students to study farm and trade until the mid 20th century, when Outward Bound became a major player and took ownership of the island. In Over the next few decades they redefined their mission to provide educational trips for underprivileged students from the Boston Public Schools system. In 1996, Boston Harbor Islands were designated a national park area, and today, the island serves almost 3,000 students annually with team-building expeditions, nature education, and initiative challenges.

The island contains 204 acres of low rolling hills, open meadows, salt marsh grasses, manicured lawns, mature forests, shrubby areas of successional growth, and more. There is a formal school campus that contains dining halls, dormitories, classrooms, lab spaces, and auditoriums, as well as outdoor challenge courses, high and low ropes courses, raft building activities, and more. Visitors may participate in sailing, climbing, leadership training, and environmental exploration, and are led by the Outward Bound trained experts. The island also welcomes wedding parties, as well as other major events, and has facilities for receptions, dinners, and parties. Organizations or individuals may book private ferries to the island to accommodate their event goals, and all proceeds support Thompson Island Outward Bounds Leadership and Science Education for Boston’s middle school students [2].

To visit the island, guests must take a thirty minute long ferry from Boston Harbor. During the summer months, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the island is open to the public on Sundays, and public ferries will run at 8 AM[3]. After that, guests who want to visit the island must arrange private transportation with Thompson Island. Thompson Island continues to serve its mission to all of its guests, through instilling teamwork, compassion, confidence, education, and, unlike in the past, is inclusive to all genders, ethnicities, and individuals.


[1] “Island Facts: Thompson Island - Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area (U.S. National Park Service),” https://www.nps.gov/boha/learn/historyculture/facts-thom.htm.

[2]  Boston and Us, “Island Facts.”

[3] “Thompson’s Island Collection : Records, 1814-1990 (Bulk, 1814-1977) | Joseph P. Healey Library,” http://www.lib.umb.edu/TI.

Works Cited

Boston, Mailing Address: 15 State Street 9th Floor, and MA 02109 Phone:223-8666 Contact Us.“Island Facts: Thompson Island - Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area (U.S. National Park Service).” https://www.nps.gov/boha/learn/historyculture/facts-thom.htm.

“Programs | Thompson Island Educational Programs.” https://thompsonisland.org/programs/.

 “Thompson’s Island Collection : Records, 1814-1990 (Bulk, 1814-1977) | Joseph P. Healey Library.” http://www.lib.umb.edu/TI.