About Misery Islands
Take your boat to Great Misery and hike past the remains of a former resort on the way to a mixed habitat of forest, small meadows, and rocky shore. Enjoy memorable views of Salem Sound and the North Shore.
What makes Misery Islands a special place?
We think it’s the stunning views you enjoy of the North Shore and Salem Sound from 83-acre Great Misery and 4-acre Little Misery. The ruins of an early-20th-century resort reveal that this offshore retreat was a haven for leisure and recreation a century ago. And the diversity of habitats – groves of aspen, open meadows, rugged and rocky shorelines – adds to the wild beauty of the islands.
More than two miles of trails at Great Misery Island lead you to spectacular overlooks, stony beaches, and grassy fields. You can also reach Little Misery Island from Great Misery Island by wading across a narrow, shallow channel at very low tide. On the beach of Little Misery you can see the remains of the steamship, The City of Rockland, wrecked off the coast of Maine and scuttled here many years ago.
Human history here goes back to the Mosconomet Indians. In the 1620s, shipbuilder Captain Robert Moulton became stranded for three miserable days during a winter storm, and it was from his ordeal that the Islands’ names supposedly arose.
In 1900, a business group set its sights on Great Misery Island, developing the Misery Island Club. It boasted a pier, a club house, a saltwater swimming pool, guest cottages, a tennis court, and a nine-hole golf course. Tournaments and regattas attracted Boston and North Shore socialites, but the club fell on hard times only a year after opening. Eventually individual lots sold and a summer colony of more than 25 cottages took hold. In 1926, however, a devastating brush fire destroyed many homes, and summer families eventually lost interest in the islands.
Before its last three acres were acquired in 1997, several threats to Misery Islands had been fended off, including a 1935 plan for a twelve-million-gallon oil storage facility and a 1988 plan for a secondary sewage treatment plant.
2.5 miles of trails. Moderate hiking.
When to Visit
Year-round, daily, sunrise to sunset. Allow a minimum of 1½ hours upon arrival.
Public restrooms (composting toilets; open seasonally).
Regulations & Advisories
- Deer ticks here carry Lyme disease; take precaution by using bug repellent and wearing long pants. Be sure to check yourself for ticks after you leave the island.
- Mountain biking is not allowed.
- Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times.
- Camping is prohibited for public health reasons.
- All fires are prohibited except on beaches – extinguish coals or ashes after use.
Salem, MA 01944
Misery Islands are situated between the harbors of Marblehead and Manchester-by-the-Sea, 0.5 mi. off West Beach in Beverly Farms (Note: West Beach is a private beach, and no launching is available from it). Access by dinghy, canoe, or kayak at any of three rocky beaches nearby. We are exploring options to provide public ferry access to the island; updates will be posted here.
When to Visit
Year-round, daily, sunrise to sunset. Allow a minimum of 1½ hours.
June through Labor Day: Members: FREE; Nonmembers: Adult $5, Child $3. After Labor Day through May: FREE.
From 1673 until 1900, a series of families owned and farmed land on Great Misery Island. The most well-known owner during this time was Daniel Neville, dubbed “Lord of the Isles,” for his proprietary or hospitable air (depending on the source). Neville bought the Island in 1849 and raised a large family here. The Nevilles owned Misery Islands for the next 50 years until their daughter, Annie, sold the property in 1900 for the then-unimaginable price of $60,000.
Misery Islands were sold a second time in 1900 to a group of Boston investors calling themselves the Misery Island Syndicate. This group decided to convert Great Misery Island into an exclusive summer resort – the Misery Island Club – for Boston and North Shore socialites. The entrepreneurs built a pier, custom house, saltwater swimming pool (its remains are visible as a wall of rocks jutting out from the beach), bathhouse, water tower, and guest cottages. They installed a tennis court and developed a nine-hole golf course where cattle once grazed. The syndicate also built a club house that came to be called the Casino (Italian for “little house”), the remains of which are visible on the hilltop overlooking North Cove.
Just a year after opening, the club was in financial trouble, owing debts to contractors and back taxes to the City of Salem, which took possession of the Islands and sold them at auction in 1904 to a group of investors called the Misery Island Trust. This group sold one-acre house lots to private buyers, but, by 1917, it, too, was in financial straits and sold the Islands to yet another group of investors. Subsequent business ventures on Misery Islands also failed, although the summer colony grew to nearly 100 residents living in 26 cottages.
Then, in 1926, a resident who was burning brush near his home lost control of the fire, which spread across the Island, destroying many of the homes, as well as the Water Tower and the Casino. After the 1926 fire, summer families stopped coming to the Islands altogether, remaining structures fell into disrepair, and the land became overgrown. The only Misery Island home that exists today is one that was moved to Marblehead in the early 1920s.
In 1935, the Coastal Oils Terminal Company of Beverly petitioned the Salem City Council for a permit to build storage tanks on the Island to hold 12 million gallons of oil. The Council rejected the proposal following intense public outcry.
Compelled to protect the Island from this sort of commercial development, communities from Marblehead to Manchester-by-the-Sea quickly formed the North Shore Association and raised money to buy all but 15 privately-owned acres on Great Misery Island. By the end of 1935, the Association had deeded the land to The Trustees of Reservations for permanent protection. Additional land was acquired through gift and purchase in 1938, 1940, 1950, 1955, 1983, and 1988. In 1988, The Trustees thwarted an effort to site a sewage treatment plant on Great Misery Island and eventually purchased the last three acres on the Island in 1997.
Property Acquisition History
Original acreage purchased in 1935. Additional land given by Mrs. Charles S. Bird and Dr. John C. Phillips in 1938, and by the Estate of Theodore C. Hollander in 1940. Additional land purchased in 1950, 1955, 1983, and 1988. Final 3-acre parcel purchased in 1997.
Conservation and Stewardship
Management Planning for Our Properties
Since 1891, The Trustees of Reservations have worked to protect special places in Massachusetts and maintain them to the highest standards. To ensure these standards are met, a program of careful planning and sound management is essential. Comprehensive property management plans are created for each reservation and are completely updated approximately every ten years. We often work with volunteers, property users, and members of the community to carry out this planning, which typically involves several steps:
- Describing in detail the site’s natural, scenic, and historical resources; identifying management issues related to the protection of those resources.
- Describing how visitors use the property; outlining the opportunities that the property provides for people to become involved in the work of conservation and caring for their community.
- Developing a detailed list of management recommendations, a work plan, and a description of financial needs for implementing the actions.
- Developing a prescribed routine management program for the reservation that will guide staff work plans, volunteer involvement, and the allocation of human and financial resources.
View Misery Islands management plan.
Maps and Resources
Printed trail maps are distributed free from bulletin boards in parking areas. Please understand that supplies periodically run out. We recommend that you download a trail map before you visit.
Tell Us What You Think
We’d love to hear about your visit! Here are three easy ways to let us know what you think:
Take our visitor survey. If you have a question for us, you can ask us in the survey and we’ll get back to you.
Post a comment about your visit on our Facebook page.
Share your experiences with other visitors on our website. Simply fill out the form below, and we’ll post your comment right here on this page.