June 6, 2016
Exploring Dutch Island
by John Kiernan
Where can you find an ancient curse, piles of sun-bleached bones and ruins abandoned for decades? Well, you don’t have to travel through the deserts of Egypt or the jungles of the Amazon to stumble on these marvels. All it takes is a quick jaunt out into Narragansett Bay and you can experience the
m all in the space of one afternoon.
Dutch Island is one of the many underappreciated gems of the Bay and is located just off the coast of Jamestown. There is no public access to the island so a private boat is a must. If you’re feeling up for an adventure, you can make the half-mile kayak paddle from Fort Getty to the island. Kayaks can be rented from Jamestown Outdoors.
I was only able to visit the island for a few hours, but I uncovered many surprises. Wandering through a large meadow, I noticed some eerie objects at my feet. Bones! I instantly imagined cult rituals and a Hardy Boys-style murder mystery but my morbid excitement quickly died down as I noticed several delicate hooves. One of the island’s many deer had apparently met its (untimely?) demise; a tragedy, but not a human one.
The sporadic piles of bones are only one of the many mysterious and fascinating points of interest on the island. The old war bunkers are the main attraction. Many of them are originally from the Spanish American War and are more than 100 years old; they were also updated and used extensively during World War I.
The bunkers are creepy to say the least, but they’re also impressive. To reach them, I crawled on all fours through a tunnel of dense bushes and walked through fields of high grass (undoubtedly laden with armies of ticks) and patches of stinging nettles. Future adventurers should note that most of the bunkers are accessible by a dirt road if you take the time to search it out.
The bunkers themselves are mostly empty, although they have their fair share of graffiti and debris. One bunker is particularly ominous. Someone evidently felt inspired by the curses associated with ancient Egyptian tombs and had spray-painted “Death will find you!” with a skull and crossbones for added emphasis. Menacing doodles aside, the ruins are a reminder of Rhode Island’s military past. Although the military complexes on Dutch Island went largely unused for defensive purposes, they served as training quarters and housing for both soldiers and prisoners of war. It’s easy to imagine unruly prisoners being punished with confinement in some of the more claustrophobic bunkers on the island.
Dutch Island has more attractions than just its extensive ruins. There are several beaches, although they are mostly of the rocky variety. On the southern tip of the island is a lighthouse from the 1850s. The island has no residents (other than herds of deer) or buildings that are in current use, making it the perfect destination for someone trying to tap into their inner explorer or get away from the asphalt jungles of suburban life.
I feel a word of warning is necessary before recommending a visit to this unique place: The RI Department of Environmental Management has closed this island to the public on numerous occasions for safety concerns. I called the DEM and was informed that the island is open to the public. This doesn’t eliminate possible dangers. Cisterns and old wells dot the landscape, creating a potential pitfall trap for unwary visitors. Also, although the bunkers may seem stable, it is impossible to know how solid they are considering their age and disrepair. If you do decide to visit the island, have fun but be careful.