Hidden Cape Cod: The Story of Amrita Island

Hidden Cape Cod: The Story of Amrita Island

Cape Cod hides many fascinating, little known hideaways, especially for a place that is only 1,306 square miles in size. Amrita Island takes up a mere .03 of those square miles, but its story and history belie its rather diminutive size.

Dominating Megansett Harbor with its impressive stone walls and majestic mansions, Amrita Island is … a hidden gem with a mesmerizing story. The island was originally owned by Thomas Baxendale and his wife Esther. Born on Leap Day in 1840 in Blackburn, England, Baxendale emigrated to the United States in 1867. He settled in Brockton where he met and married Esther Minerva Simmons. 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 last longer and added to the boots’ fashionable appearance.

Thomas and Esther purchased the land along Buzzards Bay in 1893 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.’ In mythology it is the name for the nectar of the gods. The Baxendales brought in scholars and deep thinkers to deliver lectures at their estate on the western tip of the island which they named ‘Island Haven.’ They often hosted lectures on animal welfare, a subject they both cared deeply about. The couple frequently donated money to the Animal Rescue League of Boston. Esther was dear friends with the organization’s founder Anne Harris Smith. She even wrote a book, an ‘autobiography’ of her Italian-gazelle hound, Fairy, in 1904 entitled “Yours With All My Heart.”

The Baxendales made Amrita Island more inviting for scholars by having cottages built for visiting Harvard professors. The cottages had lyrical names like Sorrento, Castle-la- Mare, and Guardian. The couple loved Harvard so much that after Esther’s death in 1927 (Thomas died in 1910) the entire island was bequeathed to the university. Shortly thereafter, Harvard donated the land to the Animal Rescue League of Boston … The Baxendales never left Amrita Island. The couple … 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.

When you pass the private road to Amrita Island … it is clear you’ve found someplace special. Oddly placed medieval castle towers, eight in all, beckon you across a 250-foot bridge leading to Amrita Island. The bridge structures were constructed in 1908 by Portuguese builder Manuel Brazil who was born in the Azores Region of Portugal and emigrated to Provincetown in the mid-19th century ….

– By Christopher Setterlund in the Cape Cod Times, May 1, 2020