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Once called Hog Island, Choate Island has a long history of settlement. It originally had a Native American population and was visited by European settlers who began to farm there. Many of them kept hogs on the island, giving it its original name. It was the law in the 1630s that hogs should be kept in fences or on islands throughout the planting season, and this island was the perfect place for them.
Choate Island is in the Essex River Estuary and is a part of the larger Crane Wildlife Refuge. The Trustees of Reservations owns the island and manages it today. It encompasses about 135 acres of land that is populated by local wildlife. In the 1930s, a spruce forest was planted, and that is now the most visible part of the island.
The Choate Family
The first Choate to own property on the island was John Choate. He was born in England and arrived in America at 19 in 1643. Four years later, John and his wife bought a few properties, and one was a farm on the island. The island itself was divided into a few farms, and Choates continued to be born on the island as the family stayed and farmed.
The Choate House is a well-preserved home that was built on the island in 1730. It looks much the same as it did when it was built. The house and the rest of the island were used in the making of the film The Crucible.
In 1703, Captain Thomas Choate was the only owner of the island after several acres were sold to him by longtime residents. At this time, he was referred to as Governor Choate.
In 1887, two of the three farms on the island belonged to members of the Choate family, and the decision was made to change the name from Hog Island to Choate Island. Over time, 82 people with the last name Choate have been born on Choate Island.
The Crane Wildlife Refuge
In 1927, the farms on the island were sold to Richard T. Crane Jr. The Choate House with its many paneled rooms also became the property of Crane. The Cranes continued to live and farm on the island. It was eventually owned by Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Crane, and it was Cornelius Crane that the wildlife refuge was named after. The couple is buried on the island.
The Crane Wildlife Refuge encompasses the entire island as well as several other islands. Choate Island is the largest of the seven islands in the refuge. Besides the spruce forest on the island, there are also fields and grasslands. Its natural landscape makes it look much as it would have looked in the distant past. The Castle Neck River and the Great Marsh surround the island.
There is no longer a bridge or road to the island, so it is accessed by kayaks and canoes during the summer season. There are trails on the islands that start at the dock and go to the house, barn, and the burial site of the Cranes.