Deer Island has served a variety of social uses over the years, but perhaps none as dramatic as its current use -- treating wastewater from 43 communities to ensure Boston Harbor remains one of the cleanest harbors in the United States.
Deer Island was so-named in the 1600s because of the deer that had been chased there from the mainland by wolves. Since colonial days, Deer Island has served at one time or another as a detention center for Native Americans, a quarantine station and hospital for immigrants, an asylum for the city's social outcasts and the poor, a reformatory for juvenile delinquents, an orphanage, a prison for petty criminals, and a military post. The first in a succession of regional sewage treatment facilities was built on Deer Island in 1899, a hundred years before the present plant was completed. In the 1940s, the Army Corps of Engineers built a causeway connecting the island with the town of Winthrop on the mainland.
Today, Deer Island is home to a state of the art wastewater treatment facility. Begun as a court-ordered facility, the Deer Island plant is the centerpiece of the Boston Harbor Project. A gem in the eyes of environmentalists and water-quality activists, this secondary treatment facility serves as a model for engineers and public works professionals around the world. The 140-foot-high, 3-million-gallon egg-shaped digester tanks have even been hailed as an architectural marvel.
As one of the largest electricity users in the Northeast, Deer Island has embarked upon an ambitious goal of generating 30% renewable energy by 2020. Two 190-feet high wind turbines were installed on Deer Island in August, 2009 and will generate over 2 million kW hours per year. Roof mounted photovoltaic system, lighting improvements, as well as methane from the sludge digestion process to create heat for the facility are just some of renewable fuels used on Deer Island.