CHC Cruise Facts – Garrett Island

  1. Garrett Island, which covers 198 acres, was originally inhabited and settled by the Susquehannocks – the   tall, majestic” Native Americans to the north.
  1. Two bridges cross Garrett Island: the CSX railroad bridge and the U.S. Route 40 “Hatem” bridge.
  1. A rocky bottom surrounds much of Garrett Island, and caused Captain John Smith to lose his anchor there.  The same rocks provide great bottom “structure” for fisherman – which probably contributed to Bass Pro Shops’ decision to donate $150,000 to the purchase of the island by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service!
  1. The Crown granted the island to Edward Palmer, a Virginian, early in the 1600s.  In those days the island bore his name and was referred to as Palmer Island.  This was the first English settlement within the boundary of present Cecil County.


  1. Palmer wanted to establish the first university in the New World on Palmer Island – sort of a branch campus of Oxford.  But the ivory tower back in England had no interest. Palmer never even visited his island.
  1. Apparently, the Susquehannocks didn’t think much about Palmer (since they never really saw the guy) and gave another Virginian, William Claiborne, the right to occupy the island and establish a trading post – primarily for fur trading.
  1. The establishment of the trading post by the Virginian evidently wasn’t a big hit with Maryland’s Governor, Leonard Calvert, who sent forces to take over the island.


  1. Five years after seizing the island from Claiborne in 1638, Maryland troops returned to put down a Susquehannock “uprising” and built Fort Conquest on the island.  Nothing of the fort remains today.
  1. Eventually, the Susquehannocks retreated to the north, the fur trade dwindled, and almost everyone lost interest in Palmer Island  -- after all the fuss!
  1. Nothing of much importance has happened on Palmer Island since.  A guy named Isaac Watson established a farm on it after the Revolutionary War and subsequent owners of the island continued to farm it until the late 1800s.
  1. A fish packing plant operated on the island between 1820 and 1910.
  1. The B&O railroad began to build a bridge over the Susquehanna River and the island in 1885.  And that’s how the island got its present name.  In honor of the [the great?] B&O president, John W. Garrett.
  1. Not much has happened on Garrett Island since.  Over the years there have been a number of schemes to develop the island in various ways: condos, amusement parks, etc. 
  1. A lot of pressure developed to see that Garrett Island would never actually be developed.  This protection came just a few years ago when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service purchased the island and designated it a wildlife refuge.  It is now part of the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

Note: These “CHC Cruise Facts” were extracted from William B. Cronin’s book, The Disappearing Islands of the Chesapeake, published by The Johns Hopkins University Press in 2005 (ISBN: 0-8018-7435-I).  CHC volunteers are encouraged read more about Garrett Island by purchasing this book or checking it out at a local library.