Select Board supports renaming Brown’s Island to Crowninshield Island

In a unanimous decision, the Select Board has voted to support the renaming of Brown’s Island to Crowninshield Island. The board intends to petition the U.S. Board of Geographic Names to make the change official. 

Brown’s Island as seen from the Marblehead coastline near Grace Oliver Beach. COURTESY PHOTO / FLETCHER6 VIA WIKIPEDIA.

“Basically, this is the final stop that we need to make before we can submit our official application,” said Marblehead resident Gene Record, who is a distant relative of the Crowninshield family. The Crowninshield family — which arrived in America in the 18th century — has roots in maritime history, politics and literature. They were part of a group of families known as the Boston Brahmins. 

Record previously tried to get the five-acre island renamed about a decade ago, sparking a heated debate about town, according to the Marblehead Reporter.

A formal endorsement by the town government, specifically the Select Board, is required for the name change. 

If the federal board approves the change, the island will be officially labeled Crowninshield in maps, signs and other references. Advocates for the renaming argue that the Crowninshield family’s longer association with the island and their significant civic contributions to Marblehead make Crowninshield a more appropriate name than Brown.

“The Crowninshield family has been an integral part of Marblehead’s history for generations,” said state Rep. Jenny Armini. “It’s fitting to honor their legacy and generosity with this naming change.”

The island off Grace Oliver Beach was initially named Great Island. In 1797, it was sold by Mary Orne to John Brown for $350. In 1918, the Browns sold the island to Francis B. Crowninshield for $1. The Crowninshield family planted trees and vegetation on the once-barren island. 

In 1955, Crowninshield’s wife, Louise, donated the island to The Trustees of Reservations, the oldest statewide land conservation organization in Massachusetts. The Trustees have since maintained the undeveloped island as a protected open space accessible to the public.

Record has received support for the name change from organizations like the Trustees, Peabody Essex Museum, Marblehead Museum and the town’s Historical Commission.

“We support the name change and feel it’s a fitting tribute to the Crowninshield family,” wrote the Historical Commission’s chair, Pam Peterson, in a letter.

Marblehead Museum Executive Director Lauren McCormack said its board of directors unanimously endorsed the change in honor of Louise DuPont Crowninshield.

“Mrs. Crowninshield’s contributions were key in preserving the Jeremiah Lee Mansion and are deeply valued,” wrote McCormack.

Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, the Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo executive director and chief executive officer of the Peabody Essex Museum, also wrote a letter advocating for the change.

“Mrs. Crowninshield was a significant figure in the historic preservation movement and one of the region’s most generous benefactors,” Hartigan wrote. “As a resident of Marblehead, I can add my personal support for honoring the generosity and achievements of this distinguished American family in this way.”

Marblehead Town Historian Emerita Bette Hunt said Louise Crowninshield donated several items to the Lee Mansion —- and always quietly. 

“She didn’t say, ‘I’m Louise Crowninshield’ when she donated to local causes.”

Just as she did around a decade ago when the topic was debated, Hunt expressed her opposition to the proposed name change. Her stance remains firm: Brown’s Island should retain its existing name. 

Hunt, who is 91, highlighted that the Crowninshields were not permanent residents of Marblehead, residing primarily during the summer months.

With the passage of time, Hunt’s desire for continuity and preservation of tradition has grown stronger. 

“The island has and has had so many names,” she said. “The older I get, the more I want things to stay the same.”

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