The Thimble Islands

The Thimble Islands are a group of islands located off the shores of Branford, Connecticut with the exact number of islands ranging anywhere from 25 to 365 (depending on who you ask and what they define as an “island”). Many of these wooded islands are topped with beautiful summer cottages built during the Victorian Era, and range from small summer cottages, to mini-mansions. Local legend states that the islands were named for thimbleberries, a relative to the black raspberry, but are seldom found in the area. Dutch explorer, Adrian Block was the first European to discover the islands in 1614, although multiple reports claim the Mattabeseck Indians knew them well and referred to them as Kuttomquosh, “the beautiful sea rocks.”

Kidd’s Island is named after the famous pirate captain William Kidd, who according to local lore buried treasure on one or multiple islands. In 1846, local resident William Bryan built the Thimble Island Hotel on Pot Island, one of the larger islands in the Thimbles. Bryan attracted tourists and treasure hunters alike by taking advantage of the legend that Captain Kidd buried his treasure on one or multiple islands. Also in summer of 1846 a steamboat excursion from New Haven to the Thimbles started, making the islands more accessible to the local population. This event along with others started a trend which continued to make the Thimble Islands a sought after travel destination, both for local Connecticut residents as well as those visiting from larger cities.

The hurricane of 1938 brought change to the islands, both in infrastructure as well as tourism. There are no longer any hotels on the islands, which for the vast majority are owned as private residences. The islands bear a total of 81 houses: 14 islands have only one, Governor Island has 14, Money Island has 32, and the rest have between two and six each. Famous residents of the islands throughout the years range anywhere from President William Taft who had his “Summer White House” located on Davis Island for two years to General Thom Thumb, who became famous as part of the Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Two of the islands are hosts to ecological studies, the first of which being Horse Island which is owned by Yale University and maintained by Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History. The second, Outer Island, is part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge and is used in partnership with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Connecticut State University System and the Friends of Outer Island to conduct research, and provide education and public programming.

The Thimble islands are still a tourist attraction in present day, just in a different manner than it’s past. Kayaking and boating are favorites around the islands with fishing and semi-calm waters available. There are also three companies that operate boat tours that are based off of mainland Connecticut. These narrated cruises last roughly one hour and help for visitors to sit back and take in the history, as well as the beautiful scenery.

Note: Local Connecticut does not claim ownership to any of the photos used above. The origin of the photo is included below each corresponding photo as well as the photographer(if applicable).