“Let us first, last, and all the time keep in mind that the Baxendale Memorial Foundation is a sacred trust. The island is the resting place of the Baxendales and failure to live up to the desires of the Baxendales, to divert it to cross purposes, would be desecration of a tomb.” Animal Rescue League of Boston publication ~1944
When Thomas A. Baxendale and his wife purchased Amrita Island in the late 1890s, they must have envisioned erecting their own little principality. Crossing the stone-pillared bridge to the island, one half expects to find a medieval fortress on the other side. The ivy-covered towers more closely resemble the entrance to an English castle than the gateway to an island on Buzzards Bay in Cataumet. The ivy hides inscriptions that allude to the island’s history. At the first pillar on the left of the bridge, a panel reads “Amrita Island, 1893” and the name “Baxendale,” while the right-side pillar bears a carving of a great blue heron and the declaration, “Safe from Snares.” The Baxendales created their own version of a kingdom at the turn of the century, but their shared love for wildlife meant that the island was, and hopefully always will be, a safe domain for the area’s birds and animals.
At the island’s tip stands the mansion-like home the Baxendales built more than a century ago and named Island Haven. The eccentricities of Mr. Baxendale and the expert craftsmanship of a Portuguese mason, Manuel Brazil, are evident in the architecture of the Moorish-style house and the surrounding properties. Baxendale designed Island Haven after traveling with his wife throughout the Middle East and Europe. The architecture he admired abroad influenced the design of the structures on the island, including the stone bridge, four other homes named Stonehenge, Sorrento, Castle le Mere, and Guardian, a mausoleum where he, his wife, and their minister are buried, three bathing pavilions, a gazebo, and smaller cottages. Standing at the crest of the island and overlooking Buzzards Bay, Amrita seems the perfect name for the island. Of Sanskrit origin, amrita is the word for an ambrosia the Hindu gods created. When the gods drank the “youth renewing water,” they supposedly achieved immortality.
Although the Baxendales had no children of their own, they were rarely alone on the island and were often accompanied by their minister and physician, visited by academics, and always surrounded by the animals they adored. Mr. Baxendale apparently built the additional houses on the island with the intent of inviting professors from Harvard University to come and tutor him in a variety of subjects. Although he traveled extensively and was highly respected in business and civic circles, Baxendale never received any formal education. Coming to the United States from England as an orphan, he worked in a shoe factory in Brockton, Massachusetts. It was in Brockton that he invented the box-toe shoe—a predecessor of the steel-toed boot—which made his fortune.