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History of Plum Island

Visitors gaze at the shoreline on Plum Island.

Visitors gaze at the shoreline on Plum Island. (Oct. 6, 2010) Photo Credit: Ed Betz


1600s to 1800s:

A Connecticut colonist bought Plum Island in the late 17th century from Native American tribes, reportedly for a coat, a barrel of biscuits and fish hooks. The island was farmed and remained in private hands.


Life during wartime:

In 1897 the war department bought 150 acres to build Fort Terry as a coastal defense for the Spanish-American War. The department bought most of the remaining land in 1901. In 1945 Fort Terry was decommissioned at the end of World War II.


1952 to 1954:

The Army Chemical Corps took over Fort Terry with plans to house an animal disease laboratory. Classified documents released in the 1990s indicated the lab was intended to research deadly viruses that could kill off Soviet livestock. Officials said those plans ceased when the island was transferred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1954.


1954 to now:

The new Plum Island Animal Disease Center was dedicated to the study of foot-and-mouth disease and other catastrophic livestock illnesses. In 2003 the Department of Homeland Security took over Plum Island, shifting the lab's focus to preventing foreign diseases from being used for bioterrorism.


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