The missing dunes at Castle Neck

When Google maps first went online, it showed a couple of large dunes at the tip of Crane Beach, one labelled “The Great Dune.” It was the tallest of the newer dunes, comparable in size to Wigwam Hill, which is a small sand-covered drumlin that became a well-established dune in the middle of Castle Neck. The featured image above is a cyanotype photo taken by Arthur Wesley Dow.

The Great Dune seems to have been greatly reduced by the wind. Using Google Earth, I was able to compare satellite images from 1995 and 2005 with the satellite view today. It is clear that the tip of Castle Neck, where the Great Dune once stood, is retreating, and the opening to Essex Bay between the tip of Castle Neck and the tip of Wingaersheek Beach has widened by perhaps a quarter-mile.

The newer dunes may have been a temporary phenomenon–they seem to have appeared after publication of the 1912 nautical map of Ipswich Bay, reaching prominence sometime in the middle of the 20th Century, then began their retreat. A crude map produced in 1786 and shown further down (if at all accurate) indicates that Castle Neck is longer than it was 230 years ago.

Google Earth satellite view of Castle Neck, March 28, 1995
Google Earth satellite view of Castle Neck, March 28, 1995
Google earth satellite view, April 29, 2005
Google Earth satellite view, April 29, 2005
Google Earth satellite view of Castle Neck, June 6, 2015
Google Earth satellite view of Castle Neck, June 6, 2015
Castle Neck on Google Earth, 2019
Castle Neck on Google Earth, 2019
Satellite view of Castle Neck-Crane Beach in 2005
Satellite view of Castle Neck-Crane Beach in 2019
Satellite view of Castle Neck-Crane Beach in 2021
Photo of the two “Great dunes” taken from the tip of Crane Beach in winter, 2018
The Great Dune, photo by Plum Island and Beyond February 2021

The large new tree-less dunes at the tip of Castle Neck are significantly diminished. In the book Sand Dunes and Salt Marshes, a study of the Ipswich dunes published by Charles Wendell Townsend in 1925, he includes the map below, drawn in 1786. In that map, Castle Neck is rounded at the end, and does not protrude so far into Essex Bay. (The accuracy of the map is questionable.)

"Map of Castle Neck With Ye Adjacent Sea..," produced by P. B. Dodge, April 3, 1786.
“Map of Castle Neck With Ye Adjacent Sea..,” produced by P. B. Dodge, April 3, 1786.
Castle Neck in the 1832 map of Ipswich
Section from the 1832 map of Ipswich
Cross-country skiing in the Castle Neck dunes, Ipswich.
Cross-country skiing in the Castle Neck dunes, Ipswich. The dunes, contrary to popular belief, have not disappeared, but they do expand, contract and evolve. Castle Neck and Crane Beach are a wonderful place to go for a walk, with almost 10 miles of dune trails and beach combined.

View 20 years in Google Earth Time Lapse

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2 thoughts on “The missing dunes at Castle Neck”

  1. Growing up on Little Neck from 1946, I remember the “huge sand dunes” at the mouth of the river. When I was older and would walk the entire length (whew!) many “real dunes” were along the way and especially as one approached the Essex River, (but further back).
    Thank you for the confirmation!

  2. Wonderful, wonderful, WONDERFUL abt the Ipswich dunes, which we used to slide down, and picnic among on sunny cold winter days, Alicia Moore PLM362@aol

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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