The Thimble Islands are an archipelago of small islands in Long Island Sound, in and near the harbor of Stony Creek, Connecticut in the southeast corner of Branford, Connecticut, . Some of the shoreline residences in the nearby Stony Creek and Pine Orchard sections of Branford have a spectacular view of the Thimbles.
As outcroppings of the famous Stony Creek pink granite bedrock which were once the tops of hills but have become islands with the rise in sea level after the most recent ice age, the Thimble Islands are much more stable than most of the islands in Long Island Sound, which are terminal moraines of rubble left by retreating glaciers.
The first European to discover the islands was Adrian Block in 1614. Legend says that Captain Kidd buried his treasure here, causing intermittent interest among treasure hunters who believe they have unearthed a clue to its location, although more interest is generally paid to Gardiners Island, 30 miles (48 km) away.
The islands themselves - long prized by sailors on the Sound as a sheltered deep-water anchorage - comprise 23 that are inhabited (most of them wooded), numerous barren rocks and hundreds of reefs visible only at low tide.
Although they are said to be named for the thimbleberry, a relative of the black raspberry, that plant is seldom seen in the area, and is more frequent in northern New England. Other species of blackberry and raspberry, however, are sometimes referred to by residents of the area as thimbleberries.
In Reflections in Bullough's Pond, Diana Muir describes the important nineteenth century oyster farming industry that thrived around these islands. Muir spent childhood summers on Lewis Island in a mansion built by an oysering fortune.
The largest Thimble Islands are:
Other named Thimble Islands include Hen Island, East Stooping Bush Island, Potato Island, Smith Island, Cut in Two Island (East and West), tiny Phelps Island, Wheeler Island aka Ghost Island, Mother in Law Island aka Prudden Island, West Crib Island, East Crib Island, Little Pumpkin Island, Lewis Island, Kidd's Island, Reel Island, Beldens Island, Burr Island, Jepson Island, Wayland Island, and Frisbie Island, which is maintained as a sanctuary for wild birds.
|Island||West Crib||Wheeler||Rogers||Phelps||Jepson||Cut in Two East||Reel||Cut in Two West||Beldens||East Crib|
The plant species of the islands were extensively studied by Yale botanist Lauren Brown; although the islands represent a unique ecological niche, combining a thin layer of soil, a high concentration of salt and extreme exposure to weather, no unique, unusual or rare plant species have been found; instead, the shrubs and trees represented are generally similar to those on the nearby mainland, selecting only those which reproduce by berries or other fruit carried by birds to the islands, for example raspberries, blackberries, sassafras, cherries, etc. The exception to this is large stands of pitch pine, whose airborne seeds are apparently able to travel the distance from the mainland. Poison ivy has established itself in many sites on the islands, in some places thick enough to essentially eliminate entire areas from human contact.
In marked contrast to the mainland, oaks are particularly absent, even though blue jays are capable of ingesting acorns and carrying them from place to place. Nevertheless, some infrequent oak, maple, beech and other trees do appear in scattered locations about the islands; from their locations they appear to be deliberately planted by residents, or the descendants of such plantings. Other cultivated plants, such as ivy and some types of climbing roses, have established themselves on the islands to the point of becoming invasive species.
Mammals other than human beings are generally not found on the islands; although a rare squirrel or deer is reported seen, they appear to be isolated arrivals, and no mammalian populations have established themselves other than bats, voles and some mouse and rat infestations closely associated with the human habitations. Snakes are occasionally sighted; it is not know whether they arrived on their own, or were carried in as stowaways with loads of cargo.
Only six islands get electrical power through underwater cables from the shore; the rest utilize some combination of generator, solar power, batteries or kerosene and propane. About half the islands get fresh water through underwater pipes from shore; the rest utilize wells or rainwater, or have containers of water delivered. No sewers serve the islands, requiring the use of septic tanks for all sewage treatment.
Current and past well-known residents of the islands range from General Tom Thumb on Cut in Two Island East to Garry Trudeau, Doonesbury cartoonist and Jane Pauley, broadcast journalist. President William Taft established his "Summer White House" on Davis Island for two years. Actor Frank Converse purchased a two-acre Thimble Island in 1975 and showman Billy Rose once owned Tavern Island. Residents of the area tend to protect the privacy of island dwellers, obeying the -an-hour speed limit for motorboats and never landing without an invitation.
Sailing through the islands can be tricky for those unfamiliar with the area, because of the disorientation caused by the myriad of similar islands (particularly at night), the hidden underwater rocks and ledges, and the complex currents caused by the tides acting on the channels between the rocks.
In the warm season, a small ferry, Thimble Island Ferry Service , transports people and goods between the islands and the Stony Creek harbor on the hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Prior to the advent of telephones, islanders would hang a red flag on the dock to request a ferry visit. An on-call water taxi has recently been added, and three tour boats take passengers on scenic cruises; kayak tours are also available. Many residents have their own boats, and some occasionally arrive by seaplane.