Even though I am a landlubber, because I grew up near Boston Harbor's waterfront, I learned to admire, enjoy, and appreciate waterfront activities. Ferry boat rides, salt-water fishing, clam bakes, wading in the cold waves, the pungent odor of mud flats, sunbathing on the beach, and scenic views are among the ocean activities landlubbers can enjoy.
Ocean scenic views lead to fantasizing maritime adventures. Among my favorite scenic views have been the views afforded by the following four local lighthouses. Let me share the four views and highlight their lengthy history.
First lighthouse in the United States
The first lighthouse built in the United States was built on Little Brewster Island at the entrance to Boston Harbor. It was built in 1716 and stood 75-feet tall.
In order to hamper the British fleet during the American Revolutionary War, colonists burned the lighthouse on two occasions. The British endeavored to repair it.
The British evacuated Boston on March 17, 1776. While evacuating Boston, British forces remained aboard their ships threatening Boston for three months. Eventually, colonial cannon drove the British from the vicinity but on June 13, 1776, before leaving, the British destroyed the lighthouse with explosives. Massachusetts Governor John Hancock had it rebuilt to its original 75-foot height.
The newly established federal government took control of Boston Light in 1790.
The government increased the height of the light to 98 feet in 1856. Its light can be seen for a distance up to 27 miles out to sea.
The lighthouse was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964.
Lighthouse keepers and Coast Guard personnel kept the light operating until 1998 when it became the last United States lighthouse that the government automated. It now has volunteer keepers whose primary role is to serve as interpretive tour guides for visitors.
Upon occasion, visitors have been allowed to climb to its top. For more information contact: Boston Harbor Islands Partnership, 15 State Street, Suite 1100, Boston, MA 02109
Minot's Ledge Light
The "I Love You" lighthouse
The picturesque lighthouse sitting atop Minot's Ledge in Cohasset, Massachusetts is the second lighthouse at that location. After the government determined that Minot's ledge was a distinct hazard to shipping, it built a lighthouse of steel beams bolted to the granite ledge. The lighthouse keeper's quarters and the light were atop the steel beam structure. The theory was that the waves would dissipate as they broke passing through the lower beams.
That steel lighthouse flashed its fixed white light for the first time on January 1, 1850. The nearby Scituate Lighthouse was then deactivated. Sixteen months later, a storm destroyed the steel lighthouse and claimed the lives of the two assistant keepers tending the structure. The nearby Scituate Lighthouse resumed its duties.
Joseph Totten, chief engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers, took charge of building a permanent lighthouse on Minot's Ledge. His experience with using granite to build forts led him to use granite for the new lighthouse. He had the base of the new lighthouse pinned to the granite with large steel beams and then piled layer upon layer of shaped granite atop that first layer. The first 40 feet of the lighthouse is solid granite using its own weight to hold it in place in the event of any storms. Above the solid granite is the lighthouse keeper's quarters and the light. The entire structure stands 97 feet tall and waves are known to break over its top. The light is 85 feet above sea level and can be seen for 15 miles.
On May 1, 1894, a new flashing lantern was installed that flashed a one-four-three sequence. Romantics read the sequence as "I love you" and the lighthouse is now often affectionately referred to as the "I love you light."
The light was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987 as Minot's Ledge Light.
Old Scituate Light
Marking the entrance to Scituate, Massachusetts Harbor is an octagonally-shaped, obsolete lighthouse. It is relatively short for a lighthouse; only 25-feet tall. Its flashing light shines 70 feet above sea level. It was the eleventh lighthouse to be illuminated in the United States.
This lighthouse has stood sentry for more than 200 years. It was first illuminated in 1811 to help guide ships into Boston Harbor. Its term of service was interrupted in 1850 when the ill-fated, nearby Minot's Ledge Light went into service. It renewed its service in 1852 when a storm destroyed its replacement. Old Scituate Light remained in service until 1860 when construction of the second and the now current Minot's Ledge Light was constructed and put into service. Deactivated for a second time, the condition of the old lighthouse degenerated significantly. Finally, the government decided to sell off the property and in 1917 the Town of Scituate purchased it.
In 1962, more than a century after its final official service, the Scituate Historical Society took it upon themselves to finance major repairs to the lighthouse. In 1988, Scituate Light was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1994, it was illuminated again; this time as a privately funded aid to navigation.
Over its more than 200 years of history, many noteworthy incidents have occurred. Two are worthy of calling to mind here.
During the War of 1812, 21-year-old Rebecca and her 17-year-old sister Abigail, the daughters of lighthouse keeper Simon Bates, were at the lighthouse, accompanied only by their mother. A contingent of British troops landed nearby. The girls played martial tunes on their fife and drum causing the British to believe the colonial militia was nearby. The British withdrew their forces without incident.
In 1956, a major storm drove the Italian freighter Etrusco ashore near the lighthouse. A successful rescue and harboring of the crew led the community to form the Scituate Etrusco Associates in 1957. To this day, the association continues to remember the shipwreck by making medical equipment available to those in need.
Occasional tours are available of the lighthouse through the Scituate Historical Society, PO Box 276, Scituate Massachusetts 02066.
Graves Light, Boston, Massachusetts
No, Graves Ledges were not named because of the number of graves on them. They were named in the 1600s to honor Thomas Graves, vice-admiral of colonial governor Winthrop's Navy. Graves Ledges are a hazard to ships using a northern approach to Boston Harbor.
In the earliest part of the 20th century, the construction of a new channel into the harbor included the construction of a lighthouse to help guide the ship safely past the ledges into the Port of Boston. The 113-foot tall lighthouse, built 1903-05 of granite with walls seven feet thick is the tallest lighthouse protecting the ships approaching Boston Harbor. Its light is visible 17 miles out to sea.
Living quarters for the lighthouse keeper are on three different levels in the lighthouse. The occupants had to climb a 40-foot ladder to reach their first level.
The Coast Guard automated the light in 1976. A storm destroyed the cable providing electric service to the island. The Coast Guard had solar panels installed and they currently power the light.
A private family has purchased the ledges and the lighthouse and, to the best of their ability, is refurbishing the structure to its original state. The lighthouse is still active and the Coast Guard still maintains the light.
Graves Light is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.