Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hospital Point Light Station Decorated for the Holidays

The Coast Guard Auxiliary's Division 4 Lighthouse Team has once again been busy decorating Hospital Point Light Station in Beverly, Massachusetts, for the holidays. The Lighthouse team, led by members of the Beverly Flotilla, placed a six-foot diameter wreath along with a star on the tower. This year the team also placed garland on the fence along the front of the property. 
Congratulations to the Lighthouse Team for a job well done! (Photos by Phil Karwowski.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

New Lighthouse Tours from Portsmouth, NH, in 2015!

This spring will mark the eighth season of "New England Lighthouse Tours," offering minivan tours from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to a variety of picturesque and historic lighthouse locations. Most of the 2015 schedule is now online at

New this year will be a number of special "Sunday Drives." On seven selected Sundays, the tours will go to some of Maine's most spectacular lighthouse locations, at Pemaquid Point, Marshall Point, and Doubling Point.

Click here for the details!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Island Heritage Trust gets a NELL grant for Deer Island Thorofare Light

From "Island Ad-Vantages," July 10, 2014:

The Island Heritage Trust (IHT) has received a $5,000 grant for the preservation of Deer Island Thorofare Lighthouse, near Stonington, Maine, from the New England Lighthouse Lovers, a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation. NELL Preservation Committee Chairman Frank Carbone cited  the “excellent supporting documentation” provided by IHT Executive Director Mike Little.

The brick tower is in need of repointing and painting at an estimated cost of $26,880. Board Chairman Ellen Rowan said, “This grant will help move us considerably closer to our goal.” 

For the history of this lighthouse, click here. For information about donating to the Lighthouse Fund, contact IHT at 207-348-2455 or at

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Benjamin Franklin's "Lighthouse Tragedy"

1729 engraving of Boston Light
The first lighthouse keeper on the North American continent, 43-year-old George Worthylake, lighted Boston Light for the first time on Friday, September 14, 1716. Worthylake, who was brought up on George’s Island in Boston Harbor, moved to the light station with his wife, Ann. They had five children, and it appears that their daughters Ruth and Ann lived at the lighthouse with them. Two African slaves named Shadwell and Dina also lived with the Worthylakes, and also a servant by the name of George Cutler.

Worthylake also maintained a farm on Lovell’s Island, closer to Boston.Worthylake was paid £50 a year, which was raised to £75 in 1717. He made additional money as a harbor pilot for incoming vessels, and he also kept a flock of sheep on Great Brewster Island. Fifty-nine of his sheep were caught on the long sand spit off Great Brewster during a 1717 storm; they drowned when the tide came in.

In early November 1718, Worthylake went to Boston with his wife and their 15-year-old daughter Ruth. They reportedly attended church in Boston on Sunday, November 2. Some sources indicate that Worthylake also picked up his pay during the visit to the city; in any case, they left to return to Boston Light on Monday morning, November 3.

On their way back they stopped at Lovell’s Island, where Worthylake and his wife and daughter boarded a sloop heading for Boston Light. A friend, John Edge, accompanied them. Witnesses later said that the party were seen to eat and drink “very friendly” while aboard the sloop, “tho not to excess.”

The sloop anchored near Little Brewster Island a little few minutes past noon, and the slave Shadwell paddled out in a canoe to transfer the party to the island. Young Ann Worthylake and a friend, Mary Thompson, watched from shore. Suddenly, the two girls on shore saw “Worthylake, his wife & others swimming or floating on the water, with their boat Oversett.”

The Worthylake grave in Boston
The canoe—possibly overloaded—had capsized, and all six people (including the servant, George Cutler) drowned. George, Ann, and Ruth Worthylake were buried beneath a triple headstone in the Copp’s Hill Burying Ground in Boston’s North End. The Worthylakes' daughter Ann soon married a stonecutter named John Gaud, who may have carved the triple gravestone at Copp's Hill.

Benjamin Franklin, 12 years old at the time, was urged by his brother to write a poem based on the disaster. The young Franklin wrote a poem called The Lighthouse Tragedy and hawked copies on the streets of Boston. Franklin later wrote in his autobiography that the poem was “wretched stuff,” although it “sold prodigiously.”

No copy of the poem was known to exist until 1940, when a copy was discovered in an abandoned house on a nearby island by Maurice Babcock, Jr., son of the principal keeper of Boston Light. Edward Rowe Snow, a popular historian of the New England coast who lived nearby in Winthrop, Massachusetts, helped him identify what he had found. In the video clip above, recorded in 1988, he describes finding the poem. 

Because the copy could not be authenticated, it's not known for certain if it's what Franklin wrote. Here is the poem found by Babcock:

The Lighthouse Tragedy

Oh! George.  This wild November
We must not pass with you
For Ruth, our fragile daughter,
Its chilly gales will rue.
Maurice Babcock, Jr., with the poem he found, circa 1940.

So, home to Lovell's Island
Take us when fails the sea
To the old house where comfort
And better shelter be.

Comes the long weary winter
With its storms of driving snow;
I can only watch the beacon
Sure that you are near its glow.

Yes, dear wife, my constant service
Binds me to this narrow isle,
Love must ever yield to duty
Though the heart be sad the while.

Only grant that on the morrow
We may safely pass the sea,
I can bravely bear my sorrow
You and Ruth here will not be.

With wild nor'wester came this morning,
Cold and clear the heartless sky.
Come wife, take Ruth.  The pull will be long.
So - into the boat I will row you home.

Nestled within her mother's cloak
Frail Ruth is sheltered from the blast,
While Anne looks into George's face
With quick, strong strokes they leave the shore.

Though starting in the Brewster's lea,
Rough and empty rolls the sea.
Low the boat -- too deeply laden
Heavy hearts make heavy burden.

Now they reach the open channel
Where the flood tide breasts the gale
Rears a toppling wall of water.
Making Anne's cheeks grow pale.

Quick the prow is upward borne
George in Ann's arms is thrown
Husband, wife and child together
To the chilly waves have gone.

Frenzied clasp of wife and daughter
Bears the sturdy swimmer down,
Save the boat upon the water
Nothing of their fate is known.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Interview at Portsmouth Harbor Light

It was my pleasure being interviewed this morning by Roger Wood of New Hampshire Public Radio. We met at Portsmouth Harbor Light and we discussed upcoming events related to the lighthouse, including the current exhibit at the Portsmouth Public Library.

Click here to hear the interview.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Metropolis Lighthouse: A Light of Hope

I'm stepping outside New England for this post.  A new lighthouse has been erected in Metropolis, Illinois, on the edge of the Ohio River. The purpose of this beacon is not to guide shipping on the river; it has been erected to serve as a beacon of hope to individuals and families affected by cancer. 

Rudy and Beverly Bess established the Hope Light Project in July 2005 to increase cancer awareness to enable people to recognize cancer signs and symptoms, detect cancer early, take immediate action to get help and save lives.     

On the morning of July 4, 2005, Rudy and Beverly learned that a family member and also a good friend died from cancer within 15 minutes of each other. This devastating news drove the couple to establish a foundation to help others learn more about how to detect, fight, and survive cancer.       

The Hope Light Foundation believes that the fight against cancer begins with knowledge. With this knowledge comes empowerment to make informed decisions on personal health matters and cancer treatment options.  With empowerment comes strength that builds Hope; Hope for tomorrow, Hope for survivorship, and Hope for a cure.

"Hope Light" was lit last week.  The beacon is an ML-155 marine lantern with five-mile visibility. The light stands 30 foot tall. The project still has some work remaining, including the construction of concrete walkways and the laying of personalized paver bricks.

To learn more about the Hope Light Project and how you can donate, visit

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Fog Signal Building at Beavertail to get Facelift

From the spring newsletter of the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association in Jamestown, Rhode Island:

This past fall BLMA was awarded a $12,975 grant from the Champlin Foundations to undertake major restoration of the 1938/1939 historic Fog Signal Building. Work will be started shortly, but the grant requires our organization to match the funded amount.
The building was abandoned by the Coast Guard in 1971 when both the light and the fog signal were automated. The building has since been used as a aquarium and DEM Naturalist Center and has been popular with young visitors, but deteriorated to an unsightly state.

The fog signal building is to the right of the lighthouse

Restoration work will entail repair of cracked mortar , repair and replacement of the glass block windows and their metal frames. The exterior will be parge coated and the red metal roof repainted. Pending available funds we hope to replicate the twin fog signal horn, which protruded from the seaward facing south wall.
Please help us raise the matching funds. Your donation is tax deductible per IRS regulations.
Send to:
BLMA Fog Signal Fund
P.O. Box 83
Jamestown, RI

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

U.S. Coast Guard Press Release on Boston Light Repair Project

May 13, 2014

U.S. Coast Guard
Contact: 1st District Public Affairs
Office: (617) 223-8515


Photo by Jeremy D'Entremont
BOSTON — The Coast Guard has announced plans for the 2016 tricentennial of Boston Light to include a $1.1 million project to repair and renovate structures at the landmark.

The project, outlined Saturday during a public presentation by lighthouse keeper Sally Snowman, is intended to preserve the structural integrity of the lighthouse tower and surrounding buildings and assists in preparing for the light station’s upcoming tricentennial celebrations in 2016.

The ongoing refurbishment plan includes an underground storage tank remediation, a new exterior coating to the lighthouse, new cedar roofs on all structures, new windows in the lighthouse keeper's quarters, and painting of all structures. A new sewage treatment plant and temporary roof repairs have already been completed.

The lighthouse projects and other tricentennial preparations have been organized through the Boston Light Tricentennial Planning Group which includes members from:

        • U.S. Coast Guard
        • National Park Service
        • Boston Harbor Island Alliance
        • Coast Guard Auxiliary
        • Friends of Boston Harbor Islands
        • City of Boston
        • Boston Marine Society
        • Hull Lifesaving Museum

The mission of this planning group is to honor the 300-year service and iconic value of Boston Light to the Coast Guard's maritime heritage through the organization, planning, funding, management and execution of all activities associated with the tricentennial celebration.

"Boston Light, America's first lighthouse, is an iconic symbol of our nation's rich maritime tradition," said Capt. John O'Connor, commanding officer of Coast Guard Sector Boston. "Boston Light's 300th anniversary in 2016 is an opportunity for us to celebrate the history of this national treasure and to highlight its contribution to the evolution of aids to navigation and the approximately 50,000 other lighthouses, buoys, beacons, and markers safely guide mariners throughout the country. Please follow us in the planning and join us in the celebration of Boston Light's tricentennial."

Boston Light was established on Sept. 14, 1716. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1964. In 1989, Congress decreed Boston Light be operated on a permanently manned basis. It remains the last U.S. Coast Guard-manned lighthouse in the country and is still a major aid to navigation at the entrance to Boston Harbor.

Due to the ongoing repairs, Boston Light will not be open for public tours during the summer of 2014.
For more information on Boston Light and the tricentennial planning, visit and Coast Guard Sector Boston Homeport. Media wishing to access the light may contact

Monday, March 24, 2014

Palmer's Island Lighthouse on New Bedford's city seal

The 1849 Palmer's Island Lighthouse appears on the city of seal of New Bedford, Massachusetts. The motto "Lucem Diffundo" means "I Diffuse Light" or "I Spread the Light." It has a triple meaning. 

1) The lighthouse itself served to "spread the light." 

2) New Bedford was a center of the whaling industry and provided the whale oil that fueled our lighthouses and other lights around the country for many years. 

3) New Bedford's city fathers were predominately Quakers. The Quakers referred to themselves as "Children of the Light." Their mission was to spread the "Light of Christ" to the world.

Palmer's Island Lighthouse is owned by the City of New Bedford, and it was restored and relighted back in 1999. It's currently undergoing another refurbishing. At this writing, the lantern has been removed and is undergoing restoration on shore. 

The plans also include repointing of the interior and exterior walls, repair and cleaning of the steel stairs, the installation of new windows and hatches, and the installation of new solar powered lighting apparatus.

Click here for more on the city seal.

Click here for more on Palmer's Island Light.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Save the Bay's Rhode Island Lighthouse Tours 2014

Pomham Rocks Light, East Providence
The schedule has been announced for this year's Rhode Island Lighthouse Tours offered by Save the Bay, leaving from Providence, RI.

This is a great way to get up close to the lighthouses and to learn about their history. Some of the trips include a stop at Rose Island Light in Newport.

Click here for the schedule and more information.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Saving Gay Head Lighthouse

The most endangered lighthouse in New England is Gay Head Light, perched precariously on colorful clay cliffs at the western end of Martha's Vineyard. The 1856 brick tower now stands only about 46 feet from the brink, and erosion of the bluff continues to progress at an alarming rate.

The Town of Aquinnah (formerly Gay Head) has submitted an application to take ownership of the lighthouse under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. A committee of the National Park Service will review the application. Meanwhile, a town committee is working with the Martha's Vineyard Museum and other concerned parties on the planned relocation of the lighthouse.

As part of the fundraising effort to move the lighthouse, Rosanne Cash will play a benefit concert on Martha's Vineyard this summer. Click here to read more about that.

The Save the Gay Head Lighthouse Committee needs your support to save this iconic lighthouse. Please consider a donation; every dollar helps. You can learn more on these sites:

Gay Head Lighthouse

Save the Gay Head Lighthouse Facebook page

History of Gay Head Lighthouse

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Sperry Light, CT, 1899-1933

This is an early 1900s postcard of the Outer Breakwall Light in New Haven, Connecticut, better known as Sperry Light. It was built in 1899. 

Travel to and from the lighthouse was often difficult, especially in the winter months. To ease the isolation of the keepers, for some years representatives of the Seamen's Bethel in New Haven made regular trips to the lighthouse to deliver newspapers and magazines.

 One day in January 1907, Keeper Samuel Armour left the lighthouse to row ashore for supplies. As he prepared to head back to the station in the early evening, a storm was worsening and the seas were growing rough. A New Haven man suggested that Armour spend the night on shore, but he felt he needed to return because the assistant keeper was in the hospital. Armour set out in his 15-foot rowboat. 

The captain of a British schooner later reported seeing the rowboat overturned near Southwest Ledge Lighthouse, but Armour was never seen again. By 1907, several cracks were found in the foundation and the lighthouse began to tilt. 

The cracks were filled and the tower was righted and reinforced with iron straps, allowing the lighthouse to remain operational until 1933, when it was replaced by an automatic skeleton tower.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Antique lighthouse postcards

I've been collecting antique postcards, especially of lighthouses, for nearly 30 years. Most are from the 1900-1910 period, but some are later. One of my winter projects this year has been to scan more of my collection so I can post them on my site. I now have about 60 postcards in the gallery for the Cape Neddick "Nubble" Light in Maine, and 36 in the gallery for Portland Head Light. If you go through all the lighthouses on my site, you'll see that almost all of them have a postcard gallery.

These cards are often beautiful works of art in
their own right; many are black and white photos that were hand colored by artists. They are also important snapshots of these places at a specific time, thus adding a great deal to the historical records of our light stations.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Fort Point Fog Bell

Fort Point Light in Stockton Springs, Maine, is one of the very few New England lighthouses that still have old fog bell towers. Fort Point's bell is still mounted on the tower, and striking machinery is inside. Although the mechanism can't be wound to automatically strike the bell the way it did many years ago, the bell can be rung manually from inside the tower, as you can see and hear in this video clip I shot in August 2012.

For more on Fort Point Light, click here.

"Highland Light: This Book Tells You All About It"

Highland Light in the late 1800s
Isaac M. Small, whose grandfather was the first keeper of Cape Cod's Highland Light and owned the land the first lighthouse was built on, wrote a booklet in 1891 called "Highland Light: This Book Tells You All About It."

Small wrote about the daily life of the keepers:

"The lives of the keepers are somewhat monotonous, though relieved in a measure during the summer months by visits of many pilgrims to this attractive Mecca.

"The routine of their duties is regular and systematic. Promptly, one half hour before sunset the keeper whose watch it may be at the time repairs to the tower and makes preperations for the lighting of the lamps. At the moment the sun drops below the western horizon the light flashes out over the sea; the little cog wheels begin their revolutions; the tiny pumps force the oil up to the wicks and the night watch has begun. At 8 o'clock the man who has lighted the lamp is relieved by No. 2, who in turn is also relieved at midnight by No. 3, No. 1 again returning to duty at 4 a.m. As the sun shows its first gleam above the edge of the eastern sea the machinery is stopped and the light is allowed to gradually consume the oil remaining in the wicks and go out. This occurs in about fifteen minutes. As night comes on again No. 2 is the man to light the lamp, the watches are changed at 8, 12 and 4, and so go on as before night after night."
A crowd gathers to watch a baseball game at Highland Light in the early 1900s

Small also made a plea on behalf of the keepers:

"It is written somewhere that keepers must not accept tips from people who visit the light, but of course it does not really mean that, but should be understood that keepers should not solicit tips. When you have climbed to the top floor of that winding stair, and then have reached the ground again, and you are pretty nearly out of breath and exclaim, "My, but that was some climb," you would appreciate the feelings and condition of the keeper who had gone up and down some twenty times during the day. No law requires them to do this, but out of courtesy and your enjoyment they make the trips. Think it over and decide whether you would like to change places with them."

For more on the history of Highland Light, click here.

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Bakers at Butler Flats Light, New Bedford

Amos Baker, Jr.
From its first lighting in 1898 until 1942, when the Coast Guard took over from the Lighthouse Service, Butler Flats Light in New Bedford, Massachusetts, had only two keepers, Captain Amos Baker Jr., and his son, Charles A. Baker.

Amos Baker Jr., had been in charge at Clark's Point Light in New Bedford for some years earlier, and his father was keeper there before him. In total, the two lights were kept by the Bakers for about 80 years.

After arriving at the lighthouse in April 1898, Amos Baker, Jr., wrote:

At 7 A.M. took charge of Butler Flats Lighthouse with Charles A. Baker as Assistant Keeper. The lighthouse is new but found it very wet and leaky and very dirty and everything topsy turvy. 

Captain Amos Baker Jr. was widowed twice during his years at Butler Flats, but his loneliness was eased by the fact that his son, Charles, was assistant keeper. He also had occasional visits from his daughter, Amy.

Some of the logs of Captain Baker are in the possession of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society. The entry for Christmas in 1907 reads:

Butler Flats Light
A pleasant Christmas Day... Squally in the evening, but we had some music from the phonograph so we had sunshine inside.

A fog bell was sounded by an automatic striking mechanism when needed, producing a double blow every 15 seconds. Amy Baker enjoyed saluting passing vessels with the fog bell.

The famous Captain Joshua Slocum once gave Amy a copy of a booklet about his sloop Spray with the inscription, "To the little girl who rang the bell each time I passed the light."

Amy Baker later wrote of the fog bell:

To one not used to it, it would seem almost unbearable when going for any length of time, but I have often been told in the morning that it had been running during the night, when I knew nothing of it, sleeping soundly all the while. Vessels are saluted by this bell.

Butler Flats Light today
The Baker family mostly found Butler Flats Light a pleasant place in summer, but winters were another story. Amy Baker wrote:

In the winter ice shakes the light a good deal at times and it is scarcely pleasant to have the chair in which you sit shake and realize what might happen if the ice proved stronger than the iron plates of the caisson. 

When Amos Baker died in 1911, his obituary recounted his fascinating life. Baker had first gone to sea Messenger, of which his father was captain. In 1862, as third mate on the bark Stafford, Baker had his leg broken in two places by a whale and spent 80 days on his back. By 1874 Baker had beome captain of the bark A.R. Tucker. He was appointed lighthouse keeper at Clark's Point after his second voyage as captain, which lasted 29 months.
as a 12-year-old cabin boy on the whaling ship

According to Baker's obituary:

For 13 years he lived in Butler Flats Lighthouse. Visitors occasionally came alongside, and Captain Baker's cheery, "Come aboard!" always made them glad to obey and see the old seaman's comfortable house. 

Visitors' signatures in the register while Amos Baker was keeper included that of President Grover Cleveland.

For more on the history of Butler Flats Light, click here.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Keeper Fairfield Moore at the Nubble Light

Fairfield Moore, previously at Rockland Breakwater Light, was keeper of the Cape Neddick "Nubble" Light in York, Maine, from 1921 to 1928. The first birth of a child at the Nubble occurred on August 23, 1923, when Moore’s daughter, Phyllis Moore Searles, delivered a baby girl.

In July 1926, it was reported that the fog bell tower was moved about four feet from its foundation by a powerful storm, leaving it on the brink of a precipice. Moore didn’t dare sound the bell because he feared that the vibration could plunge the bell and tower into the sea. Repairs were soon completed.

On March 20, 1927, the keeper’s daughter Eva Moore Kimball went into labor during a severe snowstorm. Keeper Moore rowed across the channel and picked up a local doctor. The two men returned to the Nubble just in time for the last seconds of the birth of Eva’s daughter, Barbara.

Barbara Kimball (Finnemore) lived at the lighthouse until she was six. Her favorite memory was accompanying her grandfather to the top of the tower to light the lamp.

For more on the Cape Neddick "Nubble" Light, click here.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Silas Gardner Shaw at Beavertail Light

This is a Daguerrotype of Silas Gardner Shaw and his wife Ann, c. 1858. Courtesy of Cheryl Vislay. Shaw was keeper of Beavertail Light in Jamestown, Rhode Island, 1858-1862 and 1863-1869. His daughter, Lena Clarke of Jamestown, recounted some memories in a letter many years later: 

"When we first went there was just a light, a barn and a stone wall around the government property. We soon had a henhouse, a sty (kept white), a flower garden, trellis with climbing roses, and a large vegetable garden. . . I often heard my father tell about a vessel going on the rocks south of the light and how the men came ashore carrying pails of cider and rolling pins, part of the cargo. . . In a severe storm, when another craft was grounded, one of the crew made his way ashore, carrying a heavy sea chest on his back, and the wind was so strong it blew him down on the rocks. . . Whenever my father heard a noise in the night, he always took his gaff hook and lantern and went along the shore to try to find out what it was. One night he saved five or six men whose yawl had washed on the rocks, and brought them to the light to remain during the night."

For more on the history of Beavertail Lighthouse,  click here.