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.