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New England Lighthouses | A Lighthouse Life List

New England Lighthouses | A Lighthouse Life List
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What kid wouldn’t like tramping up all 69 winding steps to the lantern room at the top of Highland Light in North Truro, 183 feet above the sea off Cape Cod? And checking out the shipwreck room in the neighboring Highland House museum?

Provincetown’s Race Point Light is separated from the nearest paved road by two and a half miles of sand dunes–so distant that it’s a Race Point lighthouse keeper who’s credited with inventing the dune buggy. Want to sleep in the keeper’s house? The lantern-light charm has been replaced by solar and wind power, but you’ll still get a sense of the seclusion in which early keepers lived.

After being deactivated in 1914, Bass River Light in West Dennis, Massachusetts, was converted by a Boston mogul into a summer home. Now it’s a Cape Cod hotel called The Lighthouse Inn, with a private beach, pool, tennis courts, restaurant, ocean views, and working fireplaces–and the only private-family-maintained working lighthouse beacon in the country. Three of the guestrooms are in the original keeper’s house.

Want to own your own keeper’s house? There’s one for sale on Maine’s Isle au Haut. And for a deluxe dinner atop a lighthouse, check out Newburyport’s Rear Range Light.

Some lighthouses carry unexpected architectural pedigrees. Alexander Parris, who designed Boston’s Quincy Market, also designed at least seven lighthouses in Maine, including Mount Desert Rock and Monhegan Island. Castle Hill Light in Newport, Rhode Island, is attributed to H. H. Richardson, famous for Trinity Church in Boston.

The offshore Cleveland East Ledge Light in Buzzards Bay is New England’s only Art Moderne lighthouse, and the last built here (1943). But the oddest? South Portland, Maine’s 13-foot-tall Breakwater (“Bug”) Light is modeled on the fourth-century b.c. Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, complete with fluted columns.

Lighthouses were of little use for navigation unless a ship could tell one from another. To set them apart, some were made to blink, others had red lights instead of white, and some had two beams instead of one. There was also one triple light: the original Nauset Light, also called Three Sisters, on Cape Cod. These three identical shingled lighthouses were ultimately deactivated–and moved away. Where are they now? In the last place you’d expect: tucked into a clearing in the Eastham woods, along a marked path called Cable Road, about a third of a mile from the water.

The keepers of York, Maine’s Boon Island Light often saw the ghost of a sad-faced young woman in white, said to have been either the mistress of the captain of the Nottingham Galley, wrecked in 1710, or the widow of a keeper who died at the lighthouse.

Keepers assigned to Sankaty Head Light on Nantucket’s east coast reported strange events, too, including pots and pans that flew around the kitchen. At Minot’s Ledge Light, located on the storm- and shipwreck-prone Cohasset Rocks of Massachusetts Bay, off Scituate, keepers saw doors open and close by themselves, and heard a tapping on the walls: a signal system once used by Joseph Antoine and Joseph Wilson, assistant keepers killed when the first lighthouse, a spider-like cast-iron tower on piles, was demolished in a storm in 1851. (It was replaced by a sturdy granite-block tower, which took five years to build atop the submerged ledge, but has endured since 1860. )

Keepers at New London Ledge Light in Connecticut swore that the steel door of the tower, which was bolted from the inside, used to open by itself. That’s the door from which keeper John “Ernie” Randolph, in 1936, is said to have jumped to his death after cutting his own throat when he learned his wife had run off with a Block Island ferry captain.

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

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4 Responses to New England Lighthouses | A Lighthouse Life List

  1. T. Rodrigues July 2, 2009 at 3:12 pm #

    Just finished reading this article in the print version of Yankee – we are amazed (and disappointed) that Pemaquid Point Lighthouse was not listed. It’s simply the best lighthouse – and grounds – imaginable. Just take a look at the Maine State Quarter!

  2. Jackie Normile July 28, 2009 at 8:58 am #

    I consider it a great day-if I am not working, the sun is out & I find myself at a lighthouse near to sunset…Yesterday it was Nobska and recently Chatham. Pemaquid is a wonderful lighthouse-both from the water and land. New England has so many that you can see, and some that should be more accessible.

  3. Greg Rogow August 30, 2009 at 8:54 am #

    Thank you , I really enjoyed your article. I have had the opportunity to photograph eighteen of the lights mentioned and hope to eventually shoot the rest.

    Another light worth mentioning is Scituate Light. The first keeper was Simeon Bates, who stayed at the station until his death in 1834. Bates and his wife, Rachel, had nine children, including two daughters, Rebecca and Abigail. These two sisters would become heroic figures in the history of American lighthouses.

    During the War of 1812, British warships frequently raided New England coastal towns. On June 11, 1814, British forces plundered and burned a number of vessels at Scituate. Keeper Bates fired two shots from a small cannon, angering the captain of a British warship as it departed.

    Less than three months later, Keeper Bates and most of his family were away, leaving 21-year-old Rebecca and 15-year-old (or, according to some accounts, 17-year-old) Abigail in charge. The sisters were horrified to see a British warship anchored in the harbor. They proceded to play a fife and drum while out of sight of the warship. The British thought the sound of the fife and drum signaled the approach of the Scituate town militia, and they hastily retreated.

    This is another of many interesting stories associated with New England lighthouses

  4. jacki wilmot April 15, 2010 at 4:22 pm #

    what facinating stories and a part of NE I haven’t had the opportunity of exploring yet. thank you. We should all make a point of learning about these famous lighthouses.

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