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 Newburyport Harbor Range Front, MA    
Description: In the small town of Newburyport, Massachusetts a once-in-a-lifetime experience awaits those who are willing to donate $350 to support lighthouse preservation efforts. With advance reservations, two to four persons may enjoy six hours of marvelous views from the lantern room of the Newburyport Harbor Rear Range Light along with fine dining catered by their choice of five local restaurants (food and drinks are extra). One should be aware that negotiating steep steps and a metal-rung ladder is required to reach the unique dining room.

Heightened Newburyport Harbor Front Range Light
Photograph courtesy Jay Hyland
Despite Newburyport’s size, it played a significant role in the Triangle Trade by distilling molasses from Guadeloupe and the West Indies into rum. Newburyport’s shipyard prospered and supported an impressive whaling, fishing, and trading fleet.

Fires were routinely set on the beach at Plum Island to guide mariners to the mouth of the Merrimack River until the Marine Society of Newburyport erected two day beacons in 1783 and employed men to hoist lanterns atop them at night. The construction of two formal lighthouses on the island in 1788 proved even more beneficial for mariners wishing to enter the Merrimack River, but it was obvious that another set of range lights was needed to help mariners navigate roughly two miles up the river to reach the town.

Range lights, also known as leading lights, are typically a pair of lights displayed at different heights and located far enough apart to enable mariners to line one above the other to indicate the center of a channel. Normally, the front light is shorter than the back or rear light.

For several years a pair of range lights in Newburyport Harbor was maintained by private subscriptions. In 1871, the citizens of Newburyport petitioned the Government to take charge of these lights, and the following year negotiations were underway to obtain titles to the range light sites so that new towers could be erected. On June 10, 1872, Congress appropriated $10,000 “for re-establishing and setting up two small beacon lights in harbor of Newburyport, the site of one of which has been washed away by a storm.”

The construction of the present Newburyport Harbor Range Lights is detailed in Lighthouse Board records:

Two range lights to guide up the River Merrimack to the city of Newburyport have been established in the same position as the private lights before maintained by subscription, and were lighted June 1, 1873. The front light is an iron tower, conical in form, 14 feet 6 inches high, located on Bayley’s new wharf, and the focal plane is 25 feet above the sea. The rear light is about 350 feet W. ˝ S. from the front light, on a brick tower, pyramidal in form, 32 feet high, and the focal plane is 47 feet above the sea.

Local caretakers were initially responsible for the lights. The first keeper of the Newburyport Harbor Range Lights was George Stickney, who started at an annual salary of $250 and served until 1886. Keepers at the nearby Plum Island Lights later assumed responsibility for the harbor range lights.

The History Channel at Newburyport Harbor Front Range Light
Photograph courtesy Jay Hyland
The height of the beacon in the Front Range Light was increased when the original lantern room was removed and a wooden, shingle-covered, twenty-foot tower was placed on top of the fifteen-foot iron tower. Located several feet inland from the Front Range Light, the Rear Range Light is a brick structure that sits on a beveled stone foundation. The rear tower was extended to its current height of fifty-three feet in 1901. The upper third of the river-facing side of the rear tower was painted white to serve as a daymark.

In 1961, both range lights were decommissioned. Not long after, the Rear Range Light was sold to a private party, while the Front Range Light was relocated to the nearby Merrimack River Coast Guard Station. The Front Range Light suffered severe fire damage in the 1990s and has subsequently been restored to its original form with a replica lantern room placed on top of its base.

Newburyport is called the “Birthplace of the U.S. Coast Guard” by some, as the U.S. Revenue Cutter Massachusetts, the first cutter commissioned by the Federal Government, was built in Newburyport in 1791. The Revenue Cutter Service was merged with the Lifesaving Service in 1915 to form the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Lighthouse Service was brought under control of the Coast Guard in 1939.

The Lighthouse Preservation Society is raising money to create a national memorial to commemorate Newburyport's connection with the U.S. Coast Guard. The memorial will include a museum in the Newburyport Harbor Front Range Light along with a monument entitled “First Guardians,” that will feature a uniformed representative of the Revenue Cutter Service, the Lifesaving Service, and the Lighthouse Service.

Diners who enjoy a meal atop the Newburyport Harbor Rear Range Lighthouse help support the efforts of The Lighthouse Preservation Society to maintain the Newburyport Range Lights and create the memorial. The elevated dining room is reportedly quite popular and has raised over $100,000 for the society.

In 2009, the rear range tower received a new exterior paint job and a complete interior makeover of the lantern room under the direction of local interior decorator and textile designer, Bridgette Newfell. In addition, a powerful new heat pump was installed, which will allow the dining opportunity to be offered year-round.

References

  1. The Lighthouses of New England, Edward Rowe Snow, 2005.
  2. The Lighthouses of Massachusetts, Jeremy D'Entremont, 2007.
  3. Annual Report of the Light House Board, various years.
  4. "Top Romantic Valentine’s Day Gift Concept: Dining at the Top of a Lighthouse," The Lighthouse Preservation Society, February, 2009.

Location: Located on the grounds of the Merrimack River Coast Guard Station along the waterfront in Newburyport.
Latitude: 42.81151
Longitude: -70.86484

For a larger map of Newburyport Harbor Range Front Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: From I-95 west of Newburyport, take Exit 57 and travel east on Route 113. After crossing Route 1, turn left onto Fruit Street and follow it until it ends at Water Street. Fruit Street will become Fair Street along the way. Turn right on Water Street, and then left at the Newburyport Harbor Rear Range Light. The front range light, located on the grounds of a Coast Guard station, can be seen through a fence from the parking lot north of the rear range light.

The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds/tower closed.

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