|Straitsmouth Island, MA|
Description: After the U.S. Coast Guard handed over the keys and deed to the Straitsmouth Light Station and its 1.8 acres to the town of Rockport’s selectmen on July 16, 2010, a celebration was held to commemorate the transfer. Thacher Island Town Committee will manage the light, and the Thacher Island Association will raise funds for its maintenance. Should the association be unable to raise sufficient money, the light station, which has guided vessels to Pigeon Cove for close to 175 years, would revert to the Coast Guard.
Thacher Island Twin Lights were previously deeded to Rockport, and the Thacher Island Town Committee and the Thacher Island Association are responsible for that light station’s management and care as well.
Had all the necessary conditions not been met, the GSA would have made Straitsmouth Light, which remains an active solar-powered, navigational guide, available at public auction. The rest of Straitsmouth Island, where Straitsmouth Light is situated, is owned by the Massachusetts Audubon Society and used as a bird sanctuary. Straitsmouth Island, along with Thacher and Milk islands, were originally dubbed the “Three Turks’ Heads” by Captain John Smith, who visited the area in 1614 and is reputed to have cut off the heads of three Turks at the siege of Caniza. In honor of Smith’s part in the siege, Prince Sigimundus of Transylvania, granted approval to symbolize the three Turks in Smith’s coat of arms.
Straitsmouth Island received its current name sometime before 1699, when the island was granted by the General Court to Captain James Davis, because he had “been at much charge and expense in the late wars with the French and Indian enemy, and spent much time in said service.” The island’s value was 225 pounds in the devalued currency of 1732.
In the 1820s, the addition of Rockport’s growing granite trade to its already thriving fishing business conclusively proved that a lighthouse was necessary to guide ships to the Pigeon Cove pier where the stone was loaded, and Straitsmouth Island was deemed the ideal location on Sandy Bay’s northeastern end.
On June 30, 1834, $5,000 was appropriated, of which $4.091.29 was spent to construct the lighthouse, a nineteen-foot brick tower, and an associated brick keeper’s dwelling. When Benjamin W. Andrews took over as keeper at the end of 1835, he was granted exemption from jury and military duty by an Act on April 8, 1835, by Massachusetts Commissioners. Andrews died on the island in 1840, at the eight of fifty-eight, and was replaced on July 1, 1841, by John Davis, whose annual salary was $350 at the time of his appointment.
By the time I.W.P. Lewis inspected the light station in 1842, it was showing unmistakable signs of poor construction. Davis had taken some steps though to make the house “tight and comfortable.” He had torn apart the leaky, useless brick cistern and paved the cellar floor with the bricks. The tower was “laid up in bad lime mortar,” its woodwork was rotten, and it was very leaky. Although there were six lamps with 13.5-inch reflectors, four were “out of plumb.” Incredibly, one was pointed at the lantern’s door and had “burned for six years without the possibility of being seen.”
Keeper Davis suggested in a letter written in April 1843, that the light should be moved eighty-seven yards from its present location. That would put the tower farther from the dwelling, but “that circumstance ought not to be thought of for a moment, when the property and lives of our seafaring brethren are in jeopardy.”
In 1843, the local superintendent branded the lighthouse “a miserable brick tower.” He had praise for Davis, though as “an excellent, attentive man, and careful of everything.” The superintendent recommended that boat ways be added as the station was difficult to reach in heavy seas.
It would take more than seven years before a replacement light was constructed. An inspection report from 1850 noted that one was soon planned to replace the still leaky tower.
In 1851, construction began on the new lighthouse on the island’s northeastern tip, as originally conceived. The new twenty-four-foot-tall, octagonal stone tower would receive a sixth-order Fresnel lens in 1857. The keeper, however, remained housed in the original, leaky dwelling until 1878, when a new six-room, 1.5-story, wood frame house was completed.
To reach the tower, the keeper walked along a raised wooden footbridge, which was rebuilt in 1894. Two years later the tower itself would require rebuilding. The new thirty-seven-foot, cylindrical brick tower was set atop the same foundation as the 1851 tower. During construction, the light shone from a temporary wooden skeleton tower.
In 1905, an oil house was erected to house the volatile kerosene oil then in use. The light was changed from a white to its present green characteristic (flashing every 6 seconds) in 1932. Also in the early 1930s, the light was automated, and a local man was granted a license to live in the keeper’s dwelling. Then in 1941, the island, except for 1.8 acres where the light station was located, was sold to Glenn Wilson, a New York resident, for $3,050. For a short time following WWII, a restaurant operated on the island.
Straitsmouth Island was later sold to William Francis Gibbs, and in 1960 his stepson, Adrian Larkin, was permitted to live in the keeper’s house if he didn’t disturb the seagulls or change the character of the structure. When Larkin moved in, all the windows were broken and “the seagulls were having babies in the bedrooms.” Larkin and visiting friends performed various repairs and added a flush toilet, shower, and generator. The island was donated to the Massachusetts Audubon Society following Gibbs death in 1967.
An electric foghorn was installed on the active tower in 1974, but the abandoned house was quickly deteriorating, sped along by vandalism. The “Perfect Storm” of October 1991 destroyed the entryway to the tower.
With the efforts of the Thacher Island Town Committee and the Thacher Island Association, Straitsmouth Island Lighthouse will certainly continue to receive periodic care. This is only fitting for a lighthouse owned by the Town of Rockport, which so reveres lighthouses that one features prominently on its town seal.
Located on Straitsmouth Island, just offshore from the northeastern end of Cape
Ann. The lighthouse is owned by the Town of Rockport, but the island is owned by the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the Town of Rockport, but the island is owned by the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, Louis Lafferty, used by permission.