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Annisquam, MA  Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.Lighthouse appeared in movie.   

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Annisquam Lighthouse

Annisquam Harbor Lighthouse, with its forty-one-foot-tall white tower and black lantern room, is the quintessential image of a New England lighthouse. And as such, the lighthouse has been featured in films such as “The Women” (2008), wherein it serves as a location on the Maine coastline.

Second Annisquam Lighthouse with old-style lantern room
Photograph courtesy National Archives
The lighthouse and its keeper were even featured in an insurance ad in the April 20, 1957, issue of Time Magazine, accompanied by the following text:
Many folks think a lighthouse keeper is not interested in people on shore…let alone automobiles, traffic jams and accidents.

I hate to shatter popular beliefs, but…most lighthouse keepers do keep cars to get around in off-hours. Like any driver, they need sound auto insurance.

Ask my family. We were out driving recently when a pedestrian stepped in our path. I spotted him and swerved…right into a tree. Mrs. Pittsley, our daughter and I all received injuries. I certainly was glad we had Hardware Mutuals medical payments protection. We especially appreciated the personal interest the Hardware Mutuals claims man took in the case. He made sure we had a prompt settlement.

I know now why my Hardware Mutuals representative took the time to plan complete auto insurance for us. We’ve got exactly the protection we need…and that suits us fine.

The caption beneath an image of the lighthouse and keeper reads, “Claim paid to Roy S. Pittsley, E.N.C., Annisquam Harbor Light Station, Gloucester, Mass., Hardware Mutuals File No. 1-5A13872.”

Annisquam Lighthouse is situated on the Annisquam River, which is in fact an estuary that connects Ipswich Bay to Gloucester Harbor. In 1631, the village of Annisquam was founded on the eastern side of the northern end of the river. The village grew into a fishing and shipbuilding center that during its heyday rivaled Gloucester. For ships traveling the coast, the river was considered an important refuge.

The lighthouse got its start with an April 29, 1800 act of Congress that authorized the erection of a light on Wigwam Point in Annisquam. The act also provided for the appointment of a keeper and other support of such lighthouse at the expense of the United States, provided that sufficient land for the lighthouse be granted to the United States. That land was to come from Gustavus Griffin, who deeded six-and-one-half acres on October 26, 1800, for which the U.S. Government paid him $140. The area was known as Wigwam Point, because it was historically a summer gathering place for Native Americans. Annisquam is a combination of the local Native Indian name for a harbor, “squam”, and “Ann” from Cape Ann, after Queen Anne of England. Originally, it was frequently written as “Anesquam.”

Second Lighthouse with improved lantern room
Photograph courtesy Cape Ann Museum
In 1801, $2,000 was spent for the construction of the original thirty-two-foot wooden lighthouse, which displayed a fixed white light forty feet above the water. A two-room keeper’s dwelling was erected near the tower. The light’s first keeper was James Day, a Gloucester native, who was provided an annual salary of $200. George Day helped is father mind the light, and when James Day became seriously ill in 1805, George was made the official keeper.

An article published in the Boston Post during the early years of the light provides insight into the life of Keeper James Day and his family. The article, quoted in The Lighthouses of New England, states:

A large milk pan, an iron pot, and a dozen wooden spoons made up the greater part of their housekeeping articles; and their livestock consisted of a cow. It was their custom, while boiling their hominy for supper, to milk the cow into the pan, and after turning in the hominy and placing it on the floor, to gather around with their wooden spoons, and all help themselves from the same dish. On one of these occasions, old parson F., their minister happened to be paying them a parochial visit; and one of the boys, being a bit crowded, thought he could better his position by changing it to the opposite side of the dish. In attempting to do this, by stepping across, he accidently put his dirty foot square onto the milk and hominy, and before he could take it out again the rest had revenged themselves for the interruption by rapping him smartly on his bare leg with their wooden spoons, and without taking any further notice of the affair, went on eating as before…

When Civil Engineer I.W.P. Lewis made an 1842 inspection trip to the light, seventy-two-year-old George Day was still keeper. His salary had been increased to $350 annually, but the light was in such appalling condition that Day worried it would fall down around him. Prompted by Lewis, Day wrote the following to be included in an 1843 report to Congress.

…The frame of the tower is rotted in all its parts, and has been shored up with spars for about twenty years. In gales, the tower is so shaken as to be very unsafe, and I hardly know what has kept it standing. Two years ago the bridge or walk leading from the house to the tower was swept away by a heavy sea only a few minutes after I crossed it. In the winter ice collects on the stairs so as to render passage up and down very dangerous. I expect every storm that comes the tower will be destroyed.

Day described the dwelling as “leaky and rotten and quite as bad as the lighthouse,” and he had actually repaired the roof himself on several occasions. Lewis agreed with Day’s assessment that the “whole establishment is in a very dilapidated and ruinous state” and recommended that it be “rebuilt entirely.” In Lewis’ words, the lighting apparatus was “rude and ill-conceived,” and he called for the six existing lights to be reduced to one light “of proper form.”

Despite the horrendous state of the lighthouse and keepers house, it took the U.S. Government another eight years to rebuild the lighthouse — following Day’s departure by mere months. William Dade took over in 1850, and by 1851 a new, white, octagonal forty-foot tower was in place, and the keepers dwelling was repaired.

In 1857, Annisquam Lighthouse received a fifth-order Fresnel lens rotated by a clockwork mechanism. A 109-foot-long covered walkway from the dwelling to the tower was built in 1867.

View of station from the sea
Photograph courtesy National Archives
From 1872-1894, Dennison Hooper was keeper at Annisquam. In 1879, his son Edward was born there. Later Edward was to write to historian Edward Rowe Snow about his years at the light, including a tale about two shipwrecks and a rescue attempt on September 26, 1888.

The two-masted schooner I.W. Hine ran aground on Coffin’s Beach. Luckily, the crew was able to make it to shore and to refloat the schooner. However, events did not go as well for the three-masted schooner the Abbie B. Cramer carrying coal out of Baltimore bound for Portsmouth, New Hampshire. After it wrecked on Coffin’s Beach, the ship’s crew was forced to cling to the rigging for the entire day praying for help.

The crew of the Davis Neck Lifesaving Station arrived and repeatedly tried in vain to land a line for a breeches buoy. A group of volunteers from the Massachusetts Humane Society was mustered to launch a boat long kept for this purpose from the lighthouse. First they had to row the boat across the river to the west side. From there they had to carry the boat two miles to the beach near the wreck. Somehow after they launched the boat again, they managed to save the entire crew. However, the Cramer was a complete loss, and Hooper recalled seeing parts of the ship sticking from the sand at low tide for years.

In a letter to the Coast Guard, Edward Hooper reminisced about life at Annisquam and the annual supply ship visits carrying kerosene in five-gallon cans covered with wood and a barrel of lime to be made into the tower’s whitewash.

At the station, Keeper Hooper kept several cows for milk to sell in the village. Sometimes at low tide the cows would wander off and it was Edward’s job to round them up. Dennison Hooper connected a well dug by the Day family to the house and added a pump, while another small well provided water for the cows. The family also had a large garden and grapevines. Later they would rent a neighboring plot to increase the garden’s size and add chickens.

In 1897, the present tower and attached workroom were built on the stone foundations of the previous lighthouse, replacing the original wooden construction with brick. A covered walkway still linked the new lighthouse to the dwelling, but by 1944 a simple walkway was in place. Extensive repairs and improvements were also made to the dwelling, including its entire interior arrangement.

John Davis and his wife Ida (Birch) witnessed many changes during their time at the lighthouse which began in 1894 and lasted more than thirty-five years. In 1907, the light-station was connected with the city water supply and telephone service; and in 1922, the lighthouse received a more powerful fourth-order Fresnel lens.

Aerial view of station in 1956
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
A fog horn was established in 1931, but within a year it was decided that it should only operate from October 15-May 15, so as not to disturb the peace of the wealthy summer residents. By 1949, the foghorn was put back into use during the summertime, but only during daylight hours.

Keeper Davis’ career was almost cut short in May 1895, when he set off in a thirteen-foot dory to collect some driftwood from the bay that a recent storm had left there. Though White caps dotted the sea, Davis remained sure of his skill with the oars and ignored the pleas of his wife and children to remain on shore. With babe in arms, Mrs. Davis anxiously watched her husband’s progress and was horrified when she saw his boat enter the trough of a large wave and capsize.

While the keeper struggled to keep a grip on his overturned boat, his wife dispatched her oldest son to the lifesaving station and then headed off for the village over a mile away. She quickly found two fishermen, who immediately launched their boat and headed out to into the bay. By the time the men reached the keeper, Davis had been in the water for over half an hour and had lost all his strength. The task of getting the benumbed keeper into the rocking boat was thus left up to the two fishermen, who finally succeeded with the help of a favorable wave.

The lifesaving crew, who had arrived on scene just as the fishermen saved Davis, took the keeper aboard their boat and headed for the lighthouse. Davis lost consciousness shortly after being rescued, and the lifesavers spent the next several hours working on him under the direction of a doctor until he came to. Had it not been for his watchful wife, Keeper Davis would have perished in the waters off his lighthouse.

Annisquam lighthouse was completely automated in 1974, and the last keeper relieved of duty. However, the Coast Guard retained the building and surrounding 1.3 acres to house a Coast Guard family. When the Coast Guard deactivated the foghorn as part of the automation, a hue and cry rose up from local fishermen demanding it be turned back on. Several thousand people signed a petition calling for its return, and in 1975, a switch for the foghorn, which was operated by a sensor, was installed in the local police station.

By the end of the twentieth century, the lighthouse tower appeared to be in good condition, but a close inspection found that serious problems once again existed. Despite the tower having been well-built, exposure to the salt air had caused metal beams, installed to support a landing beneath the lantern room, to rust. Roughly 3,000 bricks, old glass block windows, and the rusted beams were replaced, along with the roof of the 1801 keeper’s house. The repairs were concluded in August 2000.

Head Keepers: James Day (1801 – 1805), George Day (1805 – 1850), William Dade (1850 – 1853), Dominicus Pool (1853 – 1861), Nathaniel Parsons (1861 – 1866), Octavius Phipps (1866 – 1871), Mary Phipps (1871), Arthur G. Moore (1871 – 1872), Dennison Hooper (1872 – 1894), John W. Davis (1894 – at least 1930), Thomas C. Carew (1931 – at least 1935), Per F. Tornberg (1936 – at least 1944), Francis R. Macy (at least 1946 – at least 1948), Howard A. Ball (at least 1951 – at least 1953), William C. Dawe (at least 1955), Roy S. Pittsley (at least 1955 – 1965), Armand E. Houde (1965 – 1967), James Deo (1972 – 1974).

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3


  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. :History of Annisquam Harbor Light Station, Massachusetts,” Eldridge, United States Coast Guard Historical Section, (1951 October).
  5. “Lighthouse, camera, action,” Gloucester Daily Times, Kristen Grieco. October 9, 2007.
  6. “Vintage ad is vital to lighthouse history,” Timothy Harrison, Lighthouse Digest, February 2005.
  7. “Salute to the Coast Guard: Annisquam Light Back in Shape,” Jeremy D’Entremont, Lighthouse Digest, September 2000.

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