Clark's Point is the southernmost extension of the city of New Bedford, in Buzzards Bay on the west side of the entrance to the Acushnet River and New Bedford Harbor. The area's fledgling whaling industry flourished in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, making New Bedford one of the richest cities in the world. Clark's Point was an ideal location for a navigational aid to help mariners heading to New Bedford. Local merchants erected the first wooden lighthouse on the point in 1797.
Daniel Ricketson described the building of the lighthouse in his 1858 book, The History of New Bedford: “A wooden lighthouse was built at Clark’s Point, at the raising of which, to induce the people to assist, and for the sake of a general jollification at so important an event, a hundred gallon try-pot of chowder, with other entertainment, was prepared. Much to the credit of the sobriety of our predecessors, no one became intoxicated on this occasion."
Little is known of the structure, which burned down
about a year later. Ricketson wrote that the fire took place during a
thunderstorm and was probably the result of the tower being hit by
lightning, or possibly a seabird crashing through the lantern glass and
upsetting the lamps. The lighthouse was promptly rebuilt, financed by
local merchants and mariners.
The Columbian Courier of October 16, 1799, reported that the lighthouse had been completed and lighted for the first time on October 12. A bill was passed in the spring of 1800, stating that stated that the lighthouse would thereafter be supported at the expense of the United States. Another fire, apparently caused by lightning, destroyed the tower on August 5, 1803. It took until the following March for Congress to appropriate $2,500 for yet another rebuilding.
An octagonal rubblestone tower, 38 feet tall, was completed in 1804. The lighthouse underwent extensive renovations in 1818, including an increase of 4 feet in height and the installation of a new octagonal iron lantern. A fixed light was exhibited, 52 feet above the sea.
U.S. Navy Lieutenant Lt. Edward W. Carpender inspected the lighthouse in 1838. He noted that a dwelling was not provided for the keeper, who lived in his own house. Carpender believed the lighthouse would have been of greater service to navigation if it had been erected about 150 yards farther to the south, on the southwestern point of Egg Island Shoal. He also felt that the ten oil lamps in the lighthouse could be judiciously reduced to six.
Edward W. Howland became keeper in early 1835, replacing his father, Captain Capt. Cornelius Howland, who had recently died at 77. The elder Howland was born in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, and was master of a vessel by the age of 18. He was taken prisoner during the Revolution and survived 15 months of captivity in Edinburgh Castle. Howland had some gold hidden away while he was held prisoner, and he used it to bribe a cleaning woman. Disguised in one of the woman’s dresses, Howland escaped and boarded a vessel bound for Holland.
After more adventures, Captain. Howland settled down on a farm at Clark’s Point, and eventually received the lighthouse keeping appointment. Daniel Ricketson remembered him as a “fresh, healthy-looking man” in his old age, who “well represented the old school of the primitive Dartmouth Friends [Quakers].”
Henry Smith, who became keeper in 1843, was a woodcarver of figureheads for New Bedford’s whaling fleet. An 1851 report described the station under Smith: “Everything clean; cast-iron floor to lantern.”
In 1851, a new cast iron deck was added, and new lamps and reflectors were installed. The tower still had its 1818 lantern -- the last remaining "old-style lantern" in the district, according to the Lighthouse Board -- a dozen years later, but the lantern and lighting apparatus were replaced in 1865.
In 1857, a new fort began to take shape next to the lighthouse. Cannons were in place and the fort's granite walls were largely complete by 1863, but the fort was considered obsolete after the Civil War and its planned three tiers were never finished. The fort was known as Fort Taber in honor of the city's mayor in the early 1860s Isaac C. Taber; it was officially renamed Fort Rodman in 1898. Most local residents still know it as Fort Taber.
The high walls of the fort eventually blocked the view of the light. In 1869, a rectangular wooden tower was erected on the northerly tower of the fort. The lantern from the old stone tower was relocated to the new structure, and the new light went into service on June 15, 1869. In its new position, the light was 68 feet above the sea. The old stone tower remained standing until 1906, when it was demolished.
In this circa 1900 photo, the old tower can be seen to the right and the 1869 lighthouse can be seen on the fort.
Keepers: (This list is a work in progress. If you have any information on the keepers of this lighthouse, I'd love to hear from you. You can email me at email@example.com. Anyone copying this list onto another web site does so at their own risk, as the list is always subject to updates and corrections.)
Cornelius Howland (?-1835), Edward W. Howland (1835-43), Henry Smith (1843-?), Amos C. Baker Jr. (1879-1898)