New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide
Eastern Point Light
Gloucester, Massachusetts
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History
Jeremy D'Entremont, all rights reserved. Do not reproduce any part of this website without permission of the author.

Out of the salt dust, out of the narrow scorching streets, by the fishflakes and the fish teams, past the rude roads whose boulders seem to have been 'spatted' down by the whimsical street commissioner Time, we came upon the fairest face of all the New England coast - the Eastern side of Gloucester Harbor... It would be hard to find a lovelier bit of coast survey anywhere in the world.

- Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Chapters from a Life, 1896.

Eastern Point, at the entrance to Gloucester Harbor, has been home to farms, a quarry, a Civil War fort, a number of summer residences and the Eastern Point Yacht Club. One of the most famous locations at Eastern Point is Beauport, a sprawling 40-room mansion that is now open as a museum. Among the visitors entertained at Beauport were Henry James, Amy Lowell, Booth Tarkington, Noel Coward and Eleanor Roosevelt.


The 1848 lighthouse

It appears that there were trees that served as a landmark at Eastern Point. In 1829 the Boston Marine Society stated:

That it is the opinion of this Society, that the erection of a monument, on Eastern Point Cape Ann, would be highly useful to navigation in Boston Bay -- the old Land marks of Trees being nearly decayed & gone...

Apparently a day marker was placed at Eastern Point before the end of 1829. A stone lighthouse, 30 feet high, was erected at a cost of $2,450 to help fishermen and others entering Gloucester Harbor. It was first lighted on January 1, 1832. The new lighthouse's ten lamps showed a fixed white light and were fueled by whale oil. The first keeper was Samuel Wonson, hired at $400 yearly.

According to some accounts, the 1832 lighthouse was merely an adaptation of the earlier day beacon. The lantern was not well attached and shook so hard in storms that the glass would break.

An 1843 inspection found Eastern Point Light decayed, leaky and in need of rebuilding. The inspector, I.W.P. Lewis, recognized the importance of the location, saying:

This harbor is a favorite resort of the mackerel fishermen, and other small craft; two hundred sail often run in there, in the course of a few hours, to escape the approach of a gale. There is also a considerable amount of tonnage owned at this place, employed in foreign voyages.

With the arrival of the railroad in Gloucester in 1847 the fishing business exploded into one of the world's largest, and Eastern Point Light assumed new importance.

Engraving of Eastern Point Light in the 1870s.
From the collection of Edward Rowe Snow, courtesy of Dorothy Bicknell

A new 34-foot lighthouse was built in 1848. The contractor hired for the job was Winslow Lewis, who had built many of the nation's lighthouses and had designed the lighting apparatus used in most. Lewis was 78 years old when he built the new Eastern Point Light.

The second Eastern Point Light became known as the "ruby light." It exhibited a fixed red light, produced by French red plate glass surrounding 11 whale oil lamps and reflectors. In 1857 a fourth order Fresnel lens was installed, increasing the visibility of the light from 11 miles to 13 miles. The same year a fog bell operated by hand-wound machinery was also installed. The fog bell tower was destroyed by a storm in September 1869 but was soon rebuilt.

In 1882, the characteristic of Eastern Point Light was changed from fixed to flashing red. Its revolving light was turned by a clockwork mechanism that had to be periodically wound by the keeper.

A whistling buoy was installed near Eastern Point in 1883 to provide additional warning and guidance to the harbor. Some of the summer residents objected to their summer quietude being shattered.


The second Eastern Point Light (From the collection of Edward Rowe Snow

Because of the complaints of Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, a well-known local writer who claimed she suffered from a "nervous ailment," the United States Secretary of the Navy ordered the buoy removed from May to October. Later Ms. Phelps was married to the Reverend Herbert Ward and the Boston Record reported, "Since her marriage Mrs. Ward is much better, and the officer who had to remove the buoy has put it back with the assurance that next summer he will have no orders to disturb it."

The third and present Eastern Point Light was built in 1890 on the old foundation of the 1832 tower. The 36-foot brick lighthouse was attached to the keeper's house by a covered walkway.

Telephone lines reached Eastern Point Light Station in 1896, and the station received electricity in the following year. In 1901, the city water supply was extended to the station. A 4,000 pound steam-driven fog bell was put into operation in January 1907.

New Hampshire had (until May 2003) its Old Man of the Mountain, and Eastern Point has "Mother Ann." The shape of a reclining woman can supposedly be seen from certain angles in the rocks next to the lighthouse. The whistling buoy offshore is sometimes called "Mother Ann's Cow."

Mother Ann
breakwater

The two-story duplex house that still stands at the station was built in 1879. The oil house survives from 1894. The garage and fog signal building are much more recent, built in 1947 and 1951, respectively.

The 2,250-foot breakwater in front of the lighthouse was built for $300,000 between 1894 and 1905.

At the end of this breakwater is another light, Gloucester Breakwater Light, established to mark dangerous Dog Bar Reef.

The keeper of Eastern Point Light also had the duty of keeping this light, a dangerous task when ice covered the stone breakwater. The breakwater today is a favorite spot for walking and fishing. At times bluefish are plentiful at this spot.

A severe storm in March 1931 dislodged blocks from the breakwater and severed the cable to the Gloucester Breakwater Light and fog signal. The outer section of the boat slip was also washed away in the gale.

The great blizzard of February 6 and 7, 1978, again brought the seas crashing against the buildings at Eastern Point Light. Great damage was done to several buildings and to much of the station's machinery. The garage was nearly destroyed.

Michael Mone was the Coast Guard keeper in the early 1980s. He and his wife Sheila loved the station, but it wasn't always peaceful. "Anything can happen," Mone told Woman's World magazine. "Sometimes we have to retrieve boats that have been torn from their moorings and return them to their owners. Or we might help the Coast Guard patrol boat locate an overdue fishing vessel." Mone described one night when the seas were so high a vessel was actually driven over the 35-foot high breakwater. The Mones' four-year-old son Timothy said, "This place is swell, but sometimes it gets spooky."

breakwater light

Gloucester Breakwater Light

The last Coast Guard keeper at Eastern Point was Chris Benton, who moved to the station in 1983 with his wife, Lee. Sharing the solitude of lighthouse life with the Bentons were their dog, Jib, a cockatoo named Sinbad, and their cats Katie and Sarah.

Eastern Point Light was automated in September 1985. About 20 neighbors attended the automation ceremony. The great-great-great grandson of the first keeper, local resident Carroll Wonson, was given the honor of being the last person to manually turn on the light. Cape Ann historian Joseph Garland said, "It's really one of the great lighthouses on the coast. This light's guided a hell of a lot of vessels in."

The Coast Guard has retained the station for housing, and they made some repairs to the station in 1993. Two familes of men stationed at Coast Guard Station Gloucester live in the duplex house.

fog bell at light station

This bell is on the grounds at Eastern Point Light Station

Eastern Point Light remains an active aid to navigation, displaying a white flash every five seconds. There's a parking lot at the station, but the grounds are closed to the public. You can walk on the breakwater for excellent views of the lighthouse.

You can read much more about this lighthouse in the book The Lighthouses of Massachusetts by Jeremy D'Entremont.


In June 2000 I received the following note from Mandy Wonson, a descendant of Eastern Point Light's first keeper, Samuel Wonson:

My grandparents, Carroll and Audrey Wonson, lived on Eastern Point for many years. I have many happy memories of family walks out to the lighthouse in all kinds of weather. Back in those days, walking the full breakwater seemed like an enormous undertaking, but one of my favorite memories is of a stormy walk when everyone was soaked by a wave crashing over the breakwater -- everyone except my grandfather, who crouched behind the crowd of his children and grandchildren and remained completely dry!


In October 2004 the following was entered in the guestbook on this site:

I was the lighthouse keeper's wife at Eastern Point Light from February 1983 through August 1984. My ex-husband was Boatswain's Mate 1st Class Rick O'Rourke. My memories of life at the light are wonderful: the exciting winter storms with waves wildly crashing over the breakwater; the trail of fishing boats leaving the harbor every dawn; the artists from the Rocky Neck Artist Colony painting scenes of the lighthouse on warm summer days; welcoming visitors from around the world into our home for a tour of the lighthouse; collecting stray lobster buoys that washed ashore after a storm; eating lobster that my husband caught in his traps; listening to the fog bell moaning on foggy nights; and more and more and more. What a life experience! We loved it!

- Christine (O'Rourke) Plattner


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 nelights@gmail.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.)

Samuel Wonson (1832-?); James Rowe (c. 1849-1850s); Samuel G. Norwood (1853-1854 and 1860-1861); Benjamin Cross (1851-1855); Aug. A. Russell (assistant, 1854); Robert Peel, Jr. (1858-1860); Osmond Cross (assistant, 1865); Thomas Burgess (assistant 1865-1867); Charles R, Ryan (assistant, 1865); Fitz (?) U. B. Hinckley (1866); William Gray (1866-1867); Samuel A. Green (1867); Henry Woodbury (1867-1872); Charles Friend (1872-1882); George G. Bailey (1882-1892); George E. Bailey (1892-1926): George W. Bailey (first assistant, 1901); Leroy E. Wheeler (first assistant, 1902-?); Rolland G. Ryder (first assistant, 1904); George T. Gustavus (assistant, c. 1916-1919); Gilbert Hay (c. 1931); Francis Macy (assistant, c. 1931-1941); Carl Delano Hill (c. 1940s); Kendrick Capon (Coast Guard, early 1950s); Charles S. Martin (1953-1954); Irving Sparrow (c. 1953-1954); Andrew M. McLaughlin (Coast Guard, Second Class Engineman, July 1956 - Sept. 1957); Richard Arnold (Coast Guard, First Class Boatswain Mate, c. 1956-1957); Robert Foley (Coast Guard, c. 1969-1974); Lon D. Reed (Coast Guard officer in charge June 1974 - June 1977); Ansel B. Crombleholme (Coast Guard engineer, c. 1974-1977); Richard "Gary" Craig (Coast Guard, 1976-1977); Michael Mone (Coast Guard, early 1980s); BM1 Rick O'Rourke (Feb. 1983-Aug. 1984); Chris Benton (Coast Guard, 1983-1985)

Last updated 12/28/11
Jeremy D'Entremont, all rights reserved. Do not reproduce any part of this website without permission of the author.

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