Winter Island, now connected
to the mainland in Salem, has had a colorful history. It was
the site of eighteenth century Fort Pickering, much of which
still survives. The island's Execution Hill was the scene of
several hangings in the 1800. Winter Island also served as a militia training ground, and
in the late 1800s, an amusement park called Salem Willows grew
Fort Pickering Light was established in 1871, the same year
as Derby Wharf Light in Salem Harbor and Hospital Point Light
in nearby Beverly. For many years before, Baker's Island's twin
lights had served as the only guides to the harbor. With the
addition of the new lights, mariners would line up Fort Pickering
and Derby Wharf Lights after passing Baker's Island on their
way into Salem Harbor.
Drawing of Fort Pickering Light in
Fort Pickering Light circa late 1800s. U.S. Coast Guard.
The keeper's house at Fort Pickering
Light in the late 1800s
- U.S. Coast Guard photo
The lighthouse, built of iron lined with brick, exhibited
a flashing white light 28 feet above sea level. The lighthouse,
originally painted red, was built slightly offshore. A walkway
connected it to the shore.
John Harris, an Ipswich native and Civil War veteran, became
keeper in December 1882. On the occasion of his retirement in
1919, when he was 75 years old, it was reported that Harris had
been absent from the lighthouse for only five nights in 37 years.
He ventured only occasionally into the city, about two miles
away, for supplies.
Harris often rode his horse, which had reached the ripe old
age of 28 in 1919, into the city. Until his retirement, he never
saw the streets of Salem after dark, and he never rode in a car.
"It seems as though we have been out of the world for a
long time, " he said, "and it will take some time for
us to learn how to act among people." On the night he retired,
Harris attended his first motion picture.
A Coast Guard airplane hangar was erected on Winter Island
in 1934. The Coast Guardsmen lived temporarily in the lighthouse
keeper's house until new quarters could be built. In January
1934, a blizzard imprisoned 30 men in the house until a plow
could get through. Their heating fuel had just about run out
with temperatures dipping to 12 below zero. The lighthouse keeper's
house later became the officers' club for the Coast Guard's Air
Station Salem on Winter Island. In 1944, Air Station Salem was
officially designated the first Air-Sea Rescue station on the
You can read more about Air Station Salem on these
The Coast Guard left Winter Island in 1969, and at the same
time the lighthouse was replaced by an offshore buoy. With no
one watching out for it the old tower soon fell into disrepair.
The infamous Blizzard of 1978 took the door right off the tower
and it remained underwater for several years.
A group of concerned citizens and businesses formed the Fort
Pickering Light Association in the early 1980s. They fished the
door out of the harbor and put it back on the lighthouse. The
lighthouse was refurbished and the foundation was repaired, and
Fort Pickering Light was relighted in 1983 as a private aid to
The lighthouse went dark for a few months in early 1995 when
conduit erosion cut off the power supply from shore. It was converted
to solar power in April 1995, with a white flash of four-tenths
of a second every four seconds. The $2,300 cost of the new light
was split by the City of Salem and the Fort Pickering Light Association.
The lighthouse received a facelift in 1999, thanks to a community
development block grant.
The American Steeple Corporation of Salem, which had previously
restored Boston's Old North Church and Quincy's Church of the
Presidents, completed $13,800 worth of iron work repairs, painting
and lantern glass replacement.
Salem Mayor Stanley J. Usovicz said, "The time has come
to focus the care and attention on Winter Island that will help
restore luster to one of Salem's priceless jewels. The work on
this important navigational aid is one such effort."
Gary Moore, former manager of Winter Island Marine Park, has
called the lighthouse Salem's "Motif No.1," and it
is certainly a favorite of photographers and painters. It's easy
to drive to Winter Island and there's plenty of parking. There
are campsites for recreational vehicles, a boat launch, picnic
areas, a bath house, and a short beach dubbed Waikiki Beach when
the Coast Guard was on the island. A visit here makes a pleasant
trip in combination with nearby Salem Willows Park, a great spot
for picnicking and strolling by the water.
- For more information contact:
Island: A Marine Recreational Park
- Email: email@example.com
50 Winter Island Road, Salem, MA 01970
- (978) 745-9430
- You can read much more about this lighthouse in the book
of Massachusetts by Jeremy D'Entremont.
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
firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone copying this list onto another web site does
so at their own risk, as the list is always subject to updates and
John Harris (1882-1919), James Yates