Boston's outer harbor is
dotted with islands and crisscrossed by sandbars that make it a
potential nightmare for mariners. One meandering spit extends more than
a mile from Great Brewster Island to the southwest, ending near the
southeast end of Lovell's Island. The spot marks the entrance to the
Narrows Channel, once the main route into the inner harbor. As early as
1778, charts showed an unlighted beacon at the end of the spit.
In 1854, Congress appropriated $15,000 for a proper
lighthouse. Harrison Loring was hired to build the lighthouse, which
resembled a large bug on seven iron stilts -- hence its nickname, "Bug
Light." The hexagonal wooden dwelling on a screwpile foundation had a
galvanized iron roof. A sixth-order Fresnel lens exhibited a fixed red
light, about 35 feet above sea level and visible for seven nautical
miles. Nathaniel R. Hooper was the first keeper.
Courtesy of Harriet Jennings
There was also a fog bell with striking machinery on the side
of the lighthouse, striking which struck a single blow every 20 seconds
in times of poor visibility. An ice-breaking structure was added and
was subsequently swept away by the sea; it was rebuilt in 1867. It
consisted, according to the annual report of the Lighthouse Board, of
"oak piles secured with girders ballasted with stone, planked all over,
shod with iron, and painted with red lead."
James Turner, who was rumored to be a pirate and
murderer, was said to be an early keeper of the light. In the 1940s,
local historian Edward Rowe Snow learned that Turner may have buried
treasure on the islands. Snow subsequently found an ancient book in a
cellar on nearby Middle Brewster Island.
Pinpricks above certain letters on a page in the book
spelled out a clue when read backwards: "GOLD IS DUE EAST TREES STRONG
ISLAND CHATHAM OUTER BAR." Snow and his brother Donald, with the help
of a metal detector, eventually found a small chest full of coins on
Cape Cod, an event which made national news.
In 1891, a new, wider gallery was built around the
dwelling. At the same time new outer stairs were added. A 600-gallon
water tank was installed in 1900.
Shipping mishaps near the lighthouse were not uncommon.
During a thick snowstorm in early December 1907, a fishing dory went
aground on the spit with four men aboard. The men were saved by the
quick actions of a lobsterman living in a cabin on Great Brewster
A fishing schooner ran into the spit during bad weather
on New Year's Day in 1914. The vessel was returning to port from the
fishing grounds with 45,000 pounds of fish on board. The 23 crewmen
escaped without incident as the vessel quickly filled with water.
Gershom Freeman became keeper in 1895. A housekeeper
moved into the lighthouse, and her young son made a boat trip to
George's Island and then on to Boston every day for school.
The housekeeper was there for the memorable Portland
Gale of 1898. She said that the stones striking the structure's iron
legs sounded like strange music, as every leg had a different pitch.
The icebreaker was destroyed by the storm and shingles were blown from
Two brothers, Tom and Arthur Small, served as keepers.
Once in a winter storm a fishing boat went ashore on the bar near the
lighthouse. Arthur Small managed to get a line out and pulled two of
the men to safety, but the third man perished.
Around noon on June 7, 1929, Keeper Tom Small was near
the end of a weeklong project involving the removal of paint from the
structure with a blowtorch.
- A spark ignited a fire in the roof, and within 15
minutes the entire lighthouse was in flames. Small managed to throw a
few belongings into a rowboat and narrowly escaped with his life as
debris fell around him. The falling fog bell missed him by a few
- By the time a fireboat made the seven-mile trip, it
was far too late to save the lighthouse. Immediately after the fire,
the crew of the tender Mayflower placed a gas-operated lighted
bell buoy at the site.
Courtesy of Harriet Jennings
This photo taken on May 30,
1954, shows the light mounted atop the old foundation of Narrows Light.
Courtesy of Dorothy Bicknell
"Bug" Light today
The base of the lighthouse stayed standing for a while,
and an automatic light and fog bell were placed on top of it.
Today, an automatic light on a small steel skeleton
tower stands near the former location of "Bug Light."
You can read much more about this lighthouse in the book
Lighthouses 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 corrections.)
- Nathaniel R. Hooper (1856-1861 and 1862-1871), C. J. Blair
(1861-1862), Charles J. Hooper (1871-1872), Daniel McKenzie
(1872-1877), Frederick Hammond (1877-1878), E. Lewis Gorham
(1878-1882); George G. Bailey (1882); Charles Friend (1882-1888);
Charles E. Turner (1889-1892); Michael J. Curran (1893); Samuel E.
Liscom (1893-1895); Gershom C. Freeman (1895-1907); William H. Lowther
(1907-?); Arthur Small (c. 1920s); Tom Small (?-1929).