New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide
Ned's Point Light
Mattapoisett, Massachusetts
Ned's Point Light main page / History / Bibliography / Photos / Postcards

History
  Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any images or text from this website without permission of the author.

Mattapoisett -- a few miles east of New Bedford -- was a village of the town of Rochester until 1857, when it was incorporated as a separate town. With a commodious harbor on Buzzards Bay, Mattapoisett developed as a center for shipbuilding, whaling, and coastal trade. The name of the town is said to come from a Wampanoag Indian word for "place of resting," and Mattapoisett appropriately developed into a restful summer resort favored by luminaries such as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

With the support of the Massachusetts congressman (and former president) John Quincy Adams playing a vital role, Congress appropriated $5,000 on March 3, 1837, for a lighthouse at Ned's Point, at the north side of the entrance to Mattapoisett's harbor. The lighthouse was built in 1837-38 and first lighted in March 1838. A small stone dwelling was built close to the lighthouse.

old photo of lighthouse
Ned's Point Light c. 1860s (U.S. Coast Guard)

Leonard Hammond, a prominent local shipbuilder and businessman, was the contractor in charge of building the new tower and keeper's house. Hammond, who also ran a salt works and a tavern, was unable to complete construction in the specified time. He had to take drastic action when an inspector arrived, expecting to see a finished lighthouse.

Hammond convinced the inspector to spend some time at his tavern before heading to Ned's Point. Meanwhile, some of Hammond's work crew scurried to make it look like the work had been finished. Where a finished floor should have been, they placed loose planking over barrels.

Hammond and the inspector soon arrived. The unsuspecting man stepped at the end of one of the loose boards and disappeared into the foundation of the tower, angry but unhurt.

The new lighthouse's 11 lamps and reflectors displayed a fixed white light 41 feet above sea level. The conical lighthouse -- built of stone from a nearby beach -- originally had a "birdcage-style" lantern, holding a system of 11 lamps and parabolic reflectors showing a fixed white light 41 feet above the sea. An unusual architectural touch in the tower is the cantilevered granite stairway, with 32 steps embedded in the inner wall without the use of mortar.

stairs

Lt. Edward W. Carpender inspected the station just a few months after it went into service in March 1838. He wrote:

The keeper informs me that, in the late storm, both buildings leaked in all directions. The unskillfulness of the work extended to the lantern, the dome of which likewise leaked, rendering it prudent for the keeper to remain by the lamps during the rain, lest the light should become extinguished. I removed the surface of the mortar or cement, in several places, and found the stone to be laid in what appeared to be very little more than mere sand.

Things had evidently improved by the time of an 1850 inspection, when Lanet Hall was keeper:

With one or two trifling exceptions, such as the buildings being a little leaky, and a small part of the sea-wall being down, everything is in first-rate order and neat as a pin. This establishment is second to none of the kind that I am acquainted with. It is a first-rate concern.

 

An inspection in 1851 told a different story, finding the lighthouse to be badly built and leaky, with a poor lighting system. The lantern room was only five feet, eight inches high -- "too low... for the convenience of the keeper with his hat on."

The original birdcage-style lantern was replaced by an octagonal lantern at some point before 1888, likely at the same time that a fifth-order Fresnel lens was installed in 1857. The present lantern was installed in 1896.

A new wood-frame house, built on the original foundation in 1888, replaced the stone house. A new covered walkway was built between the house and tower in 1892, and a brick oil house was added in 1907.

old photo of lighthouse

Ned's Point Light in the early 1900s
From the collection of Edward Rowe Snow

After 17 years as keeper of Bird Island Light, Zimri Tobias "Toby" Robinson became keeper at Ned's Point in 1912. His granddaughter, Hildegard Saunders, remembered pushing her doll carriage along the shore at Ned's Point and popping corn on the furnace in the keeper's house. She told the New Bedford Standard Times:

I remember my grandfather sitting in a high-back rocking chair watching over the water. I used to sit by him.

old photo of lighthouse
From the collection of Edward Rowe Snow, courtesy of Dorothy Bicknell

The keeper's house was removed in 1923. The house was loaded on a barge and floated across Buzzards Bay to Wing's Neck Light in Bourne. The last keeper at Ned's Point, Russell Eastman, made the trip in his house. According to legend, he cooked his breakfast on the way across the bay.

The Coast Guard decommissioned Ned's Point Light in 1952. In 1958 the site, except the tower itself, was sold to the Town of Mattapoisett. A beautiful and popular park was developed at Ned's Point. The light became active again, with a new plastic lens, in 1961.

In 1993, the local Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla adopted the lighthouse. Auxiliary members renovated the lighthouse in 1995-96.

Clayton Hagy was the "keeper" of Ned's Point Light for a number of years. He impressed many people with his vast knowledge of the tower and its history.
 
To see Clayton Hagy speaking about the stairs inside the tower, click here.
To see Clayton Hagy speaking about the optic in the lighthouse, click here.
Clayton Hagy
Clayton Hagy in the lantern room in 1998
sign
A sign near the lighthouse tells about its history

The volunteer keeper is currently Bert Theriault of U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Flotilla 67.

Over the years Ned's Point has been a favorite "sparking" spot for many local couples, and there's a long tradition of weddings and engagements taking place at the lighthouse. Lighthouse historian Raymond "Skip" Empey is among those who has been married at the lighthouse.

Three generations of one Mattapoisett family have become engaged at Ned's Point. The tradition started in 1935 with Francis Cannon Rowland and Virginia Nelson Rowland.

Their granddaughter Meg has become the latest member of the family to become engaged at the lighthouse. Meg adds:

For me the lighthouse was always a place to escape to, a short walk from my parents house. I used to play on the rocks close to the ocean when I was a kid. The two best sounds growing up were the mast lines clinking on the boats in the harbor and that foghorn.

Ned's Point Light was the target of vandals who covered it with graffiti in 1994. The Coast Guard repainted and completely refurbished the tower in 1995, installing a new optic that increased the light's brilliance. More work was completed on the tower in 2001.

door to lighthouse
A Coast Guard rehabilitation of the lighthouse was finished on September 11, 2001.

 In August 2002, former Coast Guardsman George W. Washburn wrote the following:
A view from the top
I spent the last year and a half of my Coast Guard service at the Cape Cod Canal Station in Sandwich, MA (April 1964 - November 1966). As part of our duties several of us were required to maintain shore aids to navigation from Plymouth, Buzzards Bay and the north part of the Cape and Sandy Neck during the spring and fall of the year and emergency repairs as required. As a seaman I got to do the grunt work, scraping and painting and minor repairs to the towers, beacons, etc. During the spring we would inspect the tower at Ned Point and repair any damage caused by weather or vandals. We would scrape down the metalwork and prime and paint it. The stonework was maintained by removing loose mortar and painting and then repainting.

Usually two of us would do the work over a week's time. While working at Ned Point I can recall this feeling of being watched, aslo as I walked the stairs in the tower the first time. While using the bosun's chair one day painting the tower white, the line slipped and I dropped about 20 feet. Needless to say, it took my breath away. The young recruit who was assisting me at the time thought I was a goner. He maintained that the line slipped from his hands, but was unable to grab it. He said it was not him who stopped the fall. I cannot explain it.

The lighthouse has been open during July and August, Thursdays, 10 a.m. to noon. Contact Bert Theriault, lighthouse keeper, at nedspointlight@comcast.net for more information.

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


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.)

George Braley (1843-1846); Hannah Brayley (c. 1846-1849); Larnet Hall Jr (1849-1853); John Bumpus (1853-1859); Lanet Hall, Jr. (1859-1874); George H. Kelly (1874-1895); William P. Howard (1895-1912); Zimri Tobias "Toby" Robinson (1912-1914); Russell Eastman (1914-1923)

Last updated 12/23/11
  Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any images or text from this website without permission of the author.

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