Point Gammon, or Great Point,
at the southern end of Great Island, had an interesting history
before a lighthouse was established there. In 1796, Dr. James
Hedge opened a hospital on the point and conducted early experiments
in smallpox inoculation, with some success. The hospital was
in operation until 1801.
Point Gammon is just east of the entrance to Lewis Bay and
Hyannis Harbor, and a little over two miles north of the dangerous
ledges known as Bishops and Clerks. The point's name comes from
an old term used in the game of backgammon. Mariners trying to
pass between the point and the offshore ledges were deceived,
or "gammoned," which often resulted in disaster.
- Early photo of Point Gammon Lighthouse
Courtesy of Nancy Finco.
|As the port of Hyannis grew in importance it became obvious
that a navigational aid was needed to help mariners negotiate
the area. Construction was swiftly completed and the light went
into service on November 21, 1816, with seven lamps and reflectors
exhibiting a fixed white light. The conical tower was built of
stone, with a diameter at the base of 16 feet. The walls were
20 feet high, and the tower was topped by an octagonal iron lantern.
The one-and-one-half-story dwelling was 16 by 30 feet, with a
The first keeper, Samuel Adams Peak, died in 1824. His teenage
son, John, took over at a salary of $350 per year and remained
keeper until 1858, when the light was discontinued. This gives
Point Gammon the distinction of having only two keepers, both
from the same family. John Peak and his wife raised nine children
at the lighthouse, two of whom became lighthouse keepers.
In his 1946 book A Pilgrim Returns to Cape Cod, Edward
Rowe Snow wrote about Imogene Peak, one of Keeper John Peak's
School for her meant a walk of six miles each way. One
of nine Peak children at the light, she said later that the walk
of twelve miles daily with other children of the family was beautiful
in spring, summer, and fall, but lonely in the winter.
The keeper's house, which was connected to the tower, apparently
wasn't very well constructed. The engineer I. W. P. Lewis visited
for his important 1843 survey. Lewis found fault with many aspects
of the station:
Tower of rubble masonry, to which has been added a superstructure
of brick, making the entire height 25 feet; masonry rough-cast
outside, but in bad condition; roof soapstone, and leaky; walls
leaky; wood work rotten; whole structure out of repair.
Dwelling-house of rubble stone, rough-cast outside with
gravel and cement; roof shingled; whole structure leaky; wood
work decayed, and requires thorough repairing.
John Peak complained that the house was "extremely leaky,
particularly on the east side, where the rain leaks in, so that
we always have to move our beds during an easterly rain, and
also to mop up bucketfuls of water."
In 1855, John Peak counted 4,969 schooners, 1,455 sloops,
216 brigs and four steamboats passing his station. As traffic
increased, the lighthouse was considered inadequate, and a lightship
was stationed close to the Bishops and Clerks ledges. In 1858,
the lightship was replaced by the new Bishops
and Clerks Lighthouse. John Peak became the first keeper
of the new lighthouse.
In 1882, Great Island was sold to Charles B. Cory, a wealthy
ornithologist from Boston. Cory established the island as a game
preserve, with elk, deer, antelopes, pheasants, and other animals.
Non-game birds were protected; the island thus became one of
the nation's earliest bird sanctuaries.
The lighthouse's iron lantern was removed at some point after
the light was discontinued. Cory added a taller structure to
the top, designed to facilitate the use of the tower as a viewing
The old stone dwelling was utilized used as a museum for the
butterfly collection amassed by Cory and his wife, Harriet.
- Malcolm G. Chace, a banker from Rhode Island who had visited
Great Island as a boy, purchased the property in 1914. In the
1930s, the dwelling was dismantled and the stones were used to
build a new house on the island. The lighthouse's observatory/lantern
installed by Cory has been rebuilt in relatively recent years.
Above and below, two views from the
top of the tower
Most of Great Island has remained in the ownership of the
Chace family, but they have surrendered development rights for
266 acres through an agreement with the Trustees of Reservations,
which ensures it will remain in its natural state.
Great Island, including the lighthouse, is off-limits to the
public. The lighthouse can be viewed distantly from the Hyannis-Nantucket
ferry, or from excursion boats and fishing charters leaving Hyannis.
You can read much more about this lighthouse in the book The Lighthouses
of Massachusetts by Jeremy D'Entremont.
- A ferry leaving Hyannis passes Point
Keepers: Samuel Peak (1816-1824), John Peak (1824-1858)