New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide
Spectacle Island Range Lights
Boston Harbor, Massachusetts
Spectacle Island Range Lights main page / History / Bibliography / Cruises / Postcards

Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any part of this website without permission of the author.

Ninety-seven acre Spectacle Island in Boston Harbor has a long and sordid past. The island, which received its name because its shape supposedly resembled a pair of eyeglasses, served as a quarantine station for a time beginning in 1729. All immigrants coming from Ireland were detained in case of smallpox. Two summer hotels were built in the 1800s.

An 1878 chart

A plant for the rendering of dead horses and cattle began later in the nineteenth century, then a garbage reclaiming plant, where trash was burned for oil, was opened. The island served as a dump for the city of Boston until 1959. The landfill added many acres to the island and changed its shape over the years.

The 1892 report of the Lighthouse Board made a strong case for the establishment of a range light station on Spectacle Island:

Boston is one of the most important commercial cities in the country. Its harbor is without sufficient aids to navigation. Among those needed are range beacons on Spectacle Island to mark the center of the dredged channel from State Ledge toward the city and to mark the turning point into the channel for vessels coming up from Nix's Mate.

old photo of lighthouses

National Archives photo

In 1895, $9,350 was appropriated for the new station. According to a Notice to Mariners issued in June 1897:

On May 20 a fixed red reflector light was established in each of the two towers recently erected on the north side and easterly point of the northerly part of Spectacle Island, south side of President Roads, Boston Harbor. Each tower is a white, octagonal, pyramidal, shingled structure with a small window on the northwesterly side, from which the light is shown. The focal plane of the front light is 29 feet above the water and 13.3 feet above the base of the tower, and of the rear light 54 feet above the water and 23 feet above the base of the tower. The rear tower stands 379 feet SE. 1/2 S. in rear of the front tower.

...The lights mark a range line to guide NW. 1/2 N. from the line marked by the South Boston Range Lights up the main channel to Boston.

old photo of one lighthouse and keeper's house

National Archives photo

The Spectacle Island Range Lights are not to be confused with the Broad Sound Channel Inner Range Lights, built in 1903 on Spectacle Island. The two pairs of range lights were often confused with each other, even in Lighthouse Service documents. They were very close to each other, as you can see in this picture:

old photo of Spectacle Island

In 1904, the towers were moved about 15 feet to the south and placed on new masonry foundations. The towers' colors were changed to white on their lower thirds, red on their middle thirds, and white on their upper thirds.

In 1913, the government announced that they planned to discontinue the Spectacle Island Range Lights. The Pilot Commissoners and the Boston Marine Society objected, thinking that the 1903 Broad Sound Channel Inner Range Lights were being extinguished. It was soon made clear that the lights in question were the 1897 range lights, made obsolete by changes in the shipping channel. The lights were discontinued on July 15, 1913.

For a number of years there was a fog signal between Spectacle Island and Castle Island, which is attached by a causeway to South Boston. The fog signal was mounted on pilings, known as a "dolphin." In 1914 John Lindberg, a former assistant keeper of Graves Light, moved to Castle Island with his family to tend this signal. Lindberg became chief engineer on the Nantucket lightship, leaving his wife in charge of the fog signal. When it became foggy Helen Lindberg would throw a switch in a closet that activated the signal. Helen Lindberg remained keeper of the signal until 1948, making her the last civilian "lamplighter" in the Boston Harbor area.

Spectacle Island now has a new life as a 105-acre public park. The island's basic shape has once again been modified using dirt from Boston's massive "Big Dig" project, a restructuring of the city's highway system. The island has a visitor center, a marina, and a small park. Spectacle Island is now jointly owned by the City of Boston and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR). The Island Alliance and National Park Service assist the owners with island management.

A note from the webmaster: Please let me know if you have additional information on the lighthouses of Spectacle Island. I'd be especially interested in information regarding the station's keepers.

Keepers: Winfield L. Creed (1897-1913?), Fred W. Tibbetts (assistant, 1898-1912), Edwin Tarr (assistant, 1904-?)

Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any part of this website without permission of the author.

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