New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide
Ten Pound Island Light
Gloucester, Massachusetts
Ten Pound Island Light main page / History / Bibliography / Cruises / Photos / Postcards


Tradition tells us that Ten Pound Island, on the east side of Gloucester Harbor, received its name from the amount of money paid to the local Indians for the property by the early settlers. This commonly told tale is disputed by the Cape Ann historian Joseph Garland, who wrote that it was more likely named for the number of sheep pens (also known as pounds) on the island, which was reserved in the early days for "rams onlie."

Ten Pound Island gained notoriety in 1817 when several people reported seeing a large sea serpent in the vicinity. One of the witnesses was Amos Story, who said:

It was between the hours of twelve and one o'clock when I first saw him, and he continued in sight for an hour and a half. I was setting on the shore, and was about twenty rods from him when he was the nearest to me. His head appeared shaped much like that of the sea turtle, and he carried his head from ten to twelve inches above the surface of the water. His head at that distance appeared larger than the head of any dog I ever saw.

old photo

The first Ten Pound Island Light with its original birdcage-style lantern room
U.S. Coast Guard photo

To help mariners find their way into Gloucester's inner harbor, and to help them avoid a dangerous ledge to the southwest of the island, Congress appropriated funds for a light station on Ten Pound Island in May 1820. A 20-foot conical stone lighthouse tower was built, along with a stone dwelling. The light was in service by October 1821, with a fixed white light exhibited from 39 feet above mean high water.

Amos Story of sea serpent fame became keeper in 1833 for $350 yearly. In 1842, Story complained that the tower and dwelling were both poorly constructed, saying, "The leaks around the windows of the dwelling-house are so bad that we are obliged to set a tub to catch the water whenever it rains hard. The wood work, frames, &c, of the windows, are rotten."

Engraving of the first Ten Pound Island Light
From the collection of Edward Rowe Snow, courtesy of Dorothy Bicknell

The first Ten Pound Island Light c. 1880s
From the collection of Edward Rowe Snow, courtesy of Dorothy Bicknell

In the summer of 1880, the great American artist Winslow Homer boarded with the lighthouse keeper at Ten Pound Island. That summer Homer painted about 50 scenes of Gloucester Harbor.

Ten Pound island Light appears in some of these scenes, and also can be seen in some of the paintings of Gloucester artist Fitz Henry Lane (formerly known as Fitz Hugh Lane).

A new 30-foot cast-iron lighthouse tower, lined with brick, was built in 1881 along with a new wood frame keeper's house. A federal fish hatchery facility was added to the island in 1889. The hatchery was abandoned in 1954.

The second Ten Pound Island Light c. 1900. The fish hatchery can be seen to the left.
From the collection of Edward Rowe Snow, courtesy of Dorothy Bicknell

Edward H. Hopkins, previously at Cape Poge Light, became keeper in 1922. In 1940, in preparation for "Flying Santa" Edward Rowe Snow's present-dropping flight over the lighthouse, the wife of Keeper Hopkins spelled out a giant greeting with newspapers nailed to the ground, reading "Merry Christmas." Snow took a photo of the greeting, and the Associated Press distributed it to many papers later that same day.

Late that afternoon, the Hopkins' son bought a Boston paper on the mainland and rowed back to Ten Pound Island. When his son put the paper on the kitchen table, Keeper Hopkins was flabbergasted to see his home and lighthouse on the front page, in a photograph that had been taken just hours earlier.

U.S. Coast Guard photo

In 1925, a Coast Guard air station was put on the island, with one small scout plane. Later two amphibious vehicles were added to the station.

The initial purpose of the operation was to catch rum runners in the area during Prohibition.

In 1956, Ten Pound Island Light was decommissioned and the fifth-order Fresnel lens was removed, replaced by a modern optic put on the old bell tower, later moved to a skeleton tower. The Fresnel lens is now at the Maine Lighthouse Museum in Rockland, Maine. The keeper's house and outbuildings (except for the oil house, which survives) were reduced to rubble. Ownership of the island reverted to Gloucester from the federal government.

In the late 1980s, the Lighthouse Preservation Society initiated the restoration of the lighthouse. It cost about $45,000, raised by the city and a grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy announced the grant, saying:

It [Ten Pound Island Light] has seen the stately schooners and the historic vessels that make their way to sea every day for over a century and watched over the Gloucester fishermen who braved the wind and waves to make their living. For some of those brave souls this... vista of Ten Pound Island was their final vision of land.

The tower was repaired by K & K Painting Company of Maryland and the automatic light was returned to the lighthouse. The renovation took over two years to complete. Ten Pound Island Light was relighted as an active aid to navigation on August 7, 1989, Lighthouse Bicentennial Day, in a ceremony complete with fireworks. The oil house was restored in 1995.

Ten Pound Island Light can be seen from many points along the Gloucester waterfront, including the area around the famous fisherman statue on Stacey Boulevard (left).

Closer views are available from tour boats that pass through the harbor.

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 Anyone copying this list onto another web site does so at their own risk, as the list is always subject to updates and corrections.)

Amos Story (1833-?); George A. Davis (1849-?); Moses Barrett (?); David Lufkins (?); James Bailey (c. 1914); Edward H. Hopkins (1922-?); Howard Ball (?-1950); Thomas Keene (c. early 1950s); Ernest Sampson (Coast Guard, 1942-1943); Andrew M. McLaughlin (Coast Guard, October 1955 - February 1956)

Last update 12/28/11
Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any part of this website without permission of the author.

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