The peninsula called Wing's Neck
extends from Pocasset on Cape Cod out into Buzzards Bay, a busy
thoroughfare in the nineteenth century. The land where the lighthouse
is located was once swampy and mosquito-infested. Congress first
appropriated $5,000 for a lighthouse at the tip of Wing's Neck in 1837,
but the project was delayed after some debate about whether the light
was really needed.
There was plentiful iron ore in the area's swampy terrain, and
several foundries -- including the Pocasset Iron Company -- were
established by the mid-1800s. These businesses added volume to the
local shipping traffic, with many vessels traveling to and from
Sandwich and Wareham, to the northwest. As maritime traffic in the
vicinity increased, Congress appropriated $3,500 for a lighthouse in
The first lighthouse, built in 1849 for $3,251, was a
so-called Cape Cod-style structure, with a white, wooden hexagonal
tower and lantern room on top of a stone keeper's house. The light was
38 feet above the ground and 50 feet above the water. In the 1870s, it
was reported that the weight of the lantern was crushing the roof of
first keeper, Edward Doty Lawrence, was removed in 1854 for belonging
to the wrong political party. Lawrence returned as keeper in 1865 and
remained until 1887, serving a total of 28 years at Wing's Neck.
Lawrence's daughter, Caroline, was later married to Keeper Albert
Gifford. (Thanks to Fleming Wright for this information.)
John Maxim, who was keeper in the 1850s, was killed at the
Battle of Gettysburg.
The Lighthouse Board reported in 1857 that a fourth-order
Fresnel lens had replaced the earlier system of multiple lamps and
reflectors. In 1928, the lens was replaced and the light was changed
from fixed to flashing. The light was converted to electricity in 1934.
The building was in poor condition by 1878, as is reflected in
the annual report that year:
The roof of the dwelling was repaired temporarily, and
new gutters supplied. There is no tower at this station. The lantern is
on top of the dwelling, the roof has been crushed, and a great part of
the interior of the house is occupied by the stairway. A tower is
required, and the dwelling should be extensively repaired
|A fire did further damage to the building later that
year, but repairs sufficed until 1888, when funds were finally
appropriated to rebuild the station.
The new dwelling, completed in 1890 on the original foundation, was a
wood-frame structure, 28 by 31 feet.
A hexagonal wooden lighthouse tower was erected next to the dwelling,
with the light 44 feet above the water; the two structures were
connected by an enclosed walkway in 1899.
A pyramidal wooden bell tower and a 1,000-pound fog bell were added to
the station in 1902.
Plans for Wing's Neck Lighthouse (1890)
U.S. Coast Guard
From A Trip to Cape Cod, 1898
Albert Gifford served as keeper at Wing's Neck for 21
years, beginning in 1887. His wife, Caroline (Carry) H. Gifford, served
as his assistant. Edward D. Nickerson, the local undertaker, described
what happened the night Albert Gifford died at the lighthouse in
One mean and foggy night he died in his house. I
hitched up my old nag and drove down there. Mrs. Gifford was alone
[and] as I worked on his body, she carried on through that beastly,
cold, foggy, night, tending the light and clocking the fog bell. After
finishing my work I stayed the night there. I could not leave her way
out there alone with her husband lying dead in the parlor.
The light streaming out into the foggy night and
the weird clang-clang-clang of that great bell every 1/2-minute. I
never forgot that night or the woman all alone there sticking to her
husband's responsible job.
Mrs. Gifford was keeper for two weeks before being relieved by
Wallace Eldredge, son of a Nantucket whaler. Eldredge earned five
Efficiency Gold Stars for excellent service during his years at Wing's
|After the opening of the Cape Cod Canal in 1914, with
the its western entrance just a few miles northeast of Wing's Neck, the
local maritime traffic greatly increased.
Personnel at the light station had to watch for any vessel approaching
the canal from the south, and they would telephone word ahead so that a
tugboat and pilot could meet the vessel for its passage through the
||For a time, the keeper's wife, Louise Eldredge served
as the official day dispatcher for the canal. She also had the duty of
flying storm signal flags at the station as needed.
President Harding once passed near the station in the Presidential
yacht Mayflower. Because of bad weather, the yacht anchored
near Wing's Neck.
In the morning Keeper Eldredge gave the President a "twenty-one gun
salute" with the fog bell.
George Addison Howard, formerly at several other
Massachusetts light stations, became keeper in 1921. His brother,
William, previously at Boston Light, was his assistant. The sons of the
captain of the Cross Rip Lightship in Vineyard Sound, the Howard
brothers gained widespread fame as lifesavers.
In one instance, on July 14, 1931, a small boat
overturned with a man and four young boys on board, and William Howard
went out in the station's boat and rescued all five. In 1932 alone the
Howard brothers were credited with eight lives saved.
"I wish they wouldn't go off here fishing or cruising in
such small craft," said William Howard, "If it comes up a quick blow
there's sure to be trouble." By the end of William Howard's career it
was estimated that he had saved 37 people.
George and William Howard
||In 1923, the keeper's house at Ned's Point Light in
Mattapoisett was floated across Buzzards Bay to become an assistant
keeper's house at Wing's Neck Light Station. The house is now privately
This house was originally built
in Mattapoisett at Ned's Point Light, but was moved to Wing's Neck in
1923. Today it's a private home.
This U.S. Coast Guard photo
shows both keeper's houses at Wing's Neck
the building of Cleveland Ledge Light, Wing's Neck Light was considered
expendable. The station was discontinued in 1945 and went up for sale
in 1947. It was bought by Frank and Irene Flanagan of Boston for
The Flanagans were a musical family and Wing's Neck Light became a
center of musical activity in the area. Their daughter, Beth, was a
concert pianist; when she was married Beth threw her bouquet from the
top of the lighthouse tower. Barbershop quartet concerts frequently
took place on the lawn, and the von Trapp family singers of Sound
of Music fame spent some time at the lighthouse. Irene Flanagan
lived at the lighthouse until recent years; she died in 1999 at the age
the wooden stairs inside the tower, and right, the walkway between the
house and tower.
|The area around the lighthouse is a monitoring station
for the Cape Cod Canal, with radar and a closed circuit television
Wing's Neck Light is on private property and the grounds
are not accessible to the public. It can be viewed from a gate about
100 yards from the lighthouse. The lighthouse is available for rent;
for more information contact:
The radar tower at Wing's Neck
You can read much more about this lighthouse in the book The 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.)
Edward Doty Lawrence (1849-1854 and 1865-1887); Samuel Barlow
(1854-?); ? Wright (?); ? King (?); John Maxim (c 1850s); Albert
Gifford (1887-1908, died in service); Caroline Gifford (wife) (1908);
Wallace Eldgredge (1908-1921); George Howard (1921-1937); William
Howard, assistant (1920s).