Digest>Archives> June 2008

First Mayo’s Beach Lighthouse Had Deplorable Conditions

By Timothy Harrison


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When Joseph Holbrook was appointed the first keeper of the Mayo’s Beach Lighthouse in 1838 he must have been honored to accept the position. After all, the pay was good; he was started out at $350.00 per year and was moving into a newly constructed home in a beautiful and quiet part of Cape Cod.

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The first Mayo’s Beach Lighthouse was plagued by ...

It was a quiet harbor, most used by small fishing fleets, a good place to raise a family.

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However, within a few short years, he soon found out that life here was

not going to be as good as he thought

it would.

In his statement to Lighthouse Inspector Isaiah W. P. Lewis in 1842 he wrote a dismal picture of his life at the lighthouse. From reading his report one would wonder why he stayed on and didn’t resign his position as the lighthouse keeper.

His report told how nearly with every high tide the basement always flooded with seawater. At one such unusually high tide, a 93-pound oil drum stored in the basement nearly crushed him and severally injured him. In those days there was no sick pay or workers comp.

He continued in his report by saying, “The very wretched manner in which this the house was built renders it almost uninhabitable, the walls always and the roof the roof continually leak. In consequence of this and being compelled to use the water caught from the roof, which constitutes my only resource, two of my children have died and I solemnly protest entirely on account of the unhealthily conditions of the house and from using stagnant water of the cistern.

When it blows hard the lantern on the roof rattles and shakes so as to require my constant attendance to keep the light from being shaken out, breaking the tube glasses and spilling the oil. The whole weight of the lantern room where it rises from the roof causes numerous leaks therein by the manner in which it is shaken in the wind.”

His report continued with an account of the many vessels that passed by and how they depended on the light, but because it was so weak that the ships could barely see it. He also complained that there was no place to drink for fresh water and the government never supplied him with a boat.

From this report the life of this lighthouse keeper was not the romantic life that many are lead to believe that lighthouse keepers often led.

This report led to a recommendation that the lighthouse be discontinued, but it was not and Holbrook remained as the keeper. The government must have made some improvements, because, in spite of the conditions, he stayed on job at this location for 30 years until 1865. It wasn’t until 1881, 39 years after the dismal report of life at the lighthouse, that it was torn down and replaced by a new keepers house and a new tower.

This story appeared in the June 2008 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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