Digest>Archives> January 2002

Hyannis Harbor Lighthouse

By Jeremy D'Entremont


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The Hyannis Harbor Lighthouse today, with its ...
Photo by: Jeremy D'Entremont

Tucked away on a side street, Hyannis Harbor Lighthouse, also known as South Hyannis Light, is not seen by most of the tourists who come to the area to take a ferry to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard, or to catch a glimpse of the Kennedy family’s Hyannisport compound. The privately owned lighthouse and keeper’s house have been altered so much through the decades that only an informed visitor would recognize what was an important 19th century light station.

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Hannah Coleman Bassett Lothrop, wife of Keeper ...

Hyannis, part of the town of Barnstable on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod, was a busy fishing and trade port in the 19th century, and it became apparent that a harbor light was needed. One local man took it upon himself to provide a light years before the government decided to erect one. The man, Daniel Snow Hallett, was later described as a “very genial gentleman of the old school” who “always manifested a keen interest in the various activities of the village.”

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“Pilot John” Lothrop, keeper from 1871 to 1878. ...

The first Hyannis Harbor Light was a privately-built shack — known locally as “The Bug” — with a lamp that hung in a window, backed by a reflector (discarded from nearby Point Gammon Light, say some sources). The light was maintained in part by money Daniel Snow Hallett made by selling printed directions for sailing into Hyannis Harbor. “The Bug” was maintained by Hallett, who was assisted in his lightkeeping duties by his son, Daniel Bunker Hallett.

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Alonzo Freeman Lothrop, keeper of Hyannis ...

Daniel Bunker Hallett grew up to be a banker, and he remembered later, “As a boy of ten or twelve, I often used to walk from Pickens Cove, where my father lived, down across the fields two miles to the harbor light, after school, to light the lamp and remain all night alone, with only my dog Pilot as company, then return home in the morning time to get breakfast and go to school.”

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A late 19th Century view of the Hyannis ...

In 1848 Congress authorized the building of an official lighthouse at South Hyannis for $2,000. The Treasury Department reported, “With much difficulty a small piece of land was purchased, a small tower erected and fitted up with lamps and reflectors... A man has been employed to attend it, who has a house of his own in the neighborhood, at the rate of fifteen dollars per month.”

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This wooden tower served as the Hyannis Front ...

The light was fixed white with a red sector warning mariners away from dangerous Southwest Shoal. Two years later an additional $800 was appropriated for a keeper’s dwelling. Daniel Snow Hallett was appropriately appointed first keeper, but was soon replaced for political reasons. His brother Captain Almoran Hallett later served as keeper.

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This early photo shows Hyannis Harbor Lighthouse ...

In 1871 “Pilot John” H. Lothrop of Hyannis was appointed keeper after a long career as a “branch pilot,” helping to guide vessels from Maine to Virginia. Keeper Lothrop was assisted by his son Alonzo Freeman Lothrop, who became keeper after his father’s death in 1878.

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Alonzo Lothrop remained at the station until 1899, when his resignation ended almost three decades of the Lothrop family at the Hyannis Lighthouse. In 1882, figures kept by Alonzo Lothrop underscored the importance of the lighthouse in Hyannis Harbor. The statistics showed 6,000 tons of coal discharged in the harbor, along with 1,250,000 feet of lumber and 4,000 barrels of fish. A total of 1,400 schooners and 100 steamers arrived in Hyannis that year. These numbers rose even higher in the last part of the 19th century.

In 1874, during John Lothrop’s tenure as keeper, one of the vessels landing in Hyannis brought President Ulysses S. Grant, who had been visiting Nantucket.

Captain John Peak, former commander of a lighthouse tender and part of a family dynasty of local lighthouse keepers, took over at Hyannis Harbor Light after Alonzo Lothrop’s resignation and remained until his own ill health forced him to retire in 1915. Peak’s father and grandfather had both been keepers of the light at Point Gammon. His father John was also the first keeper of Bishop and Clerks Light, remaining there until 1886, ending a 62-year career as a lighthouse keeper.

While John Peak was keeper, local children would gather at the light station for sailing lessons. Captain Peak also let some of the children help with lighthouse chores, like polishing the brass parts of the tower.

Keeper Peak is said to have hung a mirror in his bedroom so he could monitor the light from his bed, probably saving many trips to the top of the tower in the dead of night. “Why should I get up to look when I can see it in the mirror?” he explained.

In 1885 a range light was added on the nearby Old Colony Railroad Wharf, a simple lamp hoisted to the top of a 20-foot wooden tower. The new range light and the lighthouse would be lined up by mariners as a guide into Hyannis Harbor. A member of the Peak family later reported that railroad cars would often be left in a position that blocked the range light, and Keeper John Peak would have to argue with railroad personnel until they would move the cars.

A 1922 inspection showed a kerosene-fueled lamp in a fifth order Fresnel lens in use. The report stated that access to the station was via a road from town. The keeper had no boat and there was no landing place for a boat other than a small beach.

Waldo Leighton, who became keeper in 1915, described the station as “a wonderful location, a nice place to live, a picturesque site overlooking the whole bay.” Waldo Leighton was the last keeper of the lighthouse, moving to Nobska Point Light in Woods Hole when Hyannis Harbor Light was discontinued in 1929. The closing of the light station came about because the main ship landing site in the area was moved to Lewis Bay.

The Barnstable Patriot reported that many neighbors came to the station to wish Keeper Leighton and his family well on the day they left Hyannis. The entire lantern room was removed from the lighthouse, while the range light continued as an single acetylene gas beacon.

A. W. Fuller bought the lighthouse at auction for over $7,000, and subsequently sold it to Annie V. Stevenson. The property has since passed through several hands, and the old keeper’s house has been vastly changed and enlarged over the years.

The present owners, Janice Hyland and Alan Granby, former elementary school teachers who are now dealers in 18th and 19th century marine antiques, built a new top for the tower after buying it in 1985. The new lantern room was the combined effort of contractor Duncan Sullivan, builder Tony Weatherbee, sheet metal worker Paul Stepnik, and sculptor Philip Pieper.

The lantern room is not quite traditional, but is a vast improvement over none at all, and it reportedly provides a great view at sunset. Alan Granby says he loves “the panoramic view of Nantucket Sound and the particular excitement of the year-round boating activity in the area.”

This story appeared in the January 2002 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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