Digest>Archives> August 2002

Essay Contest Winner

Straitsmouth Island Light

By Candice Sylvia


You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
The Straitsmouth Island Lighthouse circa 1930. ...

Candice Sylvia is the winner of the International Lighthouse Conference Essay Contest, a 7th grader at Keith Middle School in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
Photo courtesy of Jeremy D’Entremont.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
The Straitsmouth Island Light, circa 1890. Photo ...

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
In this 1870s Coast Guard photo, notice the ...

Straitsmouth Island sits along the northern coast of Massachusetts called Cape Ann. Straitsmouth Island is located south of the famous fishing town of Rockport. Explorer John Smith visited Cape Ann in 1614. There he found a lot of cod and other fish. As he approached the Cape Ann shore, he named three prominent islands the “Turks’ Heads”. These islands were Thacher, Milk and Straitsmouth. Straitsmouth Island was later a scene of fighting in the Revolution. A British cargo vessel carrying cattle was captured there. There is a light tower, keeper’s house, oil house and cistern building located on the island of Straitsmouth.

The light tower, which is called the Straitsmouth Island Light and the keeper’s house, were built in 1835. The lighthouse was built to aid mariners coming to Rockport. The original light tower, which was built in 1835, was nineteen feet high. It was replaced in 1896 by a tower, which was thirty-five feet high. The light tower is cylindrical in shape and is made of brick with a black cast iron lantern. The keeper’s house is a one and one-half story Gothic type building made of wood.

The first keeper of Straitsmouth Island was Benjamin Andrews. John Davis became keeper in 1841. He was paid a yearly salary of $350.00. Mr. Davis complained that the house was poorly built and leaky. He also complained that the water cistern in the cellar was so leaky it was useless, so he had to dismantle the cistern and make many repairs to the house.

Many ships were lost at sea in storms in the 1830s and 1840s around Straitsmouth Island. There was also a very bad storm in October 1844 which destroyed every boat around Straitsmouth Island, so there was a warning buoy placed near Straitsmouth Island.

In 1842 the Straitsmouth Island Light was inspected by I.W.P. Lewis. The lighthouse was found to be very leaky. It was called a “specimen of contract work of the worst kind”. Lewis also noted that the original purpose of the lighthouse was to guide mariners through the narrow channel between Thacher Island and the rocks called the Salvages, but the tower was situated about 500 feet out of position. The light tower could not fulfill its purpose being situated where it was. Even though the tower did not serve its purpose, it would not be rebuilt for over one-half of a century.

In the 1850’s Straitsmouth Island Light received a new Fresnel lens. A new one and on-half story keeper’s house was built in 1878. The present 37-foot brick tower replaced the old one in 1896. In 1932 the light in the tower was changed from white to green. In 1941 it was reported that the light was 46 feet above the water and was visible for 9 miles. In 1967 the light was changed to be automated and the Fresnel lens was removed.

The distance the light shines is 250 millimeters (solar-powered). Every six seconds the light flashes green. The fog signal blasts every 15 seconds. The solar-powered light and an automated fog signal still remain active aids to navigation. The light in the tower was first lit in 1896. It still operates today. The light can best be seen by boat. Distant views can be seen from Bearskin Neck in Rockport, Massachusetts.

In 1941 the island was sold, but the light tower was not. In the 1960’s, a man named Frederic Gibbs donated the island, including the keeper’s house, to the Massachusetts Audubon Society. The deed stated that the island was “to be used to improve the number and variety of wildlife inhabiting the sanctuary, and especially of native species”. Due to the statement in the deed, the keeper’s house fell into terrible disrepair. The Massachusetts Audubon society was more concerned about the island’s bird inhabitants. It made no effort to keep up and repair the keeper’s house and the lighthouse.

The lighthouse continued as an active aid to navigation after its automation in 1967, but the abandoned keeper’s house continued to fall into disrepair. In the early 1980’s a local man named Charles Costello did some renovation to the dwelling. His work was immediately ruined by vandals. He then had to replace windows, which were broken within a few days.

In 1983, four young men who planned to live in the house made an attempt to restore it. They were a bit startled by the island’s wildlife. One day while they were on the island, one of the men thought he saw a seal on a rock. They soon realized that it was not a seal, it was actually a rat. The keeper’s house was so run down that there were about 2 feet of rat and seagull droppings on the floor of the house. Unfortunately, the keeper’s house was never renovated. It is now open to the elements and is in such bad shape that a bad winter could knock it down.

The entire island remains closed to the public. The only official access to the island is through occasional Massachusetts Audubon Society kayaking trips. Landing on the island of Straitsmouth is difficult because there is no landing ramp. It was removed years ago. The island is also full of poison ivy.

In October 1991 the “No-Name” or “Perfect” storm destroyed the entryway to the tower. The solar-powered light and an automated fog signal still remain active aids to navigation. Straitsmouth Island Light can be seen from the breakwater at the end of Bearskin Neck in Rockport. It can also be seen from some of the scenic cruises in the area.

In July 2001, plans were underway for State Senator Bruce E. Tarr and two Rockport selectmen to visit Straitsmouth Island. They planned to inspect the house to see if restoration was an option. Even if public access was not possible, if the keeper’s house was restored, it would be a major improvement of the local seascape for thousands of boaters, tourists and local residents of Cape Ann. The island would look more presentable. Ships still depend on the lighthouse to help guide them, so it is important to keep the lighthouse in good repair. The Straitsmouth Island Light serves as a navigational tool for ships in its area, but it is also a tourist attraction, so it should be kept in good repair for these reasons.

Straitsmouth Island remains part of the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary and is managed by the Massachusetts Audubon Society. The lighthouse, which is still used to navigate ships, is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. The keeper’s house remains in a state of severe disrepair. The oil house and cistern also remain on the island.

The light tower is listed in the National Register as the Straitsmouth Island Light, Reference Number 87001487. It is listed on the State List Inventory. Unfortunately, the Straitsmouth Island Light is listed on the Lighthouse Digest Doomsday List of Endangered Lighthouses.

References for report: National Park Service, Lighthouse Digest Explorer Database, New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide. Photos courtesy of Jeremy D”Entremont.

This story appeared in the August 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.

All contents copyright © 1995-2024 by Lighthouse Digest®, Inc. No story, photograph, or any other item on this website may be reprinted or reproduced without the express permission of Lighthouse Digest. For contact information, click here.

to Lighthouse Digest

USLHS Marker Fund

Lighthouse History
Research Institute

Shop Online

Subscribe   Contact Us   About Us   Copyright Foghorn Publishing, 1994- 2024   Lighthouse Facts     Lighthouse History