Newburyport Harbor (Plum Island) Lighthouse

Sept. 24, 2019

Newburyport Harbor (Plum Island) Lighthouse, Newburyport, Massachusetts


Station Established: 1788 
Year Current/Last Tower(s) First Lit: 1898 
Operational? YES 
Automated? YES 1951 
Deactivated: n/a 
Foundation Materials: CONCRETE (ORIG. WOOD) 
Construction Materials: WOOD 
Tower Shape: CONICAL 
Markings/Pattern: WHITE W/BLACK LANTERN 
Relationship to Other Structure: SEPARATE 

Historical Information:

* On November 16, 1787, the Massachusetts Assembly authorized the building of two lighthouses on the north end of "Plumb Island" and the original towers were erected the following year. On June 10, 1790, they were ceded to the newly formed Federal Government.  Because of the shifting sand bars at the mouth of the Merrimac River, these lights have since been moved many times.
* In 1830 the Lady Howard was wrecked in the vicinity, and during the storm of December 22, 1839, the Pocahontas and Richmond Packet both came to grief. The former bound from Cody to Newburyport was swept to destruction on the sand bar off Plum Island and all hands were lost. The latter was driven ashore and began to break up on a point of rocks. Captain Toothaker jumped overboard with a line and reached the rocks, where he made the line fast. Then he signaled his wife to come in on the line, but before she could do so the line snapped and she was lost. The crewmembers were all saved, however.
* Forty-one of the one hundred and thirty vessels that had taken refuge in Newburyport Harbor were damaged in this storm, which struck so suddenly that the keeper of the light, who had left the tower for a few hours for the mainland, was unable to return. That night there was consequently no light at the entrance to the harbor.
* In order to conform to changes in the river channel the "bug" light was removed to a new position in 1864, and, again in 1867, the range light was moved 90 feet to mark a new channel formed by a shifting of the bar. In 1869 the beacon was moved ne-third of a mile northeast. In 1870 a more powerful light was recommended, but in 1874 the towers on Plum Island had to be moved 75 feet southward "owing to the encroachment of the sea." Sand and thatch embankments were erected to protect their foundations in 1876. In 1887 a new stone tower was built for the range light but by 1890 the position of the river channel across the bar had so shifted that the lights no longer served as a guide through it. Meanwhile jetties were being built to better control the shifting channel and in 1898 the rear light tower was rebuilt.
* Today only one white conical tower built in 1788 and rebuilt in 1898 remains on Plum Island. It is 50 feet above water and the 3,000-candlepower, fourth-order electric light is visible for 13 miles.