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Boston Harbor Light Station
National Historic Landmark Study
Designated January 29, 1964
Boston Harbor was first included on the National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings using the following narrative written by S. Sidney Bradford in 1963:
Sailing vessels and steamships approaching Boston
have been safely guided into the city's harbor by a friendly light on
the rocky south side of Little Brewster Island since 1716. It is highly
doubtful that any other lighthouse site in the New World has been used longer than that on this small island before Boston.
The Boston Light is still a primary light
and it throws a 100,000 candle-power beam every thirty seconds. A light
ship six miles to the east and a more powerful light on the Graves, however,
have decreased the former importance of the old light.
Present Condition: The United States Coast
Guard keeps the lighthouse in excellent condition. Several maintenance
buildings stand at the foot of the tower and nearby is a large house for
the station's complement.
George R. Putnam, Lighthouses and Lightships of the United States (Boston, 1933), 1-2, 5, 7-10
Edward R. Snow, Famous Lighthouses of America (New York, 1955), 39-40
U. S. Coast Guard, Historically Famous Lighthouses
(Washington, U. S. Government Printing Office, 1957), 33-35
In 1977, the following National Register nomination was completed by Polly M. Rettig for Boston Harbor Light using the same sources as previous documentation:
Present and Original Physical Appearance
Boston Light is located at the southeastern tip of Little Brewster Island some 2 miles east of Boston in Massachusetts Bay. The island is approximately 800 feet long (eastwest) and has a maximum width of 250 feet. The lighthouse, a white-painted, tapering tower, rises from the island's highest point, some 18 feet above sea level, to a height of 89 feet. The structure is built of rubble stone, brick, and granite and is lined with brick. A 96-step spiral iron staircase gives access to two iron-railed decks and the glass and iron lantern at its top. The entrance to the lighthouse, located on the north (landward) side is covered by a one-story, one-room stone structure which also serves as a museum area.
The Boston Light went into operation on September 14, 1716. Accidental fires in 1720 and 1751 caused considerable damage to the interior of the structure but in each case it was quickly repaired and put back in service. During 1774-76 the lighthouse was held by the British forces occupying Boston. It remained in operation until July, 1775, when American raiding parties twice set it on fire (at that time it was encased in oaken staves covered with wood shingles). When the British withdrew from Boston in March, 1776, they planted a time-charge at the lighthouse; the resulting explosion destroyed the top of the structure. The light was then abandoned until 1783 when the Massachusetts legislature authorized its reconstruction. The builders apparently followed the ori-inal plans and incorporated the remaining sections of the 1716 structure in the new tower.
In 1809, following the appearance of dangerous
cracks, six heavy iron bands (three are now visible) were placed around
the lighthouse to strengthen it. The spiral iron staircase was erected
in the tower in 1844 and in 1859 the structure's height was increased
from its original 75 to the present 89 feet. Since that time no major
structural changes have been made.
The operation of Boston Light is supported by several other structures on Little Brewster Island. At the base of the tower on the south (seaward) side is a second one-story, oneroom stone structure which houses a diesel generator for emergency power and the air compressor for the foghorn mounted outside. On the lee (north) side of the island is the one-story wooden rain shed; its hip roof collects rainwater, channeling it into a 20,000 gallon tank inside. Further to the west is the 1 1/2-story frame and clapboard house occupied by the lighthouse crew of two, sometimes three men. Twin concrete and steel piers are located at the western (lower) end of the island; a marine railway between them runs from the shore to a wooden boathouse. All of the structures are regularly maintained and appear to be in good condition.
Statement of Significance
The site of the Boston Light, on the southeastern tip of Little Brewster Island in Massachusetts Bay, has been used for that purpose longer than any other lighthouse site in the United States. The original Boston Light, the first lighthouse in the country, operated from 1716 until 1776, when it was exploded by the British forces evacuating Boston. The present stone and brick tower, incorporating portions of the original, was completed in 1783.
The original Boston Light was erected by the Province of Massachusetts Bay, the present structure by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The light was ceded to the Federal Government in 1790 and was operated by the U.S. Lighthouse Service until 1939 when it was transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard. Visitors are welcome at Little Brewster Island during daylight hours but are not allowed to climb the tower.
Following a successful campaign begun by Boston merchants in 1713, the Province of Massachusetts Bay authorized the construction of the first lighthouse in America on Little Brewster Island in M-assachusetts Bay. Completed at a cost of L2,385:17:8, the structure was placed in operation on September 14, 1716. At the request of the first lighthouse keeper, in 1719 Massachusetts provided a cannon which could be used as a vrarning signal during heavy fogs; the first such signal in the country, it was not replaced until 1851. Accidental fires damaged the interior of the lighthouse in 1720 (started by drippings from the oil lamp) and again in 1751, but in both cases it was quickly returned to service.
With the outbreak of the American Revolution,
Boston Light became a military objective. The British command at Boston
had taken over control of the lighthouse in 1774 and kept it in operation
until early July, 1775, when an American raiding party succeeded in setting
it on fire. The British stationed Marines on Little Brewster Island and
began repairs of the danaged structure. However, on July 31, a 300-man
party, under orders from General Washington, stormed the island and again
fired the lighthouse. They were forced to retreat but left the lighthouse
totally unserviceable. Before the British withdrew from Boston the following
March, they planted a time-charge in the tower which completely destroyed
its upper portion.