Newburyport, Massachusetts, where the first revenue cutter in the U.S. was launched in 1791, is often referred to as the “Birthplace of the Coast Guard.” The city grew up as a center of commerce and shipbuilding along the banks of the Merrimack River and has no shortage of maritime history. The light station at the northern tip of nine-mile long Plum Island dates back to 1788. A landmark day in the history of the lighthouse was celebrated on May 10, 2003, as ownership was passed from the Coast Guard to the City of Newburyport.
Since 1995, the volunteers of the Friends of Plum Island Light have cared for the present 1898 wooden lighthouse, officially known as Newburyport Harbor Light, under a lease from the Coast Guard. They have provided access to the tower to thousands of people during frequent open houses each summer. The neighboring keeper’s house serves as the headquarters for the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.
A good-sized crowd gathered in the bright May sunshine between the lighthouse and the keeper’s house. Captain Daniel R. May, commander of Coast Guard Group Boston, was master of ceremonies and began by calling it a “great day for the City of Newburyport, for the Friends of Plum Island Light, and for the U.S. Coast Guard.” He commented on the excellent work of the volunteers at the lighthouse, which he had witnessed first hand.
Congressman John F. Tierney thanked the Coast Guard for all they do for our nation, and pointed out that the lighthouse transfer was one of many that will be happening in the coming years as the Coast Guard seeks qualified custodians for the historic structures under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000.
Rear Admiral Vivien S. Crea, commander of the First Coast Guard District, said that she has a tremendous personal appreciation for lighthouses and a great desire that they be properly cared for. Admiral Crea, who lives at the Hospital Point Lighthouse in Beverly, Mass., said that the Friends of Plum Island Light began in the early 1990s as a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation (ALF). Several ALF officers were present at the ceremony, including President Tim Harrison and Vice President Joe Lebherz, who personally helped the Friends of Plum Island Light get started.
Admiral Crea presented a plaque and ceremonial keeper’s key to the lighthouse to Newburyport Mayor Alan Lavender, who said that the Coast Guard “knows how to do things right.” He joked about how nice the plaque and key would look on the wall of his office, but said that he had only considered that for a minute or two and that “the key’s rightful place is in the lighthouse.”
Mayor Lavender added that a ten-year lease is being extended to the Friends of Plum Island Light by the City of Newburyport. He turned the plaque and key over to Friends’ President Jim Frey, who said that his organization has enjoyed taking care of the lighthouse and has a number of ongoing projects. “This is our baby,” he said, adding, “Let’s party!” as the guests moved to the refreshment tables.
It was indeed a great day for a historic, well-loved lighthouse and a dedicated group of volunteers. This is an easily accessible lighthouse, and the Friends of Plum Island Light are holding open houses this year through October 12.
For dates, times and more information contact: The Friends of Plum Island Light, Inc., P.O. Box 381, Newburyport, MA 01950.
This story appeared in the
July 2003 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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