Imagine being on vaunted Cape Cod, seeking some R&R and the roots of late great writer, artist, and Tony Award-winning set designer Edward Gorey, who settled here permanently during his final decades. The dunes are soft, the waters warm, air fresh and it’s not too crazy, if you can handle one-lane highways haunted by slow drivers. Then, while speaking to Gorey’s cousin once removed, you discover the 36-year old political publication editor not only shares your appreciation of lighthouses, but actually owns one. Talk about an exciting revelation!
Kenneth Morton, whose aunt’s cousin was Edward Gorey (and whose house Gorey resided in prior to his purchasing the 200-year old Yarmouthport home which is currently the Edward Gorey House museum) is the owner of the lighthouse and keeper’s station at Sandy Neck Beach, less than 10 minutes by boat from the town of Barnstable. Sandy Neck is a seven-mile long barrier beach that forms Barnstable Harbor and links to Sandwich on the Cape. Located on the other side of the harbor, on a stretch of sand-dunes that is a nature preserve, the current brick lighthouse was built in 1857 (replacing the one built in 1826 for the sum of $3,500) and is missing its lighting apparatus and cap. The neighboring Victorian keeper’s house has been there since 1880. The site was decommissioned in 1931.
Another side of Morton’s family had owned the light previously, but he is the proprietor now and considers himself fortunate to be in this position. Yet, he is also very conscious of the related responsibilities and desires to do the right thing. “I’d like to really fix it up, but I’d need some financial and hands-on assistance to do so,” admitted Morton. “The whole thing needs a paint job - both the tower and keeper’s dwelling - and could also benefit from some expertise with respect to the structural integrity of the tower. All may be well, but I wouldn’t really know.
“For both cosmetic and preservation reasons, my ambition is to have a new cap fabricated for the tower. The cosmetic part is obvious, but having a cap would also protect the interior of the tower from water. If the banister around the outside were repaired, then the top would be an enclosed room, with a door leading to the safe outer rim.”
The view from atop the tower is quite lovely, with the harbor in front of you, dunes behind and several buildings to the right, past the keeper’s house. As with most old lighthouses, there’s a history to this place, not all of it good. One 19th century keeper, Thomas Baxter, died of complications after his leg was pinned between ice and a dory. He was succeeded at the task by his brave wife, Lucy Hinckley Baxter, who raised three children there. The Baxter’s grandson, Harry Ryder, was quoted as saying “The picture she often described to us was of her having to heal whale oil, in the winter months, behind the kitchen stove and carrying two oil butts up into the tower at midnight. It’s a story we never forgot.”
Morton revealed that one of the original keeper’s logs still exists somewhere in town. The owner is reluctant to part with it, due to its age and extremely fragile condition. “But it’s likely that it will be donated to the historical society here, eventually,” Morton stated. “There is also discussion of having it transcribed.”
“I’ve only been responsible for managing the place, on behalf of my family, for three years and I’m still at the overwhelmed stage,” Morton said. “The greatest challenge is maintaining the property. The greatest pleasure is having access to such a beautiful place in such a special location and being able to share it with others. I have an annual Memorial Day party there..... those are fun, too.”
While Morton’s famous cousin, Edward Gorey, did visit the lighthouse on occasion, it wasn’t a regular occurrence. “When I was growing up, the side of my family that owned the property only allowed visitors on Sunday afternoons. They were strict tee-totaling Presbyterians who did not laugh very often. His boating days were over before the lighthouse changed status and became more accessible.” Gorey died in 2000, at age 75.
Morton stressed that Sandy Neck is a private area and off limits to the public. “But if I am heading over there and I know of an individual or very small group of people wishing to see the lighthouse, I might be willing to take them over, with advance notice, of course.”
Morton can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com
This story appeared in the
September 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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