BOSTON-A new Light Keeper arrived at Little Brewster Island on Monday, Sept. 15, 2003. Little Brewster Island is home to Boston Light, the site of the very first Lighthouse in America; however, this ceremony will add a couple new twists to the Light’s history.
Lighthouses were originally operated under the U.S. Lighthouse Service, an organization consisting of civilian government employees who served as “keepers” or “assistant keepers” at light stations all over the country. Many remained at a particular station for 20 or more years while others moved about from lighthouse to lighthouse. On numerous occasions, wives of keepers took over for their husbands and became official “keepers” themselves. New England is rich in maritime history with several women lighthouse keepers who not only maintained the light station but also made daring rescues of boaters in distress at sea. Ida Lewis of Rhode Island, Kate Walker of New York and Abbie Burgess of Maine were all famous women lighthouse keepers who served their country as civilian keepers. In 1939, the U.S. Lighthouse Service was transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard and the civilian lighthouse personnel were slowly replaced with active duty Coast Guard military personnel. Over time, all of the civilian lighthouse personnel were eventually replaced.
In 1989, when many lighthouses across the United States were being automated due to the advances in technology and the Coast Guard military personnel removed, the decision was made to keep military personnel assigned at Boston Light due to its historical significance as the site of America’s first lighthouse.
In 1996, the creation of the Boston Harbor Islands National Park, which included Little Brewster Island, provided a whole new opportunity for the long-term historic preservation and public enjoyment of this beautiful historic site.
Under a partnership agreement between the Coast Guard, the National Park Service and the Island Alliance, the island and lighthouse were opened to the public for visitation and tours in 1999. The program has grown considerably over the past several years with thousands of tourists and visitors being able to visit the island, learn of the history of the lighthouse, climb to the top of the cupola to marvel at the original second order Fresnel lens and to look back at the beautiful skyline of the city of Boston.
A museum was created in the base of the tower which includes an original 1700s cannon used to signal ships in the fog. The original 1884 keepers dwelling was completely restored and a permanent pier to accommodate larger vessels is planned in the coming year.
Due to the growth of the visitation and historic preservation program and expectation of further growth in the coming years as the National Park grows, earlier this year the Coast Guard obtained a permanent civilian position to oversee the entire program for Boston Light and Little Brewster Island. With the position goes the title of “Keeper.”
Interviews were held earlier this summer with applicants from all over the country. Finally, Ms. Sally Snowman of Plymouth, Mass., was selected for the position. Her “official” arrival was held on Monday, September 15 and RADM Vivien S. Crea, the First Coast District Commander and Capt. Daniel May, the Group Boston Commander, were on hand to greet her. Other government and local officials also attended. To add to this historic occasion, Ms. Snowman arrived in a wooden long boat rowed by members of the Hull Lifesaving Museum with an escort from CG36500, the Coast Guard’s original motor lifeboat from Orleans, Mass.
This story appeared in the
October 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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