About the author and photographer - Jay Thomson and Sally Snowman are lighthouse enthusiasts who were also married at Boston Light. They spend much of their time off at Boston Light to relieve the keepers on their off-time.
The oldest wooden lighthouse in the United States, located in Plymouth, Massachusetts, was given a new lease on life when moved this past December. There has been a light at Gurnet Point since the first "twin" light in America was established there in 1769.
Plymouth Light, often referred to as Gurnet Light, is located 3.8 nautical miles northeast of Plymouth Rock. As the seagulls fly, however, it is about 6 nautical miles by boat and 16 1/2 miles by land. You need to pass through the towns of Kingston and Duxbury to get to Gurnet Point which is part of the town of Plymouth. The lighthouse is located within the embankments of Fort Andrews, a Revolutionary fort that saw limited action when a British frigate ran aground on Browns Bank just south of the light. Edward Rowe Snow, noted lighthouse author, claimed that the light was hit by a cannon ball during the exchange.
The present tower dates from 1842, and is at least the third one, as new towers were built in 1803 to replace the towers that burned in 1801. It is interesting to note that at that time, Duxbury was one of the great ship building centers of the world! The north tower was discontinued and removed in 1924. The foundation remains and a triangulation (survey) marker was placed on it in 1938.
Original plans were to have the lighthouse moved in 1997. However, it was delayed for about a year when concerns were raised by residents of Gurnet Point. Some wanted the Coast Guard to stop the erosion, but most were concerned about ecological damage to the roads and trespassing. Access to the lighthouse at Fort Andrews is via privately owned roads and there are no public facilities. Both the work crew and spectators would need to trespass to get to the site.
The tower was moved about 140 feet north of the 1842 location and rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise. This keeps the tower within the northern embankment of Fort Andres. The new concrete foundation will be backfilled to the top row of the granite foundation stones that were moved along with the tower. A temporary light tower will serve as an aid to navigation until the actual tower has been refurbished and the light is relit. The original 4th order Fresnel lens is currently on display at the Hull Lifesaving Museum in Hull, Massachusetts.
The project of the move was managed by the Coast Guard's Civil Engineering Unit out of Providence, RI. The contractor for the move was Northern Construction Service, LLC of Hingham, MA and the actual move was done by D & K Building Movers of Scituate, MA. Compared to the past moves of Southeast Light on Block Island, RI and Cape Cod's Highland Light, this move was "a piece of cake," since Plymouth Light is a wooden structure only 39 feet high with a weight of about 12 tons.
This story appeared in the
February 1999 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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