Guiding ships into Boston Harbor since 1783, when it replaced the original 1716 lighthouse blown up during the Revolutionary War, Boston Light sits atop Little Brewster Island marking the way for 234 years. Much of the lighthouse is exactly as it was then; a time machine to the first years of America. I was able to visit the lighthouse in 2016 during the 300th anniversary of the original lighthouse.
The bands seen in this picture replaced iron bands installed in 1809 when the structural integrity of the lighthouse was in question when cracks appeared. The new aluminum bands won’t rust out the way the iron bands did. They’re placed where the original iron bands were, making this image from the water very similar to how it would have looked during the War of 1812 when American and British forces fought each other within sight of the lighthouse.
A fog signal cannon was added in 1719 and after time at the Coast Guard Academy is back on display on the island. This cannon was the first fog signal in America. It must have been quite a show for one to see the lighthouse keeper standing outside firing the cannon into the white swirling bands of fog.
Walking the circular route up the stairs to the top on that hot summer day in 2016 left me sweating and a little out of breath, but blessedly far away from the ravenous flies that seem to thrive on tourists. There’s a boat that leaves from the campus of UMASS Boston. I happened to be on that boat for a harbor cruise put together by people in the industry. Some work days are better than others.
A lot has changed in America since its construction, but Boston Light is roughly what it’s always been; a beacon of hope for sailors trying to find their way to port. I’m glad to have spent time on the island, immersing myself in the history of the lighthouse, looking back on the city skyline and making the most of a sunny day on Boston Harbor.
The original lighthouse keeper and five others drowned while canoeing back to the island on November 3, 1718, immortalized in a poem by a young Benjamin Franklin aptly named “The Lighthouse Tragedy”. On the day that I was out there the swells were large enough for some extra care docking. It isn’t hard to imagine an overloaded canoe overturning in swells like that. As we approach the 300th anniversary of that incident, I’ll give a nod to their memory towards the bay.