They built it for the same reason that so many other lighthouses were erected, because in fog and foul weather, sailing ships kept bumping into the island. By 1820, nearly a thousand cargo vessels sailed past it each month. So, in 1823 Congress agreed to spend $3,000 for the construction of a stone tower and residence on the southwestern tip of Cuttyhunk Island.
The island, which is about two miles long and a mile wide, is just 14 miles due south of the old whaling port of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Historical records indicate that several captains from the whaling fleet had residences on the island. Approximately seven miles southeast of Cuttyhunk is the larger island called Martha’s Vineyard.
In 1860 the keeper’s house was enlarged to two stories and a lantern was placed on the roof to replace the old lighthouse. In 1892 the new 45-foot light tower was constructed. The third light served for more than a half century, before it was demolished shortly after the Coast Guard closed the light station in 1947.
Austin S. Smith was the keeper at the Cuttyhunk Light Station from before January 1872 until October 26, 1881. In making his daily entries into the logbook, he was a man of few words with a broad stroke of the pen. He entered “short and to the point” prose such as:
Jan 5, ‘72 ... Dense fog and thick cloudy these twenty-four hours.
Jan 7, ... The Aurora Borealis was very brilliant at one o’clock A.M. Jan 30, ... Struck on the NW point at 7 o’clock PM the schooner Connecticut.
Apr 10, ... Struck on the 9th instant on the SE part of Cuttyhunk, the schooner Telegraph.
July 3 ... Very smooth sea. So ends this day.
Sept 5 ... Came here Yacht “North Star” Mr. Nye with a patty.
Nov. 13 ... Heard of the great fire in Boston on Sunday the tenth instant.
Dec. 2 ... The British Brig. Mary Given was all dashed to pieces last night.
It would appear from later logbook entries that Mr. Smith, or a keeper before him, had set the precedent for short and to the point entries. However, when the Coast Guard took charge of the lighthouse service in 1939, the entries became even shorter and to the point; only reporting wind direction, weather reports and notations of routine duty. Such was the case with S. A. Orne, the first civilian keeper at Cuttyhunk to be inducted into the Coast Guard. In the lighthouse keepers’ logbook of the l940’s, his daily routine consisted of:
Cleaning about the station...
Cleaning and polishing brass...
Painting doorjamb ...
Working on the dory ...
Washing the windows...
Just out of curiosity, we looked ahead in the books to see what he might have had to say regarding the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941:
Dec. 7, ‘41 ... cleaning in tower
Dec. 8, ‘41 ... daily routine
Dec. 9, ‘41 ... watching for enemy planes
Dec. 10-31 ... daily routine
It would appear from the entries in the logbook that no enemy planes came on December 9th, so the keeper went back to his daily routines. Two later entries were more personal, but still short and to the point.
July 6 ‘42 ... Working on station dory. Keeper’s birthday ...age 54.
Mar. 8,’43 ... Light N & NW and clear Daily routine. Keeper retired by Coast Guard at 10:30.
For additional information on the Cuttyhunk Light, one should read the book, Lost Lighthouses: Stories and Images of America’s Vanished Lighthouses by Tim Harrison and Ray Jones.
This story appeared in the
June 2002 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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