Thanks to its new owner, Nick Korstad, the 1881 Borden Flats Lighthouse in Fall River, Massachusetts is sporting a spiffy new look.
Located in Mount Hope Bay, at the mouth of the Taunton River, the beat up old lighthouse was recently purchased by Korstad at a public auction offered by the government under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act.
Korstad said he surveyed a large number of boaters who said they were tired of looking at the rusty white lighthouse and they all wanted to see a change. As well as being an eyesore, the white tower was hard to distinguish from the new cooling towers and the supports of the Braga Bridge.
The history of Borden Flats Lighthouse goes back to the 1870s when an unlighted day beacon was built at the site to mark the hidden reef at the mouth of the river. Eventually the government built the five story caisson style lighthouse that was first lighted on October 1, 1881.
Amazingly, but not unusual in some lighthouse communities, Korstad says that there were some people who didn’t even know the lighthouse was there until they saw the new color scheme that gave the lighthouse its classy new look. However, the lighthouse wasn’t always white as is depicted in most old images. At one time the lighthouse was another color, but there is no one around today who would remember what it was.
The name Borden Flats was derived from the Borden Family who owned extensive textile mills along the edge of the river and were one of Fall River’s wealthiest families. The Borden family name is associated with one of the most famous murder trails in American history. In 1892, Lizzie Borden was accused of the hatchet murders of her father Andrew and her stepmother Abby. The famous trial, held the following year in nearby New Bedford, is still researched and written about today. Lizzie’s defense team, which included George D. Robinson, a former governor of Massachusetts, convinced the jury to render a not guilty verdict. No one else was ever charged with the crime and many theories exist as to the real murderer.
Although some of the history of life at the lighthouse as been rediscovered over the years, much of the history of life at the lighthouse, in the days of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, has remained elusive.
However, if the lighthouse could talk, it would tell you about the glorious days of yesteryear when lavish ships such as the SS Priscilla and the SS City of Fall River, both of the famous Fall River Line, sailed past the lighthouse on their way to and from their berths. It would also tell you of what was perhaps its proudest moment as it saluted the Battleship Massachusetts on its arrival at nearby Battleship Cover to become the flagship of a popular tourist attraction.
With the decline of the big passenger ships, the importance of the lighthouse was diminished. When Waldo Sherman, the Harbor Master of Fall River, wrote to the Lighthouse Service on October 23, 1937 with an inquiry about the lighthouse, he received the following reply, “The light tower was established in 1881, but this office has no record as to the beacon. However, perhaps the Superintendent of Lighthouses at Staten Island, New York could give you this information . . . .” Later in the same letter, apparently in reply to another question by the harbor master, it was written, “There is but one keeper at Borden Flats Light Station, as you state, and he is on duty twenty-four hours, except for the time that he goes ashore for provisions.”
When the Coast Guard took over the lighthouse in 1939, they assigned two men to live at the lighthouse. However, as modernization came of age, eventually nearly everything was automated, and the last of the modern keepers had very little real work to do and were generally bored.
For most of its life as a manned lighthouse station, Borden Flats did not have electricity. As late as 1957, the lamp was still lit by kerosene until electricity was brought to the lighthouse that same year. By 1963, with no real work for keepers to do at the automated lighthouse, it was de-staffed. However, the Fresnel lens remained in the tower until 1977 when it was removed and replaced by a modern optic. Interestingly, the fog bell remained in use until the mid 1980s when it was replaced by a foghorn.
Although the Coast Guard did some renovations to the lighthouse in 2002, as we reported with photos in the July 2002 edition of Lighthouse Digest, without ongoing care the lighthouse soon fell into a state of disrepair.
The new look of Borden Flats Lighthouse not only brightens it up, but it helps draw more public attention to lighthouses; both of these results were desperately needed. Nick Korstad is to be congratulated for helping with that effort.
This story appeared in the
Jan/Feb 2012 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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