People visiting the Marblehead Lighthouse in Marblehead, Massachu-setts may stand in awe of the large iron lighthouse at the site, but few will know about the original lighthouse that once stood there, or fascinating history associated with it.
In 1835, a short 50-foot-tall tower was established at this site, and Ezekiel Darling, a former gunner on “Old Ironsides,” the USS Constitution, became its first lighthouse keeper. When he retired in 1860, his replacement was Jane C. Martin, who, for a time, was the only female lighthouse keeper on the east coast of the United States.
By 1880, so many buildings had been constructed around the tower that mariners complained that the light was no longer effective. Knowing how slow the government would act before a higher tower could be built, the lighthouse keeper took matters into his own hands. He installed a 100-foot-tall mast and put a light atop it, which amazingly served as a beacon until a new tower could be built.
Finally, by 1895 the government began construction of a new, taller lighthouse. Much to the dismay of the locals, who expected a beautiful and typical lighthouse tower to be built, the new tower was an iron skeleton tower. It is the only spindly-legged lighthouse tower in all of the New England states.
During the Great Hurricane of 1938, when the power was knocked out along much of southern New England, lighthouse keeper Harry S. Marden used his Yankee ingenuity to keep the beacon lit. He drove his car up to the base of the lighthouse and hooked up the tower’s wires to his car battery.
During World War II, the lighthouse was closed off to the public. The U.S. Army took over the site as an observation area to watch for enemy vessels and the landing of possible saboteurs.
Today, as part of Chandler Hovey Park in Marblehead, Massachusetts, the lighthouse is cared for by the local Rotary Club. Although the grounds are open to the public, the tower is only opened by special arrangement.
This story appeared in the
Jul/Aug 2019 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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