Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2013-01-29.
Nantucket Sound was home to many burgeoning ports in the early to mid-1800s. West Dennis, on Cape Cod has always been home to people who made their living on the water, whether it was from boat building, fishing, whaling, or coastal trade. Prior to a federal light being constructed, a local resident, Warren Crowell kept a private light in his attic window on Wrinkle Point. Local ship captains helped defray the cost of oil by paying Mr. Crowell 25 cents a month.
With ship traffic in the area increasing, a small breakwater light was proposed. The local residents felt that an actual lighthouse, not a breakwater beacon, was necessary and circulated a petition. On September 28, 1850, Congress had appropriated $4,000 for the construction of a lighthouse.
All was going well until an officer of the Revenue Marine was sent to West Dennis to examine the proposed location. He felt that a lighthouse was unnecessary, and stopped the project. At the time, aids-to-navigation were still under the auspices of the Treasury Department. That changed in 1852 with the establishment of the Lighthouse Board.
The Lighthouse Board re-examined the information along with the proposed site, and concluded that a lighthouse was indeed necessary. On March 3, 1853, Congress appropriated $4,000 for the construction of a lighthouse and keeper's quarters at West Dennis. A plot of land was purchased from George W. Richardson in March of 1854. Oxen would drag the building materials over the salt marshes and dunes to the site.
Crews had built a wood-framed two-story dwelling with a lantern surmounting the roof. From the lantern, a fifth-order Fresnel lens displayed a fixed white light. Warren Crowell, the man whom had kept the private light in his attic was appropriately selected as the first keeper of the Bass River Lighthouse. He activated the light on April 30, 1855.
Warren Crowell served as keeper until 1863, when he went off to fight in the Civil War. He was wounded and taken prisoner in Virginia, although he was later released and returned to his light keeping duties in the 1870s.
On August 1, 1880 with the establishment of the Stage Harbor Lighthouse in Chatham, the Bass River Lighthouse was discontinued. Keeper Crowell extinguished the light and returned to his former residence. The lighthouse was sold at auction.
Less than a year later, complaints began circulating about the lack of light for the harbor. One such mariner to complain was William Garfield. He sent a letter to a distant relative, the recently elected President James Garfield, asking if he can do anything about the lighthouse. On July 1, 1881, while having dinner with President Garfield, Captain William Garfield was informed that the light was reinstated that night by an executive order.
The light was in service for several decades until June 15, 1914. It was deemed excess with the opening of the Cape Cod Canal which had diverted most traffic towards Buzzards Bay. An automatic beacon was established on the west jetty to mark the Bass River. The last keeper, Russell Eastman was transferred the Ned's Point Lighthouse.
The lighthouse was once again sold at auction. Harry K. Noyes of the Noyes Buick Company in Boston purchased the property for user as a summer residence. The Noyes family had the main house enlarged and several new buildings constructed on the grounds. After his death in 1933, the property sat vacant for five years.
At the urging of his wife Gladys, State Senator Everett Stone purchased the property in 1938 for $22,000. His plans were to develop the property and sell it, but by the time the paperwork went through, it was too late in the season to start any construction projects.
To help offset the mortgage costs, Gladys Stone decided to take in overnight guests. Much to her surprise, many of the guests asked to return the following year. With that, the Stone family changed their mind about the development, and started the Lighthouse Inn.
As there were very few restaurants in the area, the Everett's son Bob took over food service duty at the inn. He hired three waitresses from Wheaton College to help serve the guests. Bob Stone would marry Mary Packard in 1942, one the waitresses he had hired.
The inn would endure several hurricanes over the years. In 1944, a hurricane destroyed the oil house built in 1904 and the dining room. However, the Stone family continued to expand and grow the business. The property would face several more hurricanes, two in 1954, and Hurricane Bob in 1991.
Bob Stone passed away in 2004, however, the rest of the family remains committed to the family business. Bob and Mary's son Greg has taken over as president, and his wife, Patricia serves as the general manager.
Company President Greg Stone was instrumental in getting a light returned to the lantern. When returning from Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard, he found it hard to discern the small navigational lights from the lights on shore. He recommended to the Coast Guard that the Bass River Lighthouse be relighted as a navigational aid to local boaters.
The Coast Guard had agreed, and installed a 300-millimeter optic. The white light flashes every six seconds, and is operated seasonally from May 1 to October 31. It was officially relighted on August 7, 1989 as the West Dennis Lighthouse.
Directions: From Route 6 on Cape Cod, take exit 8 (Dennis). (Turn right) Follow Station Road south and then head east (make left) on Route 28. Once on Route 28, head south (turn right) onto School Street. Follow School Street a short distance, to Lighthouse Road. Lighthouse Road will lead you Lighthouse Inn Road. This will lead you onto the grounds of the Lighthouse Inn.
Access: Grounds open. Lighthouse open to guests of the inn.View more Bass River (West Dennis) Lighthouse pictures