Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2014-01-26.
Originally a village of the town of Rochester, Mattapoisett was settled in 1750. As one of the capacious harbors on Buzzards Bay, it had developed into a location for shipbuilding, whaling, and trade. To help further Mattapoisett, state congressman, and former president, John Quincy Adams, played a pivotal role in getting funding for the lighthouse.
On March 3, 1837, Congress appropriated $5,000 for the Ned's Point Lighthouse which was named after a local farmer named Edwin "Ned" Dexter. To provide a location for the lighthouse, Barnabas Hiller, the landowner, sold four-acres of land to the U.S. Government for $240. The U.S. Lighthouse Establishment authorized a 35-foot lighthouse with a "birdcage-style" lantern which was similar to the Bird Island Lighthouse nearby.
Ned's Point Lighthouse
Local shipbuilder and businessman Leonard Hammond, locally known as "Uncle Leonard", was awarded the contract to build the light station. Like most government contracts, the lighthouse was to be finished by a specified date. When the inspector came to check on it, Uncle Leonard steered him to the Plymouth County House, a local tavern owned by Hammond to delay him.
While Uncle Leonard kept the inspector entertained, his employees ran down to the construction site and placed planks over barrels to give the appearance of completed flooring. When the inspector arrived and set foot on the edge of the plank, he disappeared into the foundation. He was unhurt, but very angry.
Uncle Leonard did eventually complete the conical lighthouse. The tower was built of stone gathered from the nearby beach. Also constructed at that time was a stone keeper's dwelling and oil house. A unique feature of the lighthouse is the cantilevered granite staircase. In the center, each of its 32 granite stairs rest atop each other, and the out edge of the stair was hand cut in to the wall. No mortar was used in the process.
Inside the birdcage-style lantern was a system of 11 lamps with 13-1/2" parabolic reflectors. A fixed white light was displayed for the first time in March of 1838. At the base of the tower was a small workroom that housed a stove which was used to heat the whale oil to a liquid in the winter, as the cold would cause it to congeal.
Lt. Edward W. Carpender inspected most lighthouses in New England in 1838, and as such, inspected the Ned's Point Lighthouse a few months after its construction. Like many of the early lighthouses prior to the establishment of the Lighthouse Board in 1852, he found the quality lacking.
Some of the items he found were that the lighthouse was constructed on a base of sand rather than a solid foundation, the glass in the lantern was supposed to be Boston double-crown, but instead glass of the thinnest kind was used, and how both the lantern and keeper's dwelling had many leaks.
Regarding the number of lamps burning in the lantern, he had the following comment:
Much of this navigation is aided by Nobsque light, which, though standing on Vineyard sound, is seen from the bay. Metapoiset is a place of little or no resort, except for its own trade, which is small; consequently, there are many nights when a light is of no use whatever in this harbor; yet we find more lamps here than in three-fourths of the light-houses in the district. I have elsewhere remarked, that a single common lantern, sufficiently elevated, would answer all the purposes of this navigation; whereas, now, between three four hundred gallons of oil a year are being consumed. The lamps are so arranged that three of them are reflecting their light to no useful purpose towards the interior.
Lt. Carpender recommended seven of the lamps be suppressed. Of the remaining four, he advised that they be compactly arranged which would still provide utility to the mariner and save around $250 annually. He also commented on the size of the lantern, a mere 5'8" high, which was too low for a keeper with his hat on.
Due to the poor quality, most keepers didn't stay at the station long before requesting a transfer. The only keeper to spend a considerable amount of time at Ned's Point was a former stage coach driver named Larnet Hall Jr. He spent a total of 20 years over the course of two stints, 1848-1853 and 1859-1874.
In 1857, the old system of lamps and reflectors were replaced with a more efficient fifth-order Fresnel lens. Most people posit that the birdcage-style lantern was removed at the same time, replaced by a larger octagonal lantern.
Some relief would come to the keeper between 1868 and 1869, as many improvements were made to the dwelling. By 1878, the tower was in poor condition and a new tower was requested. The same request would be submitted the following year, neither was acted upon.
The estimated cost for the tower and rehabilitation of the keeper's dwelling was $5,000. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board had the following entries:
123. Ned's Point, entrance to Mattapoisett Harbor, Massachusetts - A new tower is required, and general overhauling of the keeper's dwelling is needed. This will cost $5,000, and the appropriation of that sum, therefore, is suggested.
123. Ned's Point, entrance to Mattapoisett Harbor, Massachusetts - A new tower is required and general repairs to the keeper's dwelling; the estimated cost will be $5,000. An appropriation is respectfully asked.
The Great Blizzard of 1888, sometimes known as the Great White Hurricane would severely damage the dwelling, so much so that it would need to be knocked down. Once the dilapidated 1847 stone dwelling was torn down, a new wood-framed house was erected on the original foundation.
The following year, the station was surveyed for drawings. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board dated 1889 had the following entry:
A few years later in 1892, the lighthouse and the dwelling were connected via a covered walkway. The lantern and deck were replaced in 1896. A brick oil house was added to the site in 1907.
The lighthouse was automated in 1923. As the keeper's dwelling was still in good shape, the Lighthouse Board reused it at the Wing's Neck Lighthouse. The scow Eva arrived at the station and loaded the house aboard. It was then floated up Buzzard's Bay to Bourne where the Wing's Neck Lighthouse was located.
Legend has it that Keeper Russell B. Eastman cooked himself one last breakfast inside the house while it was being floated across Buzzard's Bay.
The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1952. As the property was no longer needed, it was put up for auction. An error was made in the offering, and it was offered up for sale "to the lowest bidder." A local named James Stowell offered up a bid of one cent, the lowest possible price to assure him of the win, but the auction was canceled. Captain Stowell did receive eight pages of documentation on why his bid was rejected.
The town of Mattapoisett purchased the land in 1958, which it developed into a park. The Coast Guard retained ownership of the lighthouse. In 1961, after the addition of a modern plastic optic, the Coast Guard activated the tower again. It assigned a six-second isophase characteristic which is a white light displayed for three seconds with three seconds of darkness following it.
Placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1982, the Ned's Point Lighthouse received formal approval of the placement in 1988.
The local Coast Guard Auxillary Flotilla adopted the lighthouse in 1993, which they renovated between 1995 and 1996. Some of the restoration work included removing Plexiglas panes from the lantern and replacing them with safety plate glass, installing a new 250-millimeter optic and automatic bulb changer.
In 2009, the Ned's Point Lighthouse opened for tours during the summer. By 2011, the lighthouse was in need of repairs leading to its closure during the usual busy summer months. These repairs should keep the tower in great shape for future generations.
Directions: The lighthouse sits on the grounds of Veteran's Memorial Park in Mattapoisett. From County Road 6, take North Street South to Water Street. Head left on Water Street, which which change names to Beacon Street, and then to Ned's Point Road. Follow Ned's Point Road to the end which will lead you to the park.
Access: The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. It is open on Thursdays in the summer.View more Ned's Point Lighthouse pictures