Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2013-07-05.
The city of Fall River has always been defined by the cotton and textile industries, and during the 19th century, it was the deemed the "textile capital of the world." Plentiful resources, access to a large labor pool, and the location near the bustling northeast shipping lanes helped solidify this title.
In the early 1700s, Benjamin Church, a veteran of King Philip's War, established several mills along the banks of the Quequechan River. After running the mills for over a decade, he sold the mills, land, and water rights to brothers Richard and Joseph Borden of Tiverton, Rhode Island. Descendants of the Borden family would continue to run the mills well into the future. The most famous of the Borden Family, Lizzie Borden was accused of murdering her father and stepmother with an ax, was acquitted in 1893.
Development of the textile industry started in the early 1790s. By 1811, Colonel Joseph Durfee established a spinning mill called the Globe Manufactory. This was just the start of the industrial development that would take place. Over the next fifty years many businesses would pop up including a printing press, the Globe Yarn Company, Fall River Manufactory, Troy Cotton & Wollen Manufactory, and the Pocasset Manufacturing Company.
In 1837, the port at Fall River was designated a port of entry by the federal government. With this designation, imports from around the world started coming in such as coal and iron. Colonel Richard Borden, a descendant of the Borden Family which operated the family's many mills along the Quequechan River, started a rail line into Fall River called the Fall River Branch Railroad which opened in 1845.
A few years later, Colonel Borden would start regular steamship service to New York City called the Fall River Line. The line ran the most luxurious steamships transporting passengers between New York City and Boston. For generations, The Borden Family would have their hands in many local businesses in the area, including railroads, banks, steamboats, mines, and many others.
Fall River was officially incorporated as a city in 1854. Starting around 1865, the textile industry started expanding in the city, with the most expansion taking place during the years 1871-1872. During those two years, fifteen new corporations were founded bringing twenty-two new mills to the city and some expansion at existing mills.
With the expansion taking place within the city, it led to increased traffic on the waterways in the area. Most traffic followed the Quequechan River to the Taunton River. From the Taunton River, vessels would navigate Mount Hope Bay which would lead them to Narragansett Bay, and then to the Atlantic Ocean.
To help navigate the area and to mark the dangerous reefs near Mount Hope Bay, a "stone beacon, with iron column and day-mark" was placed opposite Fall River as early as 1872. Many years later on June 16, 1880, an appropriation of $25,000 was made for the construction of the Borden Flats Lighthouse.
The following entry was made in the Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board dated 1880:
Borden's Flats, opposite Fall River, Massachusetts - Upon the recommendation of the district officers, an appropriation was made by Congress for establishing a light-house at this point. The necessary cession of jurisdiction having been made by the State of Massachusetts, work will be commenced as soon as possible.
Construction of the iron caisson was started soon after. After the cast-iron caisson was sunk in place, it was topped with concrete. Construction of the superstructure was started the following year. Cast iron sections were barged out to the caisson in July of 1881 and assembled. The tower was outfitted with a fifth-order Fresnel lens displaying a fixed red light.
The station was completed and put into use on October 1, 1881. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board dated 1881 had the following entry:
139. Borden's Flats, in Mount Hope Bay, opposite Fall River, Massachusetts - The superstructure, consisting of an iron tower and keeper's dwelling combined, was completed, including a fog bell operated by machinery, and was placed on the iron pier which was put in position and filled last year. The station was lighted for the first time on October 1, 1881.
According to the Annual Reports of the Lighthouse Board, it appears that life settled in to a routine with only minor repairs to the station being made over the years. However, on June 27, 1900, the color of the light was changed from fixed red to fixed white, and improved fifth order lamps were fitted. Less than six months later on December 3, 1900, the light's characteristic was changed from fixed white to a flashing white light.
Some station upgrades came in 1915. According to an entry in the Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, wooden walls in the kitchen coal bin and privy were replaced with tile. A water closet was installed, and the concrete deck and main gallery were renewed.
The Great Hurricane of 1938 would start as a category 5 storm in the open Atlantic. But by the time it made landfall in the Northeast on September 21, it would be downgraded to a category 3 with gusts reaching 121-mph.
Like many of the other lighthouses on the Atlantic coast such as the Beavertail and Whale Rock, the Borden Flats Lighthouse was affected by the powerful hurricane. When the storm had passed, the tower had a noticeable list, which it still has today. To provide extra protection, a new wider caisson was installed. Both are evident in the picture above.
Prior to electrification in 1957, everything ran on kerosene. The keepers left the station for good when automation came in 1963. The Fresnel lens was removed in 1977 in favor of a more maintenance friendly plastic optic. An electronic fog horn replaced the old fog bell in 1983.
The Coast Guard continued to maintain the lighthouse over the years. In 2006, the lighthouse became available to a qualified organization under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. No entities stepped forward, and the lighthouse went to public auction in September 2008.
When the bidding closed, Attorney Michael Gabriel of Carson City, Nevada had won the auction with a winning bid of $55,000. His plan was turn the lighthouse into a microbrewery to create unique beers from seawater. Mr. Gabriel failed to close on the property, and it went back to the auction block.
The second auction concluded in August 2010 with a winning bid of $56,569 by Nick Korstad, a lighthouse enthusiast from Oregon. His plans were to restore the lighthouse and make it accessible to the public. The lighthouse is still an active aid to navigation and as such, access is still required by the Coast Guard to maintain the lighting apparatus.
During the summer of 2011, the lighthouse was repainted. To help distinguish it against the Braga Bridge, it was given a red band around the middle and the lantern roof painted red. Currently the lighthouse is open for tours and overnight stays.
Note: The lighthouse is private property, please respect this and do not trespass.
Directions: The lighthouse sits off-shore in the Taunton River, so the best view is from the water. However, pretty good views are available at the Borden Light Marina which is at the corner of Ferry and Almond Streets.
Access: Currently the lighthouse is open for tours and overnight stays. For more information, please visit www.bordenflats.com.View more Borden Flats Lighthouse pictures