Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2017-04-06.
To protect Gloucester Harbor from the fury of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as mark the Dog Bar Reef, the Army Corps of Engineers built the 2,250-foot Dog Bar Breakwater. The Dog Bar Breakwater Light was established in 1905 to mark its end.
By the early 1700s, Gloucester had become an important shipbuilding center. As time went on and it continued to grow, it morphed into an important fishing port due to its proximity to the many fishing banks in the North Atlantic Ocean.
By the early 1800s, many ships called Gloucester Harbor home. In 1821, the Ten Pound Island Lighthouse was established inside the harbor, but this did little for vessels in the Atlantic Ocean searching for the harbor. Therefore, to mark the harbor's entrance, the Eastern Point Lighthouse was established in 1832.
Both lighthouses helped increase the safety of the mariners, but entering the harbor was still dangerous due to the submerged Dog Bar reef, which runs out from the end of Eastern Point directly into the mouth of the harbor. And storms in the Atlantic Ocean still sent large swells into the outer harbor.
To remedy both, the Army Corps of Engineers began construction of a breakwater in 1894. To build the substructure, a mixture of grout, broken granite, and refuse from local Cape Ann quarries was dumped in a line extending out from Eastern Point. At the base, it was 100 feet wide and narrowed to 31 feet wide at the top.
To build the superstructure, seven tiers of cut granite blocks were placed atop each other in a pyramid-like fashion. The whole superstructure was then topped by 10-foot long capstones supplied by the Cheves Granite Company of Rockport, Massachusetts. Each block weighed 12-tons and were placed longitudinally across the structure. An additional row of 5-ton granite blocks were placed in front of the breakwater, on the seaward side.
While the construction was in process, a lens-lantern was established on July 1, 1901, marking its unfinished end. It wasn't in use very long before the ferocious Atlantic Ocean carried it away on November 5, 1901.
While the construction was progressing, many ships ran into the breakwater. On December 5, 1902, while seeking refuge during a developing storm, the two-masted schooner Flo F. Mader from Lunenberg, Nova Scotia struck the breakwater, unaware of its construction. Although the vessel was a total loss, the captain and six crew members were rescued by a crew from the Dolliver's Neck Lifesaving Station and housed at the Eastern Point Lighthouse.
As the breakwater was nearing completion, the Lighthouse Board made the following recommendation in the Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board for 1904:
Dog Bar Breakwater, entrance to Gloucester Harbor, Massachusetts - This breakwater is to extend 2,250 feet from the shore at Eastern Point across the entrance to Gloucester Harbor. The substructure is a rubble mound built to the height of mean low water; the superstructure is of dimension stones built to the height of 7.5 feet above mean high water with a width of 10 feet on top. It has been found very difficult to maintain a post-light on the end of the substructure during the winter, and although a lighted buoy has been kept off its outer end, quite a number of vessels have, from time to time, been seriously damaged by colliding with it. The Board recommends that a light be placed on the outer end of the breakwater, which is now approaching completion, and that a fog-signal by bell or trumpet be also established. It is estimated that a light-house with a fog-signal operated by compressed air and a first-class Daboll trumpet, the tower to be of iron with iron deck and fourth-order lantern, would cost $42,795. The Board recommends that an appropriation of that amount be made therefor.
Nothing was done and the Lighthouse Board repeated the same request in 1905. That year, the Dog Bar Breakwater was completed. Constructed of 231,760 tons of granite, its cost was somewhere between $300,000 and $500,000, depending on what books you look.
As Congress never appropriated the nearly $43,000 that was requested to establish a fourth-order iron lighthouse and a fog signal, a wooden tripod was erected on the granite mound at the end of the breakwater. Atop the wooden tripod was a fixed white light, which was exhibited on December 14, 1905.
The keeper of the Eastern Point Lighthouse was given the added responsibility of the new Gloucester Breakwater Light, which is more commonly known as the Dog Bar Breakwater Light today. The task was oftentimes dangerous during high seas and cold temperatures, which left the breakwater ice covered.
The recommendation made by the Lighthouse Board in 1904 and 1905, was repeated again in 1906 and 1907. Still no changes were made. Finally, in 1910, the Lighthouse Board requested $10,000 for a more powerful light and fog signal:
No. 36. Gloucester Breakwater light and fog-signal, Mass - For improving the light and establishing a fog-signal on Gloucester Breakwater, entrance to Gloucester Harbor, Mass., $10,000.
A great many fishing vessels frequent this harbor, entering and leaving at all times of day and night, and in all kinds of weather. The lens light now on the breakwater has not been adequate to prevent collisions with the breakwater. A more powerful light and a fog-signal are needed.
At the end of the breakwater, a small wood-framed house and small tower were built atop a skeletal structure. The structure housed a unique, striking machine, which was used to power the fog bell. Due to the danger in traversing the breakwater during inclement weather, an electrically operated fog signal was established at the Dog Bar Breakwater Light on July 11, 1911.
The electrically operated fog bell was rare in the Lighthouse Service. At the time this system was installed at the Dog Bar Breakwater Light, there were only two other instances in use - one at Cape Charles, Virginia and one at Marquette, Michigan.
The fog bell still used a striking mechanism to produce the sound, but rather than having to wind the weights of the clockwork manually, the system employed a small electric motor to wind the weights. An electric current was supplied by a generator that was located in a small powerhouse located at the Eastern Point Lighthouse, which was then run via power cable along the jetty.
On March 4, 1931, a major Nor'easter hit the Massachusetts and New Hampshire coasts bringing snow, howling winds, and the highest tide in 21 years. The force of the waves dislodged several of the 12-ton capstones atop the breakwater severing the power cable to the Dog Bar Breakwater Light. After repairing the cable and the damage to the lighthouse, it was soon operational again.
A devastating fire struck the Dog Bar Breakwater Light on February 17, 1943. The fire consumed the fog bell house, which was the small white building that sat atop the skeletal structure. From pictures, it appears that the tower was reinforced with a steel frame, which allowed it to survive the fire. The structure was soon rebuilt and placed back into service.
After automation of the Eastern Point Lighthouse, the sensor that activates the electronic fog signal was moved to the end of the breakwater.
Today, the Dog Bar Breakwater is still a popular place to visit in Gloucester. It is part of the Eastern Point Wildlife Sanctuary, which provides a great location for spotting migrating waterfowl. Just watch the sea, as it is easy to be swept into the water.
Directions: The lighthouse sits at the end of Dog Bar Breakwater in Gloucester Harbor. It is best accessed from the Eastern Point Lighthouse. To get to the Eastern Point Lighthouse take East Main Street south. When East Main Street crosses Rocky Neck Ave. it will change names to Eastern Point Road. Follow that to the end. There is a parking lot next to the lighthouse, which is managed by the Massachusetts Audubon Society as part of the Eastern Point Wildlife Sanctuary.
There are "private road" signs posted, but visitors are permitted to drive to the lighthouse. If someone is at the gate, tell them you are going to the Audubon property at Eastern Point, and they should permit you access.
Access: The light is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds open, tower closed. Be careful walking the breakwater, waves frequently sweep over it.View more Dog Bar Breakwater Lighthouse pictures