Ten Pound Island Lighthouse

Gloucester, Massachusetts - 1881 (1821**)

Photo of the Ten Pound Island Lighthouse.

History of the Ten Pound Island Lighthouse

Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2017-04-21.

U.S. Coast Guard Archive Photo of the Ten Pound Island Lighthouse1821 Ten Pound Island Light (Courtesy Coast Guard)

By the late 1700s, Gloucester was fast becoming a major fishing port and shipbuilding center. To help mariners safely reach the inner harbor, the U.S. Government built the Ten Pound Island Lighthouse.

Although legend states that Ten Pound Island received its name from the amount of money allegedly paid to the local Indians by the early settlers, local historians dispute it. Instead, they offer that the island most likely took its name for the number of sheep pens, called pounds that were on the island.

Shortly after the turn of the century, locals began requesting measures to make the harbor safer. On May 15, 1820, Congress appropriated $9,000 for two lighthouses and three buoys. One lighthouse would be on Ten Pound Island and the other on Baker Island, while the three buoys would be placed near Salem, Massachusetts.

On Ten Pound Island, a 20-foot conical stone lighthouse, exhibiting a fixed white light from 39 feet above mean high water, was placed into service in October 1821. Also built at that time was a stone dwelling for the keeper, James Sayward, who was appointed by President James Monroe.

Keeper Sayward served at Ten Pound Island until 1833, when he was replaced by Amos Story. Numerous years before Amos Story became the lighthouse keeper at Ten Pound Island, he made news when he spotted a "sea serpent" in Gloucester Harbor. (See Sea Serpent below for more information.)

Lieutenant Thomas J. Manning visited and reported on numerous lighthouses in the New England area in 1838. He reported the following about the Ten Pound Island Lighthouse:

Ten-pound-island light, (Cape Ann harbor) - This light is situated on an island on the east side of Cape-Ann harbor; it is situated well up the harbor, and has but few lamps. The lamps are all of the old-fashioned kind; and five of them are very old and indifferent, but kept in good order.

Over the course of several years, Isaiah William Penn Lewis spent time at almost every lighthouse from Maine to Massachusetts collecting facts, information, and signed affidavits from the keepers regarding the conditions of the lights.

All this information was compiled into a report that was turned over to Congress in 1843. Lewis was critical of the tower, stating that it was laid up in bad lime mortar, and that the whole structure was leaky from top to bottom. The dwelling was much the same - the floor timbers and window casings were rotten and it too, was leaky.

When the light was originally established, it had ten lamps. At the time of the report in 1843, four of the lamps were removed, and the keeper had placed a board fence over the eastern side of the lantern to prevent mariners from mistaking this light for the Eastern Point Lighthouse at the mouth of the harbor.

It was of I. W. P. Lewis's opinion that a single lamp was all that was needed at Ten Pound Island, as the light was not required beyond the precincts of the outer harbor. Repairs were soon made and by the 1850 report, the station was described as "as clean as it possibly can be."

After the Lighthouse Board was established in 1852, most lighthouses in the United States were upgraded to the more efficient Fresnel lens. In 1856, the Ten Pound Island Lighthouse received a new a more efficient sixth-order Fresnel lens, which replaced the old lamps and reflectors.

A new boathouse and many repairs came to the station in 1868. The Report of the Secretary of the Treasury on the State of the Finances for the Year 1868 had the following report:

51. Ten-pound island - Boat-house and ways built; partition set under eaves of dwelling to make a clothes press; floors renailed and new trapdoor for lantern man-hole supplied; boat-house painted; new oil-cloth for lantern deck, new boat and accessories, chest of tools, and stove fixtures supplied; timepiece repaired; chimney cleaned out and retopped; ventilator reset; stone wall around house and at junction of storm-house and tower repointed; ceiling of rear entry replastered; illuminating apparatus examined and burners repaired.

During the summer of 1880, noted artist Winslow Homer boarded with Keeper Octavius A. Merrill at the Ten Pound Island Lighthouse. During Homer's time there, he painted nearly 50 scenes of Gloucester Harbor.

The following year, materials were landed on the island to rebuild the station. Erected were a new 30-foot conical cast-iron tower, lined with brick, and a new wood-frame keeper's house. The characteristic of the light was changed on March 1, 1889, from a fixed white to a fixed white varied by a white flash every 5 seconds.

In 1905, the station received a new boathouse, a fuel house, and a barn. The following year, an oil house was built.

The light was decommissioned in 1956. The fifth-order Fresnel lens was removed from the tower and stored by the Coast Guard. Today, the lens is on display at the Maine Lighthouse Museum in Rockland, Maine. A new modern optic light was established on the old fog bell tower, which was later moved to a skeleton tower.

The keeper's dwelling sat vacant for nearly a decade. In 1965, the keeper's dwelling and all outbuildings, with the exception of the oil house, were demolished. Also at this time, ownership of the island had reverted from the federal government to the City of Gloucester.

By the mid-1980s, the tower was covered with graffiti and the oil house was missing its roof and a door. In 1987, the Lighthouse Preservation Society stepped in and started a $45,000 renovation of the tower. Along with the Lighthouse Preservation Society, the funds came from a mixture of sources, including the City of Gloucester, a federal grant, the Bank of New England, and a grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

The design work for the renovation was carried out by Hilgenhurst Associates, while K & K Painting Company of Maryland did the work, which took more than two years to complete. The Ten Pound Island Lighthouse was relit as an active aid to navigation on August 7, 1989, the Lighthouse Bicentennial Day.

The oil house was restored in 1995.

Sea Serpent?

When most people think of a sea serpent, the first place that comes to mind is Loch Ness, in Scotland, not Gloucester, Massachusetts. But on August 6, 1817, two women reported seeing a "sea serpent" enter the harbor. Unfortunately, their names were never recorded. On August 10, while Amos Story was on Ten Pound Island, he spotted the sea monster and gave the following deposition:

"I, Amos Story of Gloucester, in the County of Essex, mariner, depose and say, that on the tenth day of August A. D. 1817, I saw a strange marine animal, that I believe to be a serpent, at the southward and eastward of Ten Pound Island, in the harbour in said Gloucester. It was between the hours of twelve and one o'clock when I first saw him, and he continued in sight for an hour and half. I was setting on the shore, and was about twenty rods from him when he was the nearest to me. His head appeared shaped much like the head of a sea turtle, and he carried his head from ten to twelve inches above the surface of the water. His head at that distance appeared larger than the head of any dog that I ever saw. From the back part of his head to the next part of him that was visible, I should judge to be three or four feet. He moved very rapidly through the water, I should say a mile in two, or at most, in three minutes. I saw no bunches on his back. On this day, I did not see more than ten or twelve feet of his body."

At the time of Mr. Story's sighting, numerous other residents and mariners of Gloucester reported seeing the same serpent and gave depositions to several judges that were appointed to a committee to collect evidence with regard to the existence of the animal. Although each person was interrogated separately, and had no idea what others had testified, their testimonies differed a little, but for the most part, they all agreed. The data collected was then presented to the Linnaean Society of New England.

On October 5, 1817, a man named "Mr. Colby" captured and killed a baby serpent. As reported by other sightings, the animal had bunches along its back. The Linnaean Society examined the body and declared it to be an immature sea serpent, which they gave the scientific name of Scoliophis Atlanticus, or humped snake of the Atlantic.

This announcement brought other naturalists to the area, and after further analysis of the "immature sea serpent," it was determined that it was really a deformed and larger version of the common black snake.

Despite this setback, numerous reports of a serpent-like creature plying the waters of Gloucester Harbor and Cape Ann continued to come in throughout the 1800s. By the 1950s, the sightings had dropped and the last sighting to be reported in Massachusetts occurred in 1962.


  1. Annual Report of the Light House Board, U.S. Lighthouse Service, Various years.
  2. The Lighthouses of Massachusetts, Jeremy D'Entremont, 2007.
  3. Various Government Documents, Federal & State Governments, Various dates.
  4. "Fresh look at vintage mystery," Joel Brown, Boston Globe, December 16, 2010.
  5. The Great Sea-Serpent, A. C. Oudemans, October 1892.

Directions: The lighthouse sits on Ten Pound Island, in the middle of Gloucester Harbor. Although the best views are from the water, the lighthouse is clearly visible from many points along the Gloucester waterfront, including the area by the fisherman statue.

Access: The lighthouse is owned by the City of Gloucester. The grounds are open, although there are no landing facilities on the island, except for a small beach. Tower closed.

View more Ten Pound Island Lighthouse pictures
Tower Information
Tower Height: 30.00'
Focal Plane: 57'
Active Aid to Navigation: Yes
*Latitude: 42.60200 N
*Longitude: -70.66500 W
See this lighthouse on Google Maps.


* Please note that all GPS coordinates are approximated and are meant to put you in the vicinity of the lighthouse, not for navigation purposes.

** This year denotes a station date. This is the year that a lighthouse was first reported in the vicinity or at that location.

All photographs and information on this site is copyright © 2016 Bryan Penberthy unless otherwise specified. No content may be used without written permission. Any questions or comments, please email me.