July 16, 2022
Plum Island, a nine-mile long barrier island off the northern coast of Massachusetts, was first connected to the mainland by bridge in 1806. Newburyport was an important port by the late 1700s. The approach to the harbor was dangerous, with a sand bar and shifting channels at the mouth of the Merrimack River, near the northern end of Plum Island. To aid shipping entering the river, in November 1787 the General Court of Massachusetts authorized the building of two small wooden lighthouses. The lights would be an early example of range lights, meaning mariners would keep one light lined up behind the other as they proceeded in the correct channel. The two lighthouses, which began operation in 1788, had to be moved often as the channel shifted.
In 1898, a new 45-foot conical, shingled wooden lighthouse was built. It remains an active aid to navigation. The lighthouse is now cared for by the Friends of Plum Island Light, a nonprofit organization formed in the 1990s. In 2003, ownership of the lighthouse was turned over to the city of Newburyport. The Friends of Plum Island Light continue to care for it under a lease agreement with the city.
Roslin Esposito is a longtime resident of Plum Island and volunteer for the Friends. And Jenn Bogard, a descendant of Plum Island lighthouse keeper Arthur Woods, is the secretary of the Friends and she serves on the board of directors of Newburyport’s Custom House Maritime Museum. She’s also an author. Bill Cooper, a retired mechanical engineer with General Electric, has been a summer resident of Plum Island for more than 60 years and has led the Friends of Plum Island Light’s preservation projects in recent years.
Jeremy D’Entremont is the author of more than 20 books and hundreds of articles on lighthouses and maritime history. He is the president and historian for the American Lighthouse Foundation and founder of Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses, and he has lectured and narrated cruises throughout the Northeast and in other regions. He is also the producer and host of the U.S. Lighthouse Society podcast, “Light Hearted.” He can be emailed at Jeremy@uslhs.org