Minot's Ledge Light

Minot's Ledge Light, officially Minots Ledge Light, is a lighthouse on Minot's Ledge, one mile offshore of the towns of Cohasset and Scituate, Massachusetts, to the southeast of Boston Harbor The current lighthouse is the second on the site, the first having been washed away in a storm after only a few months of use..

The first lighthouse

In 1843, lighthouse inspector I. W. P. Lewis compiled a report on Minot's Ledge, showing that over 40 vessels had been lost due to the ledge from 1832 to 1841, with serious loss of life and damage to property. The most dramatic incident was the sinking of a ship with ninety-nine Irish immigrants, who all drowned within sight of their new home land. It was initially proposed to build a lighthouse similar to John Smeaton's pioneering Eddystone Lighthouse, situated off the south-west coast of England. However Captain William H. Swift, put in charge of planning the tower, believed it impossible to build such a tower on the mostly submerged ledge. Instead he successfully argued for an iron pile light, a spidery structure drilled into the rock.

The first Minots Ledge Lighthouse was built between 1847 and 1850, and was lighted for the first time on January 1, 1850. One night in April 1851, the new lighthouse was struck by a major storm which caused damage throughout the Boston area. The following day only a few bent pilings were found on the rock. The two assistant keepers who were tending the lighthouse at the time both perished.

The current lighthouse

Until 1863 the design and construction of Lighthouses was the responsibility of the Corps of Topographical Engineers which resulted in a rivalry with the longer-established Army Corps of Engineers which built fortification and had responsibility, as it does today, for waterway improvements. However, the Chief Engineer of the Army Corps of Engineers was Joseph G. Totten, who personally took charge of the project to design and construct a permanent lighthouse on Minots Ledge.

Totten's design was as simple as it was effective. Totten, who had extensive experience building fortifications, had a full appreciation of permanency and strength of granite constructions. He designed the lighthouse so the first 40 feet of lighthouse would be a solid granite base weighing thousands of tons. To secure the lighthouse to the ledge he had several massive iron pins emplaced so that the lighthouse would be literally pinned to the ledge by its own weight. This idea necessitated working on the ledge on the fairly few times when the sea was calm and the ledge exposed at low tide.

Work started on the current lighthouse in 1855, and it was completed and first lit on November 15, 1860, with a final cost of $300,000 that made it the most expensive light house that was ever constructed in the United States. The lighthouse is built of large and heavy dovetailed granite blocks, which were cut and dressed ashore in Quincy and taken to the ledge by ship. The lighthouse was equipped with a third-order Fresnel lens.

The light signal, a 1-4-3 flashing cycle adopted in 1894, is locally referred to as “I LOVE YOU” (1-4-3 being the number of letters in that phrase) and is often cited as such by romantic couples within its range.

Historical information

The following is taken from the Coast Guard Historian's web site:

The light was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987 as Minot's Ledge Light.

It was put up for sale under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act in 2009. The point of the NHLPA is to dispose of lighthouses declared surplus by the United States Coast Guard

Nomenclature and location

Officially, it is Minots Ledge Light, but the National Register listing calls it Minot's Ledge Light. While it is on Cohasset Rocks and is much closer to Cohasset Harbor than Scituate Harbor, it is within the town limits of Scituate, Plymouth County, Massachusetts.