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Legacy of Light: Boston Light Marks 300th Anniversary

By Walter Ham U.S. Coast Guard News Release

LITTLE BREWSTER ISLAND, Mass., Sept. 14, 2016 — When the Boston Lighthouse was first lit 300 years ago today, sailors called on New England ports in wooden ships, pirates roamed the Atlantic Coast and the 13 colonies were under the British crown.

The light, which still guides mariners around Boston Harbor’s shoals, was the first of thousands of American Aids to Navigation, or ATON, that have saved lives, protected property and enabled prosperity for the last three centuries.

Managed by the Coast Guard Office of Navigation Systems and maintained by Coast Guard cutters and ATON teams around the nation, Aids to Navigation enable navigators to determine their position, chart a safe course and steer clear of hazards.

Located on Little Brewster Island, Massachusetts, nine nautical miles from Boston, the lighthouse was first lit on Sept. 14, 1716, using tallow candles. Today, the Boston Light has two 2 million candlepower lights that can be seen from 27 nautical miles away.

Historical Firsts, Lasts

Sally Snowman is the U.S. Coast Guard’s only remaining assigned lighthouse keeper. In 2003, she became the 70th Boston Lighthouse keeper and the first woman to hold the position.

Snowman, a Coast Guard Auxiliarist and native of Weymouth, Massachusetts, said the city and the region have grown because of the light.

“Massachusetts prospered with Boston Harbor emerging as an international port in the 19th century,” she said. “For this to have occurred, the entrance to Boston Harbor needed to be properly marked to reduce the significant loss of life and cargo due to shipwrecks occurring on the ominous ledges.”

“Boston Light was built as the first major Aid to Navigation in Colonial America to mark the entrance and continues to provide this service today,” Snowman said.

She noted that the Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park offers weekend tours of the Boston Lighthouse in the summer.

During tours, Snowman dresses in formal clothes from 1783, the year that the Boston Lighthouse was rebuilt. British forces destroyed original structure during the Revolutionary War.

As a part of her duties, she manages more than 70 volunteers and maintains the lighthouse, keeper’s cottage and other buildings on the three-acre island.

National Historic Landmark

Designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1964, the Boston Light is one of nine lighthouses honored by having an elevator named after it in the Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington.

On August 7, 1789, the ninth law passed by Congress created the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment to provide “support, maintenance and repairs of all lighthouses, beacons, [and] buoys.” The service would later be called the U.S. Lighthouse Service or Bureau of Lighthouses. Aug. 7 is designated as National Lighthouse Day in the United States.

After 150 years of keeping the lights shining, the Lighthouse Service was incorporated into the Coast Guard in 1939.

From the lone Boston Light, the Coast Guard Aids to Navigation system has grown to include more than 48,000 federal buoys, beacons and electronic aids that mark the more than 25,000 miles of waterways that make up the Marine Transportation System or MTS.

“More than 73 million Americans are involved in maritime commerce, commercial fishing and recreational boating on our waterways, and we help them to get home safely,” said Coast Guard Capt. Scott J. Smith, the chief of the Office of Navigation Systems.

“Our vast Aids to Navigation system started with the Boston Lighthouse and we celebrate its enduring contribution to our nation, our economy and our maritime heritage,” Smith said.

Distribution channels: Military