About This Location
Bakers Island Lighthouse: Guiding Mariners through Salem Sound's Challenges
Nestled on Bakers Island in Salem Sound, Massachusetts, the historic Bakers Island Lighthouse has been a steadfast guardian for mariners since its establishment in 1798. Its rich history weaves a tale of navigation challenges and community-driven initiatives.
A Troubled Maritime Passage
Bakers Island, located about three miles east of Salem's harbor entrance, held strategic importance in the late 1700s as Salem emerged as a major port for foreign trade. However, the treacherous waters around the island and the absence of substantial navigational aids posed significant risks to mariners. To address this, the Salem Marine Society took action in 1791, forming a committee to erect a daymark on the island, funded by local contributions.
While the daymark offered some assistance, it became clear that more was needed, especially for nighttime or adverse weather navigation. In 1796, a series of shipwrecks in the vicinity, resulting in the loss of 16 lives, underscored the urgency of the situation. On April 8, 1796, President George Washington signed a congressional appropriation of $6,000 for the construction of a lighthouse on Bakers Island.
Building the Guiding Light
The government and local planners decided on a unique two-story structure with two roof lights to distinguish the Bakers Island Lighthouse from its counterparts in the region. In 1797, they acquired 10 acres of land on the island and commenced construction of the first lighthouse. It featured a 78-foot north light and a 95-foot south light above mean high water. Regrettably, this lighthouse met its demise in a storm in 1815.
To replace it, a 26-foot octagonal stone tower was erected in 1815. However, a single light was still deemed insufficient. In 1820, following petitions from the Salem Marine Society and local residents, a second lighthouse was constructed on the island. In October 1820, both the new 59-foot conical stone tower and the restored 26-foot octagonal stone tower, each equipped with octagonal iron lights, were illuminated. Due to their close proximity, they earned the affectionate nicknames "Ma and Pa" or "Mr. and Mrs." lighthouses. Both towers served until 1926, when the older, shorter tower was decommissioned and removed.
Over the years, the Coast Guard carried out significant repairs and upgrades, including electrification in 1938, automation in 1972, a comprehensive $250,000 restoration in 1993, and the addition of solar power in 2000.
National Register of Historic Places
The prestigious honor of being listed on the National Register of Historic Places was bestowed upon Bakers Island Lighthouse on November 21, 1976. This recognition highlights the lighthouse's profound historical and architectural significance, solidifying its place in the annals of American maritime heritage. Its reference number, assigned by the National Park Service, is 76000289.
Preservation and Stewardship
The Bakers Island Association, responsible for overseeing the island, gained permission to utilize and preserve the two keeper's cottages in 1988. In 2002, under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, the light station became available to a qualified new owner. The Essex National Heritage Commission (ENHC) was selected as the most suitable steward by a National Park Service (NPS) committee, with the recommendation of the United States Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton.
Essex Heritage, a non-profit organization dedicated to public access and preservation, currently operates and maintains the 10-acre light station on Bakers Island. While the majority of the 60-acre island, including Bakers Island Wharf, remains privately owned, the Essex Heritage landing craft, the Naumkeag, serves as the primary mode of access for the general public. Essex Heritage offers an array of experiences, including tours, private charters, overnight stays, camping, volunteering, and more, providing opportunities to connect with Bakers Island's rich maritime history. Regrettably, the lighthouse itself is not visible from the mainland, but its legacy shines brightly in Salem Sound.