Derby Wharf Lighthouse

Salem, Massachusetts
Derby Wharf Lighthouse is a historic lighthouse at the end of the wharf in Salem, Massachusetts. The light station was established in 1871.
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About This Location

Derby Wharf Lighthouse: Guiding Light at Salem’s Historic Pier

Located at the end of Derby Wharf in Salem, Massachusetts, stands a historic beacon known as Derby Wharf Lighthouse, which has been a stalwart guide to mariners navigating the waters of Salem Harbor. This distinctive lighthouse, along with its rich history, provides a glimpse into the maritime heritage of this coastal town.

Why Derby Wharf Lighthouse Was Needed:

Derby Wharf Lighthouse was strategically placed to aid ships entering Salem Harbor. It played a crucial role in ensuring safe navigation through the harbor, making it easier for vessels to access the protected anchorage in the area. The lighthouse, along with Hospital Point Light in Beverly, Massachusetts, and Fort Pickering Light Station on Winter Island in Salem, was designed to mark the main channel leading into Salem Harbor. This navigation aid was essential to making Salem Harbor a reliable and safe harbor of refuge that could be entered at any time.

Establishment and Associated Buildings:

Derby Wharf Lighthouse was established in 1871 to serve as a beacon for mariners. The lighthouse, with its square design, was approximately 20 feet tall and featured a fifth-order Fresnel lens that emitted a red light. It was initially powered by an oil lamp, which was a common method of illumination during that era. Charles C. Pettergill served as the first keeper of the light.

Unlike some other lighthouses, Derby Wharf Lighthouse did not have an official keeper’s dwelling. Keepers of the light lived in their own homes and made regular journeys to the lighthouse to tend to its needs. John Lynch held the position of keeper for an impressive twenty years, starting in 1885.

Changes and Specifications:

Over the years, Derby Wharf Lighthouse underwent several changes and renovations. In 1904, a fourth-order Fresnel lens was installed, replacing the original fifth-order lens. The tower received a new lantern room in 1906, and in 1910, the power of the light was reduced with the installation of a sixth-order lens.

In 1916, concerns were raised about the light’s visibility due to its proximity to the lights of the nearby Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company mill. Although there were discussions about rebuilding the lighthouse, it was not carried out. Instead, in 1917, the light was converted from oil to acetylene, marking the beginning of automation.

In 1930, Derby Wharf Lighthouse was electrified, and the tower’s color was changed from red to white in 1922. Wire cloth was added to the lantern room in 1933 to protect the glass from vandalism.

Today, the lighthouse is solar-powered and emits a red flash every six seconds, maintaining its role as an active navigational aid.

National Register of Historic Places:

Derby Wharf Lighthouse holds historical significance and has been recognized as such. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 15, 1987, with the reference number 87001466.

Ownership and Maintenance:

Ownership of Derby Wharf Lighthouse transitioned to the National Park Service (NPS) in 1977. The NPS oversees the lighthouse and its preservation, ensuring that this piece of maritime history is protected and maintained for future generations to enjoy.

Visiting Derby Wharf Lighthouse Today:

Visiting Derby Wharf Lighthouse today is a unique experience. While the interior of the lighthouse is not open to the public, the exterior is accessible via a scenic walk to the end of Derby Wharf. Salem Maritime National Historic Site, part of the National Park Service, manages the lighthouse. Knowledgeable NPS rangers are available to provide additional information about the light station, its history, and the maritime heritage of the area.

To reach the lighthouse, visitors can stroll along Derby Wharf, which offers picturesque views of Salem Harbor. The surrounding area, including the Custom House and other historic buildings, provides insight into Salem’s rich maritime past.

Derby Wharf Lighthouse stands as a testament to the maritime history of Salem, guiding mariners through the harbor’s waters for generations. It serves as a reminder of the town’s economic prosperity, its transformation over the years, and the enduring legacy of its maritime heritage.

Lighthouse Specs
  • Year Constructed: 1871
  • First Lit: 1871
  • Construction: Brick
  • Tower Shape: Square
  • Height: 14 feet
  • Focal Height: 25 feet
  • Markings: White tower with a black lantern
  • Characteristic: Flashing red light every 6 seconds
  • Range: 4 nautical miles
  • Status: Active
  • NRHP Number: 87001466


Address: Derby Wharf, Salem, Massachusetts
Place GPS Coordinates: 42.516611, -70.883556
Parking GPS Coordinates: 42.516611, -70.883556
Parking Notes: Visitors can park along Derby Street and then walk out on the wharf to the lighthouse. Parking is free.

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