Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse

Cohasset, Massachusetts
Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse is a beautiful and historic lighthouse that has stood on a small ledge off the coast of Cohasset since 1855.
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About This Location

Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse, also known as Minots Ledge Light, is a historic and iconic lighthouse located on Minots Ledge, situated one mile offshore of the towns of Cohasset and Scituate, Massachusetts, to the southeast of Boston Harbor. Its history is marked by tragedy and triumph, and it has served as a vital navigational aid for mariners for over a century. Here is a comprehensive overview of Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse:

Why the Lighthouse was Needed and Designated Placement:

Minot’s Ledge earned a notorious reputation as a treacherous hazard for ships. Between 1832 and 1841, over 40 vessels had been lost due to striking the ledge, resulting in significant loss of life and property damage. The most devastating incident was the sinking of the ship “St. John” in October 1849, carrying ninety-nine Irish immigrants, all of whom tragically drowned within sight of their destination. In response to these disasters, there was a compelling need for a lighthouse to guide ships safely past this perilous area.

Initially, there were proposals to construct a lighthouse similar to John Smeaton’s pioneering Eddystone Lighthouse off the coast of England. However, Captain William H. Swift, who was tasked with planning the tower, believed that such a tower was impractical on the mostly submerged ledge. Instead, he advocated for an iron pile light, a more suitable structure for this challenging location.

Establishment and Construction:

The first Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse was constructed between 1847 and 1850, and it was first lit on January 1, 1850. Unfortunately, just a few months after its completion, a devastating storm struck in April 1851, causing severe damage throughout the Boston area and leading to the collapse of the newly built lighthouse. Tragically, the two assistant keepers who were tending to the lighthouse at the time lost their lives.

In response to the destruction of the first lighthouse, a decision was made to build a new, more robust structure. The design and construction of this new lighthouse became the responsibility of Brigadier General Joseph G. Totten, Chief Engineer of the Army Corps of Engineers. The new lighthouse was designed to be a sturdy granite tower, with the lower 40 feet of the structure being a solid granite base pinned to the ledge to withstand the relentless forces of the sea.

Work on the current Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse commenced in 1855 and was completed and first lit on November 15, 1860. The lighthouse was constructed using massive dovetailed granite blocks, cut and dressed ashore in Quincy, Massachusetts, and then transported to the ledge by ship. It was equipped with a third-order Fresnel lens.

Characteristics of the Lighthouse:

The current Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse stands as an enduring testament to engineering and construction. It is a conical granite tower with a height of 87 feet and a focal height of 85 feet above the waterline. The lighthouse exhibits a distinctive flashing white light pattern, known locally as “I LOVE YOU,” with a sequence of 1-4-3 flashes every 45 seconds. The light has a range of 10 nautical miles, effectively guiding mariners to safety.

Lightkeepers:

Throughout its history, Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse had dedicated lightkeepers who tended to the light and ensured its proper operation. Keepers played a crucial role in maintaining the beacon and keeping it operational, even in the face of challenging conditions. The lighthouse had its first keeper, Isaac Dunham, who expressed concerns about the safety of the original tower before resigning in 1850. Various keepers and assistant keepers served at Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse, braving storms and isolation to perform their duties.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places:

Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse was designated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1977. Additionally, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987, recognizing its historical and engineering significance. The reference number assigned by the National Park Service for the lighthouse is 87001489.

Ownership and Maintenance:

As of the latest available information, Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse was put up for sale under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act in 2009. The ownership and maintenance of the lighthouse may have changed since then, so it is advisable to check with relevant authorities for the most current information.

Visiting the Lighthouse Today:

Visiting Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse can be a challenging endeavor due to its remote location, approximately one mile off the coast. There is no parking available at the lighthouse itself. However, it can be viewed from various points on the mainland, such as Minot Beach in Scituate, Massachusetts, and Sandy Beach in Cohasset, Massachusetts. Access to the lighthouse itself is restricted.

Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse stands as a symbol of perseverance, engineering excellence, and the enduring importance of maritime safety along the Massachusetts coastline. It continues to serve as a reminder of the dedication of those who built and maintained this iconic beacon over the years.

Lighthouse Specs

  • Originally Constructed: 1847-1850
  • Current Tower Constructed: 1855
  • First Lit: 1855 (current tower)
  • Construction: Granite
  • Tower Shape: Conical
  • Height: 87 feet
  • Focal Height: 85 feet
  • Markings: Natural  
  • Characteristic: Flashing white (1+4+3) every 45 seconds
  • Range: 10 nautical miles
  • Status: Active
  • NRHP Number: 87001489

Location

Address: Minot’s Ledge, Cohasset, Massachusetts
Place GPS Coordinates: 42.269750, -70.759111
Parking GPS Coordinates: 42.269750, -70.759111
Parking Notes: There is no parking available at the lighthouse considering it is located over a mile out in the ocean on a remote ledge. That said, the lighthouse can be seen from a few spots on the mainland. Minot Beach in Scituate, Massachusetts is often considered to be the best viewpoint. Another one of the most popular viewpoints is Sandy Beach in Cohasset, Massachusetts.

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