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Ned's Point Light, Mattapoisett, Massachusetts

sunset silhouette of a lighthouse
2016; Photo ⓒ Madeline Cameron

Mattapoisett lies about 10 miles east of New Bedford, Massachusetts. The town has less than 10,000 residents and was settled (like many New England towns) in the colonial era with the first settlement dating to 1750. The town is actually in a county with a name probably much more familiar to you: Plymouth County. Mattapoisett is not as well known, but shares in the whaling history of the area along with New Bedford.

Now that we have the general setting explained, let's hop on over to the lighthouse. A lighthouse costing approximately $5,000 was built at the end of Ned's Point Road in 1838. The point is strategically located at the mouth of Mattapoisett Harbor from Buzzards Bay. The name Ned was in honor of a local farmer named Ned Dexter. Part of the construction project also included a stone keeper's house. Leonard Hammond, local builder, was in charge of the project and built a rubble stone tower with local stone topped with a birdcage lantern. The tower is quite short by lighthouse standards at 39 feet tall and only has 32 interior granite steps to get to the top. These steps are cantilevered on the interior of the tower.

black and white photos of lighthouse with house
Ned's Point with original birdcage lantern; c. 1890; Courtesy USCG

When it was first lit, Ned's Point Light was powered by whale oil and utilized lamps with parabolic reflectors. A Fifth Order Fresnel lens replaced the lamps in 1857. Compared to other Fresnel lenses, a Fifth Order Fresnel Lens is on the smaller side and is generally used in lighthouses on breakwaters, river and channel lights, or small islands.

The Great Blizzard of 1888, also called the Great White Hurricane, tore through the area and significantly damaged the keeper's house. It was demolished and replaced with a frame building. The storm was one of the most severe recorded blizzards in American history and essentially paralyzed the East Coast from Maine down to the Chesapeake Bay. Some areas recorded up to 58 inches of snowfall. The largest known snowdrift formed in Brooklyn at a staggering 52 feet!! Yes, feet not inches. The epicenter was just off the coast of Cape Cod, so you can imagine how the storm was at Ned's Point. It's a wonder the tower wasn't damaged beyond repair.

But back to Mattapoisett. In 1896, the bird cage lantern was replaced with an octagonal one and a new Fifth Order Fresnel Lens with a bullseye and rotating mechanism was installed. The octagonal lantern is what remains today.

The lighthouse was automated in 1923 and since it was no longer needed, the keeper's house was removed. It must have been quite a sight because the house wasn't demolished but instead, it was floated across Buzzards Bay to Wing's Neck Light on Pocasset on Cape Cod to be used as an assistant keeper's house. The Mattapoisett Museum actually has the contract showing the transfer of ownership from the Office of the Superintendent of Lighthouses.

In 1939 the US Lighthouse Service merged with the Coast Guard and the Town of Mattapoisett voted to not buy the lighthouse and land for $7,000. A group in town campaigned again for the purchase of the light in the late 1940s, but they were unsuccessful in swaying public opinion.

In 1952, Ned's Point Lighthouse was declared surplus and was deactivated. It remained under the control of the US Coast Guard. In 1958, the land surrounding the tower was finally sold to the Town of Mattapoisett for the development of a public park, now known as Veteran's Park. As is common, the Coast Guard maintained ownership of the light as an active aid to navigation.

The Coast Guard modernized the light in 1961 by removing the 5th Order Fresnel Lens and replacing it with a 6-second white isophase. Isophase refers to the fact that the light has equal intervals of light and dark: so 3 seconds with the light on and 3 seconds of darkness. The lighthouse was reactivated and is visible for 12 nautical miles. In 1987, the lighthouse was added to the National Register and a few years later, the Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 63 adopted the lighthouse and took over its care. Friends of Ned's Point Lighthouse was founded in 2020 and is actively raising money for restoration work.

The lighthouse is well worth a visit if you'll be in New Bedford or the Cape Cod region. The point offers panoramic views of Buzzards Bay and Cape Cod. It is a popular destination for sunsets, picnics, flying kites, or just enjoying the ocean breeze. Since it's a little off the beaten path, it won't be as crowded as other nearby lighthouses.

lighthouse with blue skies
2016; Photo ⓒ Madeline Cameron


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