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Newburyport Harbor
Range Lighthouses

Newburyport Range lights

Newburyport, Massachusettes 
Built in 1873

 

Location:

Front range light located on the grounds of the Merrimack River Coast Guard Station, rear range light on Water Street,  along the waterfront in Newburyport.

Latitude: 42° 48' 39" N
Longitude: 70° 51' 56" W

 

Historic Stories:

Newburyport: Birthplace of American Navy

By 1764, Newburyport was a thriving shipbuilding and trading center. After the Revolutionary War, where the area made major contributions in helping the Colonists, shipbuilding began to decline and the harbor was becoming a major fishing, whaling, and trade port. The harbor was still considered important to the new country's defense. George Washington and John Hancock met in Newburyport in 1789 to discuss the building of America’s first “cutter” vessel for local protection. The 1790, the first cutter was completed and was used to patrol the shores. Other ships were built afterward, which evolved into a national fleet of ships known as our current “Coast Guard” that protect our harbors, establishing Newburyport as the birthplace of our Navy.

In 1844, the first Clipper Ship was built in Newburyport, which was sleek, fast, and became the choice of many merchants for international and domestic trade and played a major role in aiding the expanding American economy.

Newburyport became a major center for trade from Europe, the West Indies, and China. The Custom House, where these diverse vessels had to register their cargoes, is currently a Maritime Museum which provides exhibits of the maritime history in Massachusetts.

Note: For more details regarding the three lifesaving rescue branches that evolved into our current Coast Guard, select the link "History of Rescue Branches" Blog at the top of the page to be directed to my Lighthouse Stories section.

 

Beacons Established on Plum Island and in Newburyport

In Newburyport, during the early 1700s and into the mid-1800s, a large oak tree on High Street, know as the “Beacon Oak” served as a type of marker for ships coming up the channel. Attached to the top of its massive trunk was a pole with a large copper container on the end to act as a reflector and then a metal weathervane of a clipper ship was used.

During the Colonial period, fires were set up on Plum Island's beaches to aid mariners. In 1783, the Marine Society of Newburyport erected two day beacons as early range lights and employed locals to hoist lanterns on top of them each night.

Later, in 1788, two wooden lighthouses were built on Plum Island by the locals and provided more needed help for mariners wishing to enter the Merrimack River.

plum sland (wooden tower newburyport Harbor) light construction 1793

Wooden Tower
Plum Island Light (1793)
Photo Courtesy US Coast Guard

For those vessels entering the harbor in Newburyport, there was only the "Beacon Oak" that lasted until 1833. Afterward, a number of aids to navigation were constructed in the middle of the Merrimack River to help guide vessels along the harbor waterfront. 

It became apparent that another set of range lights were needed to help mariners navigate two miles up the river to reach Newburyport. Near the waterfront of Newburyport Harbor, a dangerous reef known as Goose Rocks, also known as the Half Tide Rocks was wreaking havoc with mariners as shipping increased in the area.

vintage image Newburyport Rear Range light

Newburyport Harbor
Rear Range Light (1898)
Photo Courtesy US Coast Guard

 

For years a pair of range lights in Newburyport Harbor were built and maintained by the locals. However, after a spring flood, they were damaged by ice floes and in 1871 a petition was filed to have a pair of federally funded beacons constructed. 

Finally, the petition was granted by the federal government to build two range lighthouses near the same locations in 1873.

These new range lights were located at a distance apart to allow mariners to line the front light, which was shorter, above the taller rear light to indicate the center of the river, or deep area of water.

The Newburyport Range lights were built to guide those ships entering the Merrimac River into Newburyport Harbor, and around the dangerous Goose Rocks. They are currently one of the few operating range lights in New England.

Newburyport Front Range light

Newburyport Harbor
Front Range Light

 

 

Places to Visit Nearby:

brick tower of Newburyport Rear Range light

Newburyport Harbor
Rear Range Light

You can book a reservation to have dinner atop the tower of the Newburyport Rear Range Light (brick tower) and get a great view of the harbor and streets below.

Address: 
61 1/2 Water St. Newburyport, MA 01950

Newburyport offers plenty of history, shops, events, concerts, and great restaurants. The Clipper City Rail Trail is a paved pathway that runs about a mile along the shoreline of the Merrimack River and either begins or ends with the lighthouses. The Maudsley State Park offers plety of areas to hike, bike, or just walk around gardens planted in the 19th century, and observe one of the largest and possibly oldest bushes of mountain laurel in Massachusetts.

Nearby is the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island for hiking, and bird watching, along with its majestic clean beaches to get help you connect with nature. plum island beach

The Newburyport Whale Watch offers dinner cruises, fireworks cruises, fishing, whale watching, and you can take a trip out to New Hampshire's Isles of Shoals to explore the islands and view White Island Lighthouse.

If you enjoy live music, try out the Newburyport Blues Cruise, as you travel down the Merrimac River. For educational wildlife cruises or harbor sunset cruises in Newburyport Harbor, try Harbor Tours.

The Firehouse Center for the Arts provides all kinds of entertainment in music, dance, theater, film, and art exhibitions. If you are interested in period architecture, the Newbury Historic District is an outside museum of 27 reconstructed and restored buildings from 1650 to the early 1900's. You also visit the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm and explore unfurnished rooms that openly reveal three centuries of construction techniques.

Maudslay State Park features 19th century gardens, meadows, and towing pines along the Merrimac River with plenty of trails for walking, biking, or even horseback riding.

Visit the Custom House Maritime Museum containing exhibits from Newburyport’s over 300-year history as a major shipbuilding seaport, (978) 462-8681.

 

Directions Front Range Light:

Alternate Directions:

Directions Rear Range Light:

 

Directions to Plum Island Beaches and Parker River Wildlife Refuge:

 

Contact Info:
Lighthouse Preservation Society
11 Seaborne Drive
Dover, NH 03820
Phone: (603) 740-0055
Email: Keeper@LighthousePreservation.org

 

Local Boat Tours

Boat cruisess mentioned below may offer many types of cruises. While some may offer specific lighthouse cruises, some will pass by the lighthouse as part of charters, narrated wildlife and historic tours, ferrying passengers, whale watching, fishing tours and other types of excursions. Enjoy!

 

Yankee Clipper Harbor Tours
Offers various eco, wildlife, sunset and dinner tours that may pass by the lighthouses.
1 Merrimac Landing #26
Newburyport, MA
(603) 682-2293

 

Newburyport Whale Watch
Fishing, whale watching, dinner and fireworks cruises leave the harbor by the range lights and sometimes Plum Island light. Cruises also provided to Isles of Shoals (White Island lighthouse.
4 Merrimac Street
Newburyport, MA 01950
Phone: (800) 848-1111 or (978) 499-0832 (outside New England)
Email: info@newburyportwhalewatch.com

 

Newburyport Blues Cruise
Live music provided and sometimes will pass by the range lights heading out of the harbor.

PO Box 310
Newburyport MA 01950-0310
Phone: (978) 463-7878 | Fax: (302) 371-7878
E-mail: info@NewburyportBluesCruise.com

 

 

New Book Just Published Summer 2023!

The Rise and Demise of the Largest Sailing Ships:
Stories of the Six and Seven-Masted
Coal Schooners of New England

book of the rise and demise of the largest sailing ships

To order a signed paperback copy:

Available also from bookstores in paperback, hardcover, and as an eBook for all devices.

my ebook on apple books

In the early 1900s, New England shipbuilders constructed the world’s largest sailing ships amid social and political reforms. These giants of sail were the ten original six-masted coal schooners and one colossal seven-masted vessel, built to carry massive quantities of coal and building supplies, and measured longer than a football field!

This book, balanced with plenty of color and vintage images, showcases the historical accounts that followed these mighty ships. These true stories include competitions, accidents, battling destructive storms, acts of heroism, and their final voyages.

Click for larger video here.

 

 

My 300-page book, Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Southern New England: Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, provides special human interest stories from each of the 92 lighthouses, along with plenty of indoor and outdoor coastal attractions you can explore, and tours.

There's info on how Newburyport was the original site for the beginnings of our current Navy.

Look inside!

book about lighthouses and local coastal atttractions in southern New England

 

 

 

 

New England Lighthouses: Famous Shipwrecks, Rescues & Other Tales

This image-rich book contains over 50 stories of famous shipwrecks and rescues around New England lighthouses, and also tales of hauntings.

You'll also find details of lighthouse history and about the three lifesaving branches of rescue service that evolved into our current Coast Guard.

You'll find this book and my lighthouse tourism books from the publisher Schiffer Books, or in many fine bookstores like Barnes and Noble.

 

 

 

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