Gurnet Point is an isolated outcrop of land lying at the end of the Duxbury Peninsula and located within the Town of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Accessible only by driving over sand, the area is far removed from other parts of the South Shore and is more easily viewed by boat than from automobile. At the end of this sandy point lies some drumlins or cliffs similar to those found to the North in Scituate, and on top of the highest point sits the Gurnet Light, which served over the centuries as a beacon to guide ships safely into the ports of Plymouth and Duxbury.
What may not be as well known is that Gurnet Point was once outfitted with not one, but two lighthouses, or a pair of “range lights” as they were called. Like many locations in Massachusetts Bay situated near a major shipping channel-such as Spectacle Island, Lovell’s Island and Baker’s Island– two range lights were constructed to guide ships into port by following the trajectory in which the lights could be seen converging. Likely driven by the advent of more modern technology, the range lights which stood for over one hundred years were replaced in December 1923 by the single lighthouse structure that stands today. Pictured below is one of the Fresnel Lenses (3rd order) which sat atop one of the Gurnet range lights, until it was finally taken down in 1923 and placed in the Hull Lifesaving Museum:
As one can image, the documented history of the Gurnet Point goes back quite a bit further than the construction of its new lighthouse in 1923. The peninsula was likely named for a Gurnet Point in England by early British colonists, and this point was most certainly viewed by the original Pilgrims as they entered Plymouth Harbor in 1620. However, an earlier known reference to the area was recorded: In a 1613 account of Champlain, he described the are as “almost an island, covered with trees, principally pines”.* The dense pines indigenous to the area likely have lent name to the High Pines outcrop lying less that two miles to the North and the High Pines ledge located just offshore.
* “Life at the Gurnet”, Boston Daily Globe, December 27th, 1896
Gurnet point had a well known lifesaving station, as did Manomet Point located several miles to the South- both were known to exist since the 1700’s. During revolutionary times, the area around Gurnet was home to a fortified earthwork which was occupied by up to sixty soldiers. In the war of 1812, the fort was refitted and reportedly sank a British ship which came within firing range. The fort was rebuilt during the Civil War, and renamed Fort Andrew (not to be confused with Fort Andrews at Peddocks Island). The Fort was named for John Albion Andrew, who was governor of Massachusetts during the civil war and a fervent abolitionist. While the outline of the original earthworks is very visible from any aerial view of the Gurnet Point, the exposed brick structures below the lighthouse in the first photo at the top of the page may have belonged to the original fort as well.
Gurnet Point as viewed from the approach into Plymouth Harbor and Duxbury Bay:
Below is a view of Gurnet Point and Clark’s Island looking South, with the dunes of Cape Cod’s bay side distantly visible in the background. The photo was taken from the top of the Standish Memorial in Duxbury:
Gurnet Point as seen from Plymouth Plantation across Plymouth Bay:
A chart of Gurnet Point, south of the Duxbury Peninsula, but situated at the north entrance of Plymouth Bay: