Picture of the week: Graves Light up close on a bright June day

boston harbor

Graves Light, as seen up close from the south side, this past Saturday, June 7th.

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Old Minot Light

The first Minot Light: No photographs of the original structure exist that I am aware of, but there are some depictions, and it looked something like this:

cohasset ma

Realizing the danger that the great number of rocks surround Cohasset Harbor and the southerly approaches to Boston, the government build a lighthouse on Minot’s Ledge in the late 1840s. Unfortunately, it did not last long, as the skeleton of the structure collapsed during a heavy storm in April 1851, and two keepers tragically lost their lives. A more complete history can be seen here, but this historical marker (below) and the granite template used to build the new light can be seen today near the harbor master’s office in Cohasset Harbor:


The modern Minot Light of today is made of heavy granite blocks bolted to the ledge with large rivets. The lighthouse is made from granite from the Quincy Quarries. In fact, a photo of it during its construction in the mid 1850s is on file at the Thomas Crane Library and can be seen here. The lighthouse is able to withstand tremendous force, such as the force of a Nor’Easter, such as the one seen below:


Here is a photo of Minot Light up close.

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Two views of the Long Island Bridge

Two views of the Long Island Bridge…. Driving over:

boston harbor

And passing under:

Boston Harbor

The top photo was taken on the way out to Long Island, which I had the privilege of doing thanks to the Friends of the Boston Harbor Islands. The organization held its annual meeting out on this normally-closed-to-the-public island last weekend. The lower picture was taken this week passing under the bridge on a foggy morning.

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Fort Banks: Winthrop’s abandoned relic of the Spanish-American War era

The little know abandoned ruins of Fort Banks lies in the Northern section of the town of Winthrop. This fort was built as one of earlier coastal defense outposts around Boston Harbor.  Designed in response to the new threat of powerfully armed battleships that were created around the time of the Spanish American War, the fort was made to be able to repel a foreign naval attack. Its defenses included massive cannons with great capabilities.


The view above shows the remains of one of the excavated mortar pits- clearly in rough shape following years of neglect. The other pits were demolished and built over, as the fort was previously much larger. Here is a photo of how it looked in the early part of WWII.

While the fort was first built in 1891, the first of the giant cannons arrived in 1907. Described as a “steel monster” by the Boston Daily Globe* upon its arrival in October of that year, the gun was 40 feet long and weighed 60 tons. It required 48 horses to draw, and citizens were reportedly concerned that the move would damage the town’s streets.

Below is a photo of the sign giving an overview of the fort:

boston harbor

Below is a photo of battery Sanford Kellogg, named after a veteran of the Civil War. It is the last remaining battery at the remains of the fort. Nearby, a memorial post outlines a tragic accident that occurred at the fort on October 15, 1904: During a firing practice with live ammunition, a mortar backfired resulting in the deaths of four men and the severe injury of nine others.


A strange structure which exists on the top of the fort, not clearly visible in the WWI era aerial photo in the link above:


A view of the top of the fort looking down from a different angle. Note the circular outline of the mortar platforms, now filled in with weeds.

boston harbor

Fort Bank is just another example of a fort defending Boston’s waterfront from foreign aggression. It is clear from the great degree of military capability surrounding the Eastern perimeter of the city of Boston that there was a great fear of naval invasion at the beginning of the 20th century.

*Huge Gun Arrives in East Boston on Way to Fort Banks, Winthrop” Boston Daily Globe, October 20, 1907.
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Picture of the Week: Graves Light and Boston Light

The two lighthouses sitting at the mouth of the Boston Harbor on a nice spring day. They look quite close together in this photo, but are actually almost three miles apart:

Boston Harbor Lighthouse

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Historic Newburyport and The Mouth of the Merrimack

There are few places along the coast of New England where a river with the size and force of the Merrimack flows into the ocean. This great discharge, said to be over 7,000 cubic feet per second, often creates huge breakers at the river’s mouth as it smashes into oncoming swells. During a storms, this effect creates mega waves- some of the largest on the East Coast, which are used by the Coast Guard for heavy surf training.

Newburyport’s rear range light: The lighthouse is located in the center of town on the banks of the Merrimack River, not far from the river’s mouth. While the lighthouse is no longer active (it has actually been turned into a restaurant).


The mouth of the Merrimack: Its significant discharge slams into the oncoming waves of open ocean, creating large breaking swells. On this particular day, there are some small swells in the river, but nothing quite the size of the waves in that Coast Guard video!


The source of the Merrimack: Like many of the large rivers of Northern New England, the Merrimack originates largely from streams high up in the Appalachians. As its major tributary, the Pemigwasset, carves its way through the White mountains, it gains great volume- particularly in springtime as the the snow and ice capping the mountains begins to melt. The Pemigwasset flows South to meet the Merrimack at Franklin NH, at which point it has just begun to flow down from Lake Winnisquam. However, the Merrimack’s tributaries flow from the West and Southwest of the Boston area as well: The Assabet and Sudbury Rivers flow into the Concord, which meets the Merrimack at Lowell, MA.

A chart of Newburyport and the mouth of the Merrimack, showing the entrance to the river from the ocean on the right, and the downtown area on the South Bank to the left. In the middle lies the Joppa Flats, a great area that drains out at low tide. Aside from the possibility of heavy surf at the entrance to the Merrimack, boats approaching need to be aware of constantly shifting sand bars in the area:

noaa chart

Source: NOAA Nautical Chart. See NOAA.Gov for disclaimer.

Caleb Cushing House: The Merrimack’s great width and location close to the ocean made it an ideal port city. Just as the United States was entering the age of global seaborne commerce, the city of Newburyport became a major shipbuilding center and trading port. One notable resident of Newburyport was Caleb Cushing, who was a US Congressman and foreign diplomat to the far East as our countries need for relations with this region was growing. Cushings fine looking house still stands among the many other Federal and Colonial structures in downtown Newburyport.


Caleb Cushing

Ice flowing down the Merrimack near its mouth on a bright, late winter day. Watching the ice gives a great perspective of the rapid, swift and powerful flow of this river. In the distance, the large span of the Route 1 Bridge crossing the river is visible:


The Old Custom House: Newburyport’s old granite custom house, which has now been converted to a maritime museum. A relic of Newburyport’s seafaring past, this custom house was built in 1835 on the banks of the Merrimack near the Rear Range Lighthouse to facilitate the increase in international trade at the time:


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Historic Place of the week: The Canton Viaduct

The strange looking structure spanning the Canton River….

Neponset River

Originally built in 1835 based on an ancient roman architectural design, the Canton Viaduct remains in service today as a bridge supporting Amtrak and commuter rail tracks. In accurately emulating the original design, the bridge is extremely strong- nobody knows how much weight it might actually be able to support. Yet, it allows a massive locomotive to traverse above while still not inhibiting the flow of the Canton River, a tributary of the Neponset River. The design was so sophisticated for its time that it was said that during the construction of The Moscow-St.Petersburg railroad, Tsar Nicholas sent his engineers to study the Canton Viaduct for use of its design.

The structure is quite logically suited to this tributary location. The town of Canton was incidentally named for the (perhaps not widely held) late 18th century belief that its location was on the exact opposite side of the earth from Canton, China, which was a popular New England trading port at the time. Its location connected it to the sea via the small Canton River which flows into the Neponset just to the Northwest of the town. The viaduct allowed the heavy trains of the Boston and Providence railroad to fly overhead while permitting the controlled flow of water to to continue to factories and mills located just upstream. A spectacular photo of the viaduct and industry located upstream can be seen here. Today, the Canton Viaduct continues to provide its important role, and like the town, it still holds its name, although we know that the theory of its antipodal proximity to Canton, China was off by several thousand miles to the North of its actual location.

 A clear reflection of the structure from the river’s pool on its upstream side below. Quite a gaggle of geese are known to gather here:


Looking up the large wall of the Canton Viaduct to see the rail tracks above:

rail bridge

The inner stone arches of the viaduct, which also open for automobile access as a main road runs through the viaduct. The viaduct is built from granite extracted from a nearby quarry, which now lies within the Borderland State Park in the town of Easton:


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Defensive Forts of the Northeastern Waterways

Military structures of past eras line the waterways of America’s East Coast and tell a story from a geopolitical and strategic perspective. Like Boston Harbor’s many famous forts were built for the purpose of defending against seaborne invasion, many others are located across the Northeastern United States near strategic waterfront locations. Looking at where these forts were built and why the place was of strategic gives an interesting view into the past. Here are several outside the Boston area that stand out:

Fort Ticonderoga, NY: One of the oldest fortification structures in America, Ticonderoga sits strategically in the middle of the Champlain Valley of Upstate New York.  The valley extending from the St. Lawrence and down to the Hudson is one of the only flat passages through the Appallacian Mountains between Canada to Georgia. As such, this location was of strategic importance to both French and British interests at the time it was built, as the former controlled the territory to the North, and the latter the territory to the South. More on the great history of Ticondergoa can be seen here, including its role in the Evacuation of Boston Harbor in 1776. Ticonderoga offers majestic views of Lake Champlain and Lake George and the great hills which divide them:


Pictured above is the great walls of Ticonderoga, while below is a view of the strategic location overlooking the northern end of Lake George and the Hudson River Valley:


Fort Ontario, NY: This fort lies on the shores of Lake Ontario in Oswego, a small town in Northern New York. As Ontario was accessible to the French through the St. Lawrence river, this stronghold was designed to protect British Interests in the interior of New York State. Below is a photo of a lake effect storm rolling in from over lake Ontario.


The lighthouse at the mouth of Oswego Harbor against the backdrop of Lake Ontario:


Fort Stark, NH: This fortification was constructed to defend the city of Portsmouth, NH. It is situated in the town of Newcastle, which is just east of Portsmouth. The city is one of the most Northeasterly major ports on the coast, therefore making it strategic in any Naval conflict with a European power. It was in Portsmouth, NH that a German U-boat crew surrendered and was captured in May 1945.  Here is a more detailed history of the fort.

new hampshire

One of the site’s several batteries, which dates back to 1905 per the sign:

new hampshire

The Lighthouse at Portsmouth Harbor, as seen from the grounds of Fort Stark. Fort Constitution, a smaller abandoned structure can be seen to the left of the lighthouse. Located further into the harbor, it was a part of the same defensive system:

fort stark

Fort Adams, Newport, RI: This very large structure was built around the same time as Fort Warren. The massive granite complex was built to defend Newport Harbor and the large inlet of Quonset Bay. One can visit the grounds to take a tour and spend some time walking around the huge circumference of this tremendous building.

fort adams

The inner walls of the site:


The exterior grounds are wide and well landscaped, providing a scenic walk for visitors:

fort adams

The view of nearby Newport Lighthouse Station and the massive Jamestown Bridge:

newport light

Fort Taber, New Bedford, MA: This old fort contains a lighthouse sits at the bottom of Clark’s Point, a long peninsula to the west of New Bedford that extends into Buzzard’s Bay. Also built in the Civil War era, the purpose of this structure was to guard the city of New Bedford- which was at the time a city of great economic value to the United States. Today, the fort is surrounded by a park which is open to the public. Read about the fort here.

New Bedford

Fort Trumbull, New London, CT: This massive fortress lies at the mouth of the Thames river as it empties into the Long Island Sound. This is probably the most impressive of the several fortresses lying along the Connecticut Coast. The structure was completed in 1777 and was named after Governor Jonathan Trumbull, who presided over its construction. During the Revolutionary War, the fort was attacked and captured by British forces under Benedict Arnold- a surprising feat given the structure’s high walls and defensive capacity. A more detailed overview about the fort can be read here.

New London Fort

A view from Fort Trumbull of the New London Light House, which is said to be haunted:

Haunted Light House

Fort Trumbull’s imposing walls against the backdrop of Long Island Sound:

New London

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Highland Light: Truro’s Outer Beacon

Highland Light sits on the highest dunes of North Truro on outer Cape Cod. It is appropriately named, as these dunes reach heights of over one hundred feet in some places. The lighthouse was built in 1797 in response to the great number of shipwrecks occurring on the desolate sandbars and shoals of the outer Cape. The lighthouse was since moved inland due to erosion, but its original location nearby is still visible today:


Sitting at a total height of 168 feet above the mean sea level, the lens should be visible for about 22 nautical miles to sea in good conditions. The lighthouse was once fitted with a fifth order fresnel lens- the most powerful of its kind. The lens has since been replaced with a more modern by less powerful one. As  result of its prominence above sea level, it had often been the first sign of land to be seen by mariners approaching the New England coast from Europe. It was documented that the standard practice of mariners- from colonial days through the 20th century- coming to the Boston area from Europe would head South of Sable Island until they saw either Cape Cod’s Highland Light or Cape Ann’s Thacher Island Light on the horizon.

national seashore

The lighthouse was originally built by the orders of General George Washington in 1797 in response to the great number of shipwrecks in the area. As Henry David Thoreau discovered during his July, 1855 journey to Truro, had once been incorporated as “Dangerfield” in 170o, likely because of its location’s danger to passing ships.

The location of Highland Light on a nautical chart of Cape Cod. This area is where the Cape’s shore begins to shift to the Northwest. It is known for its high dunes, sandy shoals and strong surf pounding desolate beaches :


Source: NOAA Nautical Chart. See disclaimer at NOAA.gov

A hazy view of downtown Provincetown from across the dunes. The top of the highlands provides a great view not only of the Atlantic Ocean, but other parts of Cape Cod as well. The monument at Provincetown is particularly visible in the distance:


An wide ocean view looking East from high up on top of the dunes near Highland Light. With the dunes being about one hundred feet above sea level at this point, it is easy to lose perspective of the sea below- the waves in the photo are 3-5 feet tall:


Highland Light as seen up close from its base. While the lighthouse may be portrayed as glistening, bright and white in post cards, note the grit and dirt that can be seen on its base from the years of exposure to the North Atlantic Ocean:


Below is a view of the North Truro Air Force Station, which is adjacent to the Highland Light area. This location was ideal for a large radar system given its high cliffs overlooking open water. It is said that the radar dome at this base is powerful enough to monitor the entire North Atlantic, and was a strategic tool of the military during the Cold War. The castle-like tower to the right of the radar structure is the Jenny Lind Tower.  As the legend goes, famous opera singer Jenny Lind once climbed the tower to sing, thereby averting a riot that was about to occur by those shut out of her sold-out show. The tower was moved here is 1927 by a wealthy land owner, for what reason God only knows.


A gritty shot taken from sea of a yacht passing the highlands, with the radar tower and Highland Light distantly visible:

highland light

The lighthouse in its current location moved back from the water, looking West. Also visible in this photo is the museum, which is open for visitation seasonally. For more information about the museum, check out the Truro Historical Society web page.



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Mystic River Bridge

A view of the Mystic River Bridge from East Boston on a cool rainy spring day:

Boston Harbor

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