Last Visited: November, 2001
By the early 1840's the owners of New Bedford's burgeoning whaling fleet were putting pressure on the government to place a beacon in their busy harbor. The U.S. Lighthouse Establishment agreed, and in early spring of 1849, the federal government purchased the northern portion of the island
Charles M. Pierce was awarded the contract to build the light and keeper's house for
$1,951. Pierce built the tower of rubble masonry, with a wooden staircase of four
flights.William R. Sherman was appointed first lightkeeper on August 30, 1849 and immediately set a small lantern burning in the tower.
In 1900, a fog bell tower was added to the east face of the stone tower. A fuel storage shed and a covered walkway leading to the lighthouse were constructed between 1901 and 1905. A 1908 report describes the illuminating apparatus as including a French-made lens 14 7/8'' in diameter, of the Fifth Order and "fixed red" at brightness of "500 candles." In 1931, a USLHS report listed it as "fixed green" at "870 candles." The light stands approximately 35 feet above mean low tide.
The last keeper was Arthur A. Small, who started his sea career at age 14 sailing with the Maine and Gloucester fishing fleets. Small and his wife Mabel served Palmer's Island Light from 1922 until the great hurricane of 1938. During the storm, Small was swept off the island while tending his duties. His wife attempted a rescue but was carried away in the storm surge and drowned. Though badly injured, Small managed to make his way to the lighthouse. When rescued the following day, he requested to be relieved of duty in accordance with the oath of the Lighthouse Service. Bureau of Lighthouses Chief H. D. King called Small's actions "one of the most outstanding cases of loyalty and devotion that has come to the attention of this office." Every structure on the island except for the lighthouse was washed away in the storm, and so it remains to this day.
Automation came to the lighthouse in 1941. Upon completion of the Hurricane Barrier in 1966, the lighthouse was rendered obsolete. The Barrier also consumed a portion of the island's southern end. The City of New Bedford acquired the island in 1978. On March 26, 1980, the light was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Register Thematic Resource Area.
The City of New Bedford restored Palmer's Island Light on its 150th Anniversary during a dramatic twilight ceremony utilizing whaleboats and oil lanterns. For the new apparatus, the City installed a U.S. Coast Guard approved solar-powered beacon. Controlled by a photocell, the omni-directional flashing white beacon is constructed of stainless steel and aluminum with a 250mm clear acrylic lens. Palmers' new flash code is LFL-8 (2.0 seconds on; 6.0 seconds off). It operates with a flsh-changer of six 12 -volt, 2.03 amp lamps with a nominal range of 8 nautical miles. Though generally closed to the public, the city opens the lighthouse for inspection on island clean-up days. The city is now considering ways to more fully utilize Palmer's Island as public open space with passive recreational opportunities.
City of New Bedford
The island that the light is on is accessible at low tide by walking down the New Bedford hurricane wall and crossing over to the island. The tower itself, however, is not open.
The information under the "Hours" section is indeed true. You can only cross over at low tide. In fact, it should read at extreme low tide. We got there a bit after low tide and the water had already crept back to the point where we couldn't make it across to the island (not without getting wet to the knees :-)
Nearest Address: 110 Gifford St, New Bedford, MA
- Take Interstate 195 into New Bedford.
- Take the exit for Route 18 South, exit 15.
- Stay on Route 138 for 2 miles then take a left onto Potomska St.
- Take your first right onto S. Front St.
- Go for 0.4 miles and take a left onto Gifford St.
- Follow Gifford St. to the parking lot.
- From there you can walk to the lighthouse at low tide.
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