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By Olivia Kiers / July 29, 12:00 AM
Shining a Light

Keeper of Boston Light Sally Snowman illuminates the history of America’s most historic lighthouse


Photo: Daniel Afzal/U.S. Postal Service


There is only one lighthouse left in America that is still staffed: U.S. Coast Guard light station Boston Light on Little Brewster Island, a one-and-a-half-acre speck of land on the outskirts of Boston Harbor with an impressive 300-year history. Built in 1716 to help merchant vessels and new colonists navigate the harbor, the original tower was blown up by British soldiers during the Revolution. Today’s structure from 1783 has survived more than two centuries of salt air and New England weather—which is impressive if you’re familiar with New England winters. 

Sally Snowman, a civilian employee of the Coast Guard, has been keeper of Boston Light since 2003. She began by volunteering on Little Brewster Island in 1994, helping to develop the historical interpreter program that now introduces visitors to the island’s past. As keeper, Snowman lives on the station and monitors it between mid-April and mid-October. From Friday through Sunday in season, she welcomes visitors to the island with an introductory speech in the boathouse. “I’m never bored!” she exclaims. “Our motto is Always an adventure.”

Those who take the ferry out to Little Brewster Island are invited to slow down and experience what Snowman calls “island time.” “If visitors just want to sit on the grass and watch the world go by, they can,” she says, but a trip to the island would not be complete without climbing the tower and standing next to Boston Light’s Fresnel lens, an optic composed of 336 individual prisms that rotates and flashes once every ten seconds, just as it has been since its installation in 1859. “How many things in this country are that old, and are still functioning as they were originally intended?” asks Snowman. “That, to me, is worth a visit right there.”

Also worth a visit is a special event on nearby Georges Island on Sunday, August 21, commemorating Boston Light’s tricentennial together with the National Park Service centennial and the 20th anniversary of Boston Harbor Now. From 11 a.m.–3 p.m., the public is invited to build model lighthouses, paddle rowboats and watch a vintage baseball game. Those in Boston on Wednesday, September 14, can hear the Coast Guard Band play on Long Wharf as proclamations are read to commemorate the tricentennial, with celebrations continuing that evening in the town of Hull, Mass., at the Hull Lifesaving Museum. 

Boston Light Tours

Depart from the Boston Harbor Islands Welcome Center, 191 Atlantic Ave., at 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. $41; seniors, students & military $37; children (8–12) $32. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit bostonharborislands.org.

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