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Bishops and Clerks Lighthouse
1858 - 1952
(a Nantucket Sound Landmark for many years)

HYANNIS PORT, Sept. 11th 1952

The 94-year-old Bishop and Clerks Lighthouse, long a familiar landmark to mariners and vacationers, vanished in a thunderous blast of dynamite at 12:57 p. m. today.

The 68-foot tower, unused as a beacon since a storm damaged it in 1938, was demolished under direction of the Coast Guard, which had judged it unsafe.

Scores of pleasure craft bobbed and circled at a safe distance as Summer folk sadly watched the light's destruction which they had protested in vain.

Workmen had labored ,since sunup this morning, placing dynamite sticks in 68 holes bored in the granite base of the tower.

At three minutes before 1, John Parmenter of Brockton set off the charge from a dory 1000 feet away.

A cloud of smoke partly hid the old tower, which stood swaying for a moment and then toppled to one side like a pile of child's blocks.

All that remained above the base was a heap of rubble that still held in place a two-foot slab of granite, imprinted with the date 1858, which had stood over the door of the lighthouse.

The tower stood- on a ledge, exposed at low tide, off Point Gammon, five miles at sea from this town. A 3'O-foot "day beacon" is to be built on the base.

U. O. MacDonald of Boston, drilling and blasting specialist, handled the demolition. It was a difficult job, he said, because he had to preserve the base of the tower, and because the debris had to be made to fall on the ledge, so that it could be salvaged for future use. MacDonald had little bags of sand placed under each dynamite stick to direct the blast upward.

A week of preparations had been made by the McKie Lighter, Company of Boston, hired by the government for, the job. Everything worked out exactly as planned.

Warren E. Moore, an inspector for the Coast Guard, was there in a supervisory capacity.

The tug Irene and Mary, on the scene, flew a red warning dynamite flag. A government craft kept sightseers at a safe distance.

When they were ready to blast, the tug blew six warning blasts on her whistle. Ten seconds later the explosion came.

The historic Bishop and Clerks Lighthouse was no more.

The Passing of “Bishops" Light

When the 96-year-old Bishop and Clerks Lighthouse, unused for several years, was destroyed by a blast of 200 pounds of dynamite last Thursday, something more than a tower of stone, mortar and steel crumpled and fell into the sea. Another staunch reminder of the Great Sailing Ship Era disappeared from the horizon and to many of us who from boyhood watched the then revolving light at night, became accustomed to using the tower itself as a range for fishing and sailing by day, as well as a constant reminder, in all kinds of weather, of the treacherous ledge it was originally erected to mark, comes the sensation of losing a good and faithful friend.

From the mouth of the River, the horizon looks different and lonely now, as one looks off to the southwest. As the eye travels from Point Gammon off to the South, the gray tower is no longer there. . True, it had become unsafe, and the Coast Guard had no other recourse but to demolish and replace it with a modern marking device which together with the buoying on all sides will meet present day needs of water travel in that section. This is once more evidence of the certainty of "change" as a part of Life. Yet nothing is to prevent our preserving a bright image of "dear old. Bishops" in our minds eye, just as' it' will be preserved on postcards, in books and 'paintings through long years to come.


T.F. & J.E.S.

Published in the Register, written by Ted Frothingham and Joe Small of BRYC



 The Bishop and Clerks Day Marker in 2013

NOTE: The large rock of the formation that the light (and now day marker) warns of is the "Bishop" and is followed by the smaller rocks known as his :"Clerks". The correct pronunciation of "Clerks" is the British "Clarks". You can usually tell a "local" by the way the name is pronounced!

Historical information above from the Ralph M Lincoln Archives


Location: On the northerly part of the shoalest [sic] part of Bishop and Clerks Ledge, northerly side of Nantucket Sound, Massachusetts. 
Station Established: 1858 
Year Current/Last Tower(s) First Lit: 1858 
Operational: No 
Automated: 1923 
Deactivated: 1928; destroyed in 1952 
Foundation Materials:  
Construction Materials: Granite 
Tower Shape: Cylindrical 
Markings/Pattern: Gray granite tower with lead-colored fog-bell tower attached to the westerly side; black lantern room.
Height: 59-1/2 feet from base of structure to center of lantern. 
Relationship to Other Structure: Integral 
Original Lens: Fourth Order
Characteristic: Flashing white with a flashing red sector between "N. 1/2 W. and NNE. 1/2 E.  Interval between flashes 30 seconds."
Fog Signal: Bell; bell struck by machinery every 15 seconds.

Historical Information:

* 1851 – Spindle day beacon used to mark the shoal.
* 1855 – Lightship LV4 placed on station.
* 1856 – Congress appropriated $20,000 for a lighthouse to be built.
* 1858 – Lighthouse completed.
* 1887 – Red sector added. 150 tons of rip rap were placed around the foundation of the lighthouse.
* 1923 – The lighthouse was automated, a 5th order lens installed and acetylene gas was used to power the light. In addition, the red sector and the fog bell were removed.
* 1928 – The lighthouse was disestablished.
* 1952 – The lighthouse was dynamited by the Coast Guard.


* John Peak (Head Keeper 1858 – 1859, Asst. Keeper 1869)
* W. W. Baker (Head Keeper 1859 – 1860)
* H. Crowell (Asst. Keeper 1859)
* John Bates (Asst. Keeper 1859)
* B. Baxter (Asst. Keeper 1859)
* Nathan Baxter (Asst. Keeper 1859 – 1860)
* D. Taylor (Head Keeper 1860 – 1861)
* William Robbins (Asst. Keeper 1860 – 1861)
* V. Harding (Head Keeper 1861 – 1866)
* Amos Crowell (Asst. Keeper 1861 – 1871)
* George L. Lewis (Head Keeper 1866 – 1873)
* Lawrence Chase (Asst. Keeper 1867)
* Lovell Lewis (Asst. Keeper 1867 – 1869)
* Joseph P. Bearse (Asst. Keeper 1871 – 1883)
* Charles F. Swain (Head Keeper 1873 – 1886)
* Elisha Loring (Asst. Keeper 1874 – 1879)
* William Ramsdell (Asst. Keeper 1879 – 1880) 
* Samuel Adams Peak (2nd Asst. Keeper 1880 – 1881)
* Joel Hamblin (Asst. Keeper 1881)
* Marcus B. Baker (2nd Asst. Keeper 1883 – 1884)
* Franklin Percival (2nd Asst. Keeper 1884, 1st Asst. Keeper 1884 – 1886, Head Keeper 1886 – 1887)
* William A. Dixon (2nd Asst. Keeper 1884 – 1885)
* Amos F. Howes (2nd Asst. Keeper 1885 – 1886)
* George A. Smith (2nd Asst. Keeper 1886, 1st Asst. Keeper 1886 – 1890, Head Keeper 1890 – 1891)
* Benjamin B. Baxter (2nd Asst. Keeper 1886 – 1891, 1st Asst. Keeper 1891 – 1896)
* Joseph H. Bearse (2nd Asst. Keeper 1891 – 1892)
* Charles Hinckley (2nd Asst. Keeper 1881 – 1883, 1st Asst. Keeper 1883 – 1884, Head Keeper 1892 – 1923)
* Halvor M. Jansen (1st Asst. Keeper 1892 – 1898)
* William A. Howland (1st Asst. Keeper 1898 – unknown)
* Winfield S. S. Hooper (2nd Asst. Keeper 1903 – unknown)
* Joshua A. Montcalm (2nd Asst. Keeper 1903 – circa 1908)


Ted Frothingham - 1970

Lighthouses have been an all-important feature in navigation even back as far as 311 B.C. when Ptolemy, one of the ancient kings of the Macedonian dynasty, had the famous lighthouse built on the island of Pharos near the entrance to the Nile River at Alexandria in Egypt. It was 400 feet high and had huge fires continually burning on its top platform. One can picture the slaves hauling cord wood up to feed the beacon. Quite understandably, it was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world.

Coming down to modern times records show that buckets of tar hanging from an iron arm at the top of a pole were burned nightly at Point Allerton in Hull at the entrance to Boston Harbor as early as 1696, to guide the sailing ships coming in from the south. This was 20 years before the first real lighthouse, Boston Light, was commissioned in 1716. An item of interest is that the first keeper was paid a salary of $50 per year to care for the light.

In competition with the established lighthouse were the "mooncussers", who displayed phony lights during the dark of the moon to lure the unwary mariner onto the rocks so they could rob the contents of the ship. Quite a lucrative business a few centuries ago.

It was almost 100 years later that the first light shone from Point Gammon, the southernmost tip of Great Island that protrudes into Nantucket Sound at the entrance to Hyannis Harbor. The light was a crude affair made up of ten oil lamps backed by three inch reflectors.

Sailing ships found Point Gammon a cruel point to round, studded with boulders and hemmed in, just a mile off shore, by the ledges of Bishop and Clerks. The name came from two especially huge boulders off shore that were known as The Bishop and his Clerk. Point Gammon was derived from the game of backgammon. When you were gammoned you were lost, and many a ship went down off this headland.

Sailing ships bound around Cape Cod liked to use Hyannis Harbor to lie in awaiting fair weather before taking off for the perilous run around Monomoy Point and up the “ Back Side” of the Cape. It was the only really safe port on the north side of Nantucket Sound.

Some ships chose to lie off Bass River, and others in Chatham Roads, off Stage Harbor, just to avoid Point Gammon and its hazards of rocks, fast tides, and fog.

Up until the turn of the last century, when steam began to take over from sail, Point Gammon and Bishop and Clerk's were the "Scylla" and "Charybdis" of Nantucket Sound. Indeed the government started to build a harbor of refuge off West Dennis which was to be similar to the one that now exists at Point Judith, Rhode Island. Ships working south could take refuge there after rounding the Cape without having to fight their way around Point Gammon.

With steam at one's disposal, it was a simple matter to round the point so the breakwater was never completed, and today one can see the remains of the first steps in the construction of the haven with granite brought from the quarries of Quincy, Mass.

The tower on the tip end of Great Island was in use until 1858 when the new lighthouse out on the ledges was completed. 'There was a short period from 1855 to 1888 when a light vessel was moored off the point, but it was such a dangerous station that it was very shortly given up in favor of the costly granite tower with its twin wooden bell tower attached.

The building was difficult, but didn't compare with the problems that were involved in such off-shore light towers at Minot's and The Graves', which were in the open sea off Boston Harbor. Nantucket Sound was a mill pond by comparison for the laying up of underwater masonry.

The lighthouse keeper at Bishop and Clerk's from 1842 until his death in 1886 at the age of 80 was a man named Peak, who served his first years in the light on the end of Point Gammon. His starting pay was $350 per year, which was an improvement over the first pay at Boston Light. When Keeper Peak died, his job was taken over by his assistant Charles H. Hinckley who was keeper until 1919, when the light was changed from kerosene vapor, to automatic gas which required no personnel.

During the latter years that the light was tended by a character, named Luther Chapman was assistant lighthouse keeper with Mr. Hinckley. When he was on shore, Luther lived on Pleasant Street in Bass River just by the Davis estate. He was a most amusing person and had a habit of beginning and ending all his sentences with cuss words. He was a great story teller and delighted all of us kids with his tales which were always accompanied with wild gesticulations.

Charles Hinckley lived after his retirement in Hyannis and was known by everyone. He was the shortest lighthouse keeper in the world standing four feet, six inches in his stocking feet. Before his day in the lighthouse service, he had traveled extensively working under sail in the western islands and around South America. His lighthouse career started in 1881 when he was assistant at Bishop and Clerk's, then he was transferred to Dumping Rock at the entrance to New Bedford Harbor where he served until he was made full keeper at his original station.

He describes the lighthouse at Bishop and Clerk's as equipped with an automatic bell which was housed in a wooden tower side on, and attached to the granite structure. In foggy weather, the bell rang once every minute and was operated with huge weights that were wound up like a grandfather clock. The light tower had a kitchen, two bedrooms and a light room, and an excellent cellar which was ten feet below high water mark and always cool. The lighthouse tender AZALEA used to come by once a month to bring fresh supplies and water, and once every six months the oil boat came with kerosene for the light.

It was the custom to have the men on duty 20 days and then off on liberty for ten. This changing of the watch was effected by a motor launch that ran out from Hyannis. Winter conditions of foul weather and ice often disrupted this routine. In 1903, it is recorded that for 48 days Nantucket Sound was full of ice that at times piled as high as 20 feet up the light, driven by tides and winds.

During the summer, frequent visitors came to the light because the ledges were excellent for fishing. After they had their catch, they often nosed their craft up to the landing stage and jumped off on the ladder to climb up and visit the keeper and his assistant. Even in calm weather, this called for spry action to make the lower rungs of the ladder. The jump back on deck could end in a trip overboard very easily.

In 1924, the light was flashing white every ten seconds, a two second flash, and eight seconds of eclipse. It was a fifth order light with only 550 candlepower. The red sectors which had earlier shone out over Tuckernuck and Cross Rip Shoals were removed when the light became an automatic flash. In 1928, the light station was discontinued and used only as a day marker, and several lighted gas buoys were set out to mark the corners of the ledges. Then in March 1952, the granite tower was determined to be structurally unsound and likely to collapse, so its destruction was ordered.

On September 11, 1952 at exactly 12:57 pm the 94 years old tower was dynamited by workmen of the U. O. MacDonald Company of Boston. The men worked from sunup installing dynamite in 68 carefully drilled holes at the base of the tower. It was a tricky job because the tower would have to fall over on the shoals.

Little bags of sand were installed under the dynamite to give its force just the right direction. At three minutes of one, John Parmenter of Brockton set off the charge from a dory some 1000 feet away from the tower. A cloud of smoke partly hid the old tower and then it went down, exactly as planned, like a pile of children's blocks that had been kicked over.

The spectator fleet was kept at a safe distance, and it was kept at a minimum by a shroud of secrecy in the local news. It was interesting that in Brattleboro, Vermont, it was carried as front page news. The six warning blasts from the whistle of a tug standing by at the scene were a death knell for the old light tower.

On the rubble on the ledge, a white pyramid day beacon was constructed. Not infrequently, it was mistaken for the sail of a yacht beating into Hyannis Harbor when the light strikes it in just the right position.

There is something very sad about the end of a great light, that for years has been a seamarker for all the world that goes down to the sea in boats. People have become used to it like an old and trusted friend who could always be counted on. The story goes that Dick Hallowell, as a youth, looking out of his bedroom on Bass River to the south and west could see the winking beacon and was given 10 flashes of the light to get his clothes off and be in bed.

Bass River Yacht Club
P.O. Box 182
South Yarmouth, MA 02664