WIHA Hosts Discussion On Historic Boston Light 1716–2023

Boston Light Keeper Sally Snowman was the guest speaker during the October 3 Winthrop Improvement and Historical Association (WIHA) meeting in the Deane Winthrop House barn. Her presentation, “Historic Boston Light 1716-2023,” described the 307 years that the lighthouse has been a beacon for ships navigating into Boston Harbor.

Winthrop Improvement and Historical Association members gathering in the Deane Winthrop
House barn on October 3 for “Historic Boston Light 1716-2023,” with Boston Light Keeper Sally Snowman.
Sally Snowman, last lighthouse
keeper in America

Snowman announced that she will be retiring at the end of the year, after 20 years of protecting and caring for the tower and grounds of Little Brewster Island with her husband, Jay Thomson, of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Snowman is the 70th keeper of Boston Light, and the final lighthouse keeper in America. The Coast Guard will be eliminating the position, and soon announce that the last manned, Coast Guard light station in the country will no longer be operated by a keeper.

“I’m humbled and honored that I’m the first woman keeper of Boston Light, and the last,” said Snowman, 72-years-old. “Boston Light is the first, established lighthouse in Colonial America.”

Little Brewster Island and Boston Light are in the process of a stewardship transfer through the Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, established to maintain landmark lighthouses in the United States by assigning them to new owners.

Following severe weather in 2018, Coast Guard inspections revealed major issues in need of repair: water damage, lead paint, stonework on the tower, and erosion. Since then, Snowman and Thomson have not lived on the island.

“The reason why I am happy about the transfer process is because the Coast Guard only needs to maintain the light at the top of the tower, and the fog signal,” explained Snowman, member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary since 1976.

Boston Light became a light station in 1716 and a fog station in 1719. A cannon was fired to signal to ships sailing through the fog from 1719-1851, when it was replaced by a bell.

“As ships got faster, they were firing it off every hour, and then every half hour,” Snowman described. “This was just a family lighthouse keeping at the time. How many kids were taught how to light up black powder to keep the fog signal going for days or weeks?”

Boston Light lantern has 336 individual crystal prisms that were manufactured in France, and shipped to Boston with no cracks. There are 12 sides to the lens with a 1,000 watt lamp that is magnified to 2 million panel power, and can be seen 27 miles out to sea.

“It looks like an eye with eyelashes watching over the sea, keeping it safe. When the light hits the prisms, you see rainbows,” beamed Snowman, who loved gardening and planting marigolds on the island.

Snowman recalled her most cherished memories, like sailing to Little Brewster Island on the “True Love,” to exchange vows with Thomson at Boston Light on October 8, 1994. After the two married, they began training as volunteer assistant keepers.

Snowman, a former education professor at Curry College, developed an interpreter guide for Boston Light. During tower tours, Snowman would sit at the kitchen table of the keeper’s house with binoculars, maintaining a vigil on guests to ensure that they were not touching the Fresnel lens, as oils from hands can cause discoloration or cracks in the glass.

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