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New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide
Bass River Light
(Lighthouse Inn, West Dennis Light)
West Dennis, Massachusetts
Bass River Light main page / History / Bibliography / Photos / Postcards

History
Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any images or text from this website without permission of the author.

The town of Dennis is bounded by Cape Cod Bay on the north and Nantucket Sound to the south. West Dennis—one of Dennis’s five villages—is in the southwestern part of the town, separated from South Yarmouth by the Bass River. The Dennis side of the river once had saltworks and facilities for building small vessels, and many West Dennis residents were involved in fishing and coastal trade.

For some years before a lighthouse was built near the mouth of the Bass River in 1855, a West Dennis resident, Warren Crowell, aided local navigation by keeping a lantern burning in the attic window of his house at Wrinkle Point. Local ship captains each donated 25 cents monthly so that Crowell could buy the oil he needed to keep the lantern lit.

As traffic in the area increased, so did the demand for a lighthouse. Congress appropriated $4,000 for a lighthouse on September 28, 1850. After more debate over the need for a lighthouse, the amount was reappropriated in 1853. A site near a breakwater at the mouth of the river was soon selected. The land for the light station was purchased from George W. Richardson in March 1854.

old photo of lighthouse

Oxen hauled building materials across the local marshes, and when the lighthouse was finished Warren Crowell appropriately became its first keeper.

The light went into service on April 30, 1855, with a fifth-order Fresnel lens displaying a fixed white light. The lighthouse consisted of a two-story, wood-frame dwelling with the lantern mounted on the roof.

In 1972 Marion Crowell Ryder painted a vivid picture of the lighthouse’s early years in Cape Cod Remembrances:

The house stood tall and solid and foursquare, quite a distance back from the edge of the water. In those days the beach presented a busy scene. . . . It was lined with fishing dories, moored or drawn up on the sand, and great piles of long, slender weir poles were stacked here and there. . . . Atop the sand dunes straggled an uneven line of small, weather-beaten fish shanties where their owners could store their gear and warm themselves about battered little stoves in inclement weather. When we went to the beach as children we never tired of wandering along the shore, watching the fishermen mending their nets, setting out for their weirs, or bringing in a shining catch. . . . The lighthouse itself always dominated the beach with its purpose and significance.


Warren Crowell served as keeper until 1863. He was wounded and taken prisoner in Virginia during the Civil War, and he eventually returned as keeper in the early 1870s.

Crowell arranged for his wife and nine children to live in a house on Fisk Street in West Dennis during his war service. This might have been a welcome change for the children after being crowded into the small bedrooms of the lighthouse.
old photo of lighthouse

Courtesy of the Lighthouse Inn

Captain James Chase became keeper when Crowell left for the war. His granddaughter Carrie May Sheridan later remembered seeing ships anchored offshore while friends and families waited on the West Dennis Beach for the passengers’ arrival. “Horse-drawn wagons drove into the shallow water’s edge to take them ashore,” she recalled.
old photo of lighthouse

Courtesy of the Lighthouse Inn
Another keeper during the 1860s was Zelotes Wixon of Dennis. Wixon, who was paid $350 yearly, complained that when he arrived at the lighthouse expecting to be trained, James Chase was not cooperative. “[He] refused me all access to the light until the first day of August though I several times requested permission to look at it and examine the same in order to fit me for my position and the proper discharge of my duties,” wrote Wixon.

He also reported that the outgoing keeper was apparently adulterating the oil used in the lighthouse.

Everything apparently worked out eventually, as a couple of months later an inspector stated, “Mr. Wixon is now performing his duty with entire faithfulness and ability and has been ever since his misfortune in August last.”

On August 1, 1880, the lighthouse was discontinued after the lighting of Stage Harbor Light a few miles to the east, in Chatham. The property was sold at auction. A newspaper reported that Keeper Crowell returned "to his former residence where he is having a barn built."

William Garfield, a local mariner who was captain of the schooner O. D. Witherall, was so unhappy about the light being discontinued that he wrote to his distant relative, the newly elected President James Garfield. "Our harbor is one of the best there is in the Vineyard Sound," he wrote. "All vessels come in here in bad weather and no light makes it bad for large vessels. When you git [sic] to Washington and git everything working, well then, we shall write you and see if you can do anything for the Light House."

On July 1, 1881, Captain Garfield and his two daughters were invited to have dinner with the president. After dinner, the president informed that captain that on that very night, the light was being resinstated by executive order.

Capt. Samuel Adams Peak of Hyannis became keeper, remaining until his death in 1906. Captain Peak had gone to sea as a boy and served as master of two barks before becoming a lighthouse keeper. His father and grandfather had also served as lightkeepers in the Hyannis area.

After Peak’s death, Russell Eastman became the station’s final keeper. Marion Crowell Ryder later described Eastman as “taciturn and unceasingly busy keeping the lighthouse and its out-buildings in spotless condition.”

The government deemed the lighthouse unnecessary after the advent of the Cape Cod Canal. Thanks to the efforts of Congressman Thomas C. Thacher, a new automatic light was established on the Bass River west jetty at the entrance to the river. The lighthouse was extinguished on June 15, 1914, and its Fresnel lens was removed. Keeper Eastman was transferred to Ned’s Point Light in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts.

The property was soon sold at auction. Harry K. Noyes—of the Noyes Buick Company in Boston—used it as a summer residence for a while. Noyes expanded the main house and added several new buildings.

After Noyes’s death, the property was unoccupied for about five years, until 1938, when it was bought by State Senator Everett Stone and his wife, Gladys, for $22,000. The Stones began to have overnight guests at the lighthouse, and their hospitality became so popular that they soon opened it to the public as the Lighthouse Inn. In 1939 a night’s stay for two—including three meals— cost $5.
old photo of lighthouse

Courtesy of the Lighthouse Inn

old photo of lighthouse

Courtesy of the Lighthouse Inn
Everett and Gladys Stone’s son Bob became the first head of the food service for the inn. Bob Stone hired three waitresses from Wheaton College. One of them was Mary Packard of Brockton, Massachusetts. Bob and Mary married in 1942.

Mary Stone later recalled that during World War II, American planes bombed the rocks near the inn for practice. The guests would gather on the beach and cheer the show.

A 1944 hurricane destroyed the dining room and the station’s old oil house, but the Stones continued to expand.

Two more hurricanes battered the property in 1954, and Hurricane Bob in 1991 sent seawater cascading through the windows of a downstairs lounge and out through the doors on the opposite side.

The inn lost power for six days as a result of the storm, but Mary Stone told the Cape Cod Times. “That was nothing.  You should have seen ’44.”

hurricane damage

Hurricanes have plagued the property. Courtesy of the Lighthouse Inn


Mary Stone in May 2001
Bob Stone died in October 2004 at the age of 86, but other family members remain involved with the inn’s operation. There’s a summer staff of about 90. Bob and Mary’s son Greg is president, and his wife, Patricia, is the general manager.

For years Greg Stone found it difficult to return to the inn when coming back from Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard. The area’s small navigation lights blended with other lights on the shore. He convinced the Coast Guard that a relighted Bass River Lighthouse would provide a needed service to local boaters.

In 1989 the Stone family had their lighthouse relighted as a seasonal aid to navigation, with a 300-millimeter optic providing a white light that flashes every six seconds. The relighting took place on August 7, which is National Lighthouse Day (the celebration of the anniversary of the formation of a national lighthouse service in 1789.)

The light, officially designated the West Dennis Light, now operates each summer.
early photo of Lighthouse Inn

Courtesy of the Lighthouse Inn
kids in lantern room

Local third graders visiting the lantern at the Lighthouse Inn in May 2001
living room

The living room at the Lighthouse Inn

The old 1855 lantern atop the inn got a much-needed overhaul in March 2002. Marty Nally and Clem Fraize of the Campbell Construction Group of Beverly, Massachusetts, did the job, which included the installation of six new panes of heat-resistant glass.

The Lighthouse Inn features 700 feet of private beach, with 61 rooms and cottages (with working fireplaces), tennis courts, cocktail lounge and a waterfront dining room offering a five-course dinner every evening.

The inn also has a special children's program in the summer, with a children's director who plans and supervises activities for the children of guests.

If you stay at the inn, you might also be able to arrange a tour of the lighthouse and lantern room.

lantern of lighthouse

For more information, contact:

Post Office Box 128
1 Lighthouse Inn Road
West Dennis, MA 02670
Phone (508) 398-2244

You can read much more about this lighthouse in the book The Lighthouses of Massachusetts by Jeremy D'Entremont.


The view from the lantern room

Keepers: (This list is a work in progress. If you have any information on the keepers of this lighthouse, I'd love to hear from you. You can email me at nelights@gmail.com. Anyone copying this list onto another web site does so at their own risk, as the list is always subject to updates and corrections.)

Warren Crowell (1855-1861 and 1870-1880); James Chase (c.1861-?); Zelotes Wixon (c. 1860s); Samuel Adams Peak (1881-1906); Russell Eastman (1906-1914)
Last updated 12/27/11
Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any images or text from this website without permission of the author.

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