New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide
Borden Flats Light
Fall River, Massachusetts
Borden Flats Light main page / History / Bibliography / Photos / Postcards

History
Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any part of this website without permission of the author.

The city of Fall River, situated where the Taunton River flows into Mount Hope Bay, was famed as the "Textile Capital of the World" in the nineteenth century. At one time, more than 100 cotton mills in Fall River employed over 30,000 people. The city's location allowed easy travel by water to Providence, Newport, and beyond. Beginning in 1847, the Fall River Line of steamships provided a link to Boston and New York City.

For a number of years before the lighthouse was built to warn of a dangerous reef at the mouth of the Taunton River, an unlighted day beacon marked the spot. The 1872 annual report of the Lighthouse Board described a "stone beacon, with iron column and day-mark." On June 16, 1880, a sum of $25,000 was appropriated for a lighthouse on Borden Flats, and construction soon commenced.

A cylindrical cast-iron caisson was sunk in place on the reef and then filled with concrete. The components of the superstructure were delivered in July 1881. The cast-iron tower, which doubled as living quarters for a keeper, was erected on the caisson, and the light went into service on October 1, 1881, with a fourth-order Fresnel lens producing a fixed red light 47 feet above mean high water.

A fog bell, with automatic striking machinery, was installed on the side of the tower. There were five stories above the basement, including the lantern, with; two levels were used as living quarters. Rainwater was collected in gutters and deposited into a cistern in the structure's basement level, providing the keeper's water supply.

old photo of lighthouse

old photo of lighthouse
U.S. Coast Guard photo, circa 1900

Joseph Meyer was keeper on October 8, 1907, when a severe storm hit the area. In the station's journal, Keeper Meyer reported:

Violent SW gale. Occasional heavy squalls. 11 am - A barge of about 800 tons of coal sank in the harbor -- two men drowned, and a sloop of 10 tons was wrecked on the beach.

In the journal Meyer also frequently described the area around the lighthouse frozen or surrounded by chunks of ice in winter.

John H. Paul became keeper in July 1912 and remained at Borden Flats Light until 1927. On August 3, 1912, two men were passing near the lighthouse in a rowboat. As the men attempted to change places, the boat overturned. Keeper Paul saw the accident and immediately launched his boat.

One of the men was unable to swim and was lost in the waves. The other man clung to the overturned boat and was swiftly rescued by Paul. The keeper later received a bronze Carnegie lifesaving medal for this rescue.

Keeper Paul's journal entry for December 12, 1922, read:

Oyster boat exploded with 150 gallons of gasoline -- 4 men burnt, were carried to hospital.

Most of Keeper Paul's journal entries describe endless painting or scraping of the interior and exterior of the lighthouse.

Elaine Covo Westcott lived at Borden Flats Light, where her father was keeper, until the age of 11. She summed up life at the lighthouse:

Everything was brass. You polished brass from morning to night with government polish.

The lighthouse was battered in the hurricane of September 21, 1938, as were most lighthouses on New England's south-facing coast. The storm left the tower with a pronounced tilt, which it still has. A new, much wider cylindrical caisson was subsequently added around the old one to provide more protection.

old photo of lighthouse

Martin Thompson John Paul
Martin Thompson, left, was keeper 1898-1905. John Paul, right, was keeper 1912-27.

Truman Sawyer served at Borden Flats Light for the Coast Guard from November 1955 to December 1956. In a phone interview in 2003, he recalled that there were usually two men at the lighthouse at a time, and that the crewmen had six days at the lighthouse followed by two days off. The light still ran on kerosene, as did a refrigerator and stove. The fog bell mechanism was still wound by hand. Although he looked back on the experience fondly, Sawyer said that at the time "it was like punishment."

lighthouse with wide base

A wider base was added around the caisson after the hurricane of 1938

Borden Flats Light was electrified in 1957 and automated in 1963. In 1977, its Fresnel lens was replaced by a modern plastic lens. The fog bell remained in use until 1983 when it was replaced by an electronic foghorn.

Today, the tower is about a half mile from the Braga Bridge, built in 1965 and named for one of the first men from Fall River to die in World War II. The lighthouse remains an active aid to navigation, serviced by the Coast Guard's Aids to Navigation Team Bristol (Rhode Island). Coast Guard personnel completed some renovation of the exterior and interior in 2002.

In September 2006, it was announced that the lighthouse would be available for transfer to a suitable applicant under the provisions of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. No organizations expressed interest, meaning the lighthouse was sold at auction to the general public. In September 2008, the high bidder was attorney Michael Gabriel of Carson City, Nevada, at $55,000. In June 2010, it was announced that Mr. Gabriel had failed to close on the property, and that it would be auctioned once again. 

The high bidder of the second auction in August 2010, at $56,569, was Nick Korstad of Portland, Oregon. “I want to restore it back to what is was originally and I want to make it accessible to the public,” Korstad told the Fall River Herald News.

Cindy and Nick Korstad

Nick Korstad, right, with his mother, Cindy, at the lighthouse in December 2010

The lighthouse remains an active aid to navigation. It can be seen from the Borden Light Marina. While in Fall River be sure to visit Battleship Cove, home port to the Battleship Massachusetts. The excellent Fall River Marine Museum is also nearby, featuring an extensive Titanic exhibit.

reef

Part of the reef upon which the lighthouse was built can be seen here. Photo by Nick Korstad.

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


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.)

Herman Georgy (Georgie?) (1885-1898); Martin Thompson (1898-1905); Joseph Meyer (c. 1905-1912); John H. Paul (1912 -1927); Joseph Covo (1927-1943); John F. McGeough (Coast Guard officer in charge, c. mid-1950s); Calvin B. Davis (Coast Guard, c. mid-1950s); Truman Sawyer (Coast Guard, 1955-1956)


Last updated 8/30/11
Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any part of this website without permission of the author.

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