Of the thousands of summer
visitors who flock to to beautiful Crane Beach
in Ipswich, Massachusetts, it's likely that few have any inkling that a
lighthouse once graced the beach's shifting dunes. For just over a
century, a succession of keepers and their families kept watch at the
station east of the mouth of the Ipswich River.
The first English settlers, led by John Winthrop Jr.,
arrived in Ipswich 1633, and fishing and shipbuilding soon prospered.
Today, Ipswich is said to have more seventeenth-century homes than any
town in America.
The range lights circa 1900
From the collection of Edward
Rowe Snow, courtesy of Dorothy Bicknell
Because of increasing maritime traffic in the early
1800s, reliable aids to navigation in the vicinity became a necessity.
After a Congressional appropriation of $7,000 in 1837, the federal
government paid John Baker and Tristram Brown $10 for four acres of
Two lighthouses were built on the stretch of sand now
known as Crane Beach, along with a brick, 1 1/2-story dwelling. The
29-foot brick towers -- 542 feet apart from each other on a nearly
east-west axis -- originally held 10 lamps and reflectors each and
exhibited fixed white lights.
There were complaints that they could not be
distinguished from the pair of fixed lights a few miles to the north on
Plum Island, so the western light was soon given a revolving mechanism.
The original rear range light.
U.S. Coast Guard photo
Thomas Smith Greenwood, first
keeper of the Ipswich Range Lights. Courtesy of Jim Danforth.
The two lights served as a range for mariners coming
through the main channel toward the mouth of the Ipswich River.
The first keeper was Thomas Smith Greenwood, a native of
Boston. Greenwood had gone to sea as a young man and eventually became
the captain of clipper ships. He and his wife, Paulina Adams (Thurlow),
had eight children.
Greenwood also owned a large tract of land to the west
of the light station, originally given to him by his wife's family.
That land is now operated by the Trustees of Reservations as the
Greenwood Farm Reservation.
On December 23, the coast was being battered by the second of
what became known as the triple hurricanes of 1839. A Maine schooner,
the Deposit, ran aground close to the Ipswich Range Lights. A
neighbor informed Keeper Greenwood at dawn, and he ran to the scene to
find that the remaining people on the vessel, including the captain's
wife, were clinging to the rigging. Two crew members had already died.
The situation looked hopeless, but it was the terrified screams of the
captain's wife that prompted Greenwood to make a desperate rescue
The keeper instructed the neighbor, a Mr. Marshall, to hold
one end of a 200-foot line. Tying the other end around himself,
Greenwood swam through the powerful, icy waves and reached the
schooner. Marshall tied the other end of the line to a lifeboat, which
he then boarded and launched into the breakers. Greenwood pulled the
lifeboat, with Marshall in it, to the schooner.
Greenwood first tried to save Captain Cotterell, who was
barely alive. As the captain was being lowered into the lifeboat, a
great wave hit and the man was lost, along with the lifeboat. The
captain's wife, witnessing her husband's drowning, became hysterical.
Greenwood and Marshall convinced the woman to jump from the rigging
into their arms. Two of the other survivors managed to reach shore by
clinging to wreckage, while Greenwood, Marshall and the captain's wife
were carried safely to shore by a great wave. Captain Cotterell and the
sailors who died were buried in Ipswich a few days later, with 16 sea
captains serving as pallbearers.
Joseph Dennis became keeper in 1841. In his landmark 1843
report, engineer I. W. P. Lewis was critical of the construction
methods used for the station. Keeper Dennis told Lewis that he had
hired a man to make an embankment around the dwelling "to prevent the
sand from blowing away, and also to keep the vegetables from freezing
in the cellar."
Most importantly, Lewis pointed out that since the
channel had shifted, the range lights no longer provided proper
guidance into the Ipswich River. A mariner using the range lights
"would run ashore in the south spit of Plum Island."
Benjamin Ellsworth was appointed keeper in 1861.
Ellsworth's wife died soon after he took the position, and the keeper's
daughter, Susan, kept house at the station. Susan was the youngest of
12 children. Three sons of Keeper Ellsworth fought in the Civil War,
and all three returned safely. Benjamin Ellsworth would remain at the
station until his death in 1902.
Ellsworth was responsible for several rescues of
shipwreck victims during his long stay. In October 1863, he went to the
aid of the passengers of an English schooner that had run aground. He
later said he could "scarcely help from laughing" when he reached the
wreck, because the passengers thought he was there to rob them. One of
the passengers, a lawyer, had to convince the others to go with
Ellsworth, and they all survived.
Keeper Benjamin Ellsworth.
Courtesy of Edith Sturtevant.
One of the later range lights,
known as a "bug light"
From the collection of Edward
Rowe Snow, courtesy of Dorothy Bicknell
At some point before 1867, the front light was replaced
by a shanty-like affair known as the "bug light." In 1867, the front
light had to be moved 550 feet as the channel had greatly shifted.
A great deal of repairs to the dwelling were carried out
in the 1867-69 period, and the 989-foot plank walkway from the rear
light to the dwelling was rebuilt.
By 1878, the rear tower was badly cracked. It was
replaced by a 45-foot, conical cast-iron tower in 1881, similar to
several built in New England during the 1870s and 1880s.
The changes in the contours of the beach have been
dramatic. According to Charles Wendell Townsend's 1913 book, Sand
Dunes and Salt Marshes, the corner of the lighthouse property was
originally about 82 feet from the high water mark; in 1911, the same
spot was 1,090 feet from the water. Townsend wrote that when Keeper
Ellsworth first took charge at the range lights he could stand at the
top of the main light, then close to the water's edge, and converse
with men in boats offshore.
In the 1930s, one year just before Christmas, "Flying
Santa" Edward Rowe Snow was due to drop presents from a plane for the
keeper and his family. A group of children had gathered in the house in
anticipation of Santa's visit.
As the scheduled time approached, the keeper called to
his wife, "Has he come yet, dear?" At that very moment there was a
crash from upstairs.
The package dropped by Snow had made a direct hit and
fell through a skylight, landing in a hall.
"Yes, dear, we can start the party now," answered the
The 1881 rear range tower.
From the collection of Edward Rowe Snow, courtesy of Dorothy
rear range light and keeper's house circa 1930s, courtesy of C.
The last keeper was LeRoy Lane, who lived at the station with
his wife, Angie (Harris) Lane and their three children. The front range
light was discontinued for good in 1932. By 1938, the sand was so high
around the tower that maintenance personnel had to enter through a
window high up on the tower. It was decided that a simple steel
skeleton tower would be easier to maintain, and there would be no worry
if sand built up around its base.
The 1881 rear range tower. From
the collection of Edward Rowe Snow, courtesy of Dorothy Bicknell
When the Coast Guard announced that it planned to remove
the lighthouse (the former rear range tower) in 1938, many letters were
sent in protest. Susan Ellsworh, the 90-year old daughter of Keeper
Benjamin Ellsworth, was one of the loudest voices of opposition. The
local complaints could not stop the wheels of government, and the
lighthouse was soon gone.
The present Ipswich Light
In 1939, the cast-iron lighthouse was floated by barge to
Edgartown in Martha's Vineyard to replace an earlier structure that had
been badly damaged in the hurricane of 1938. The lighthouse in Ipswich
was replaced by a skeleton tower.
This photo of the old
lighthouse at Ipswich won photographer Elmer Trevors second prize in a
New York Times photo contest in 1932. Courtesy of Dan Trevors.
After some years of use by town organization and
residents, the keeper's house was destroyed by fire. Other than the
decidedly unpicturesque modern tower, there is no surviving reminder of
the Ipswich Light Station on its former site.
Crane Beach is one of the North Shore's most beautiful
beaches, but is not worth visiting as a lighthouse destination.
A closer view of the old
Ipswich Lighthouse by Elmer Trevors. Courtesy of Dan Trevors.
Photographer Elmer Percy
Trevors at Crane Beach in Ipswich, on the same day he took his
prize-winning lighthouse photo in 1932. Courtesy of Dan Trevors.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone copying this list onto another web site does so at their own
risk, as the list is always subject to updates and corrections.)
T. S. Greenwood (1838-1841, 1847-1849, and 1853-1861); Joseph
Dennis (1841-1843); Ebenezer Pulsifer (1843-1847); John I. Philbrook
(1849-1853); Benjamin Ellsworth (1861-1902); Thomas J. Creed
(1910-1912); George A. Howard (1912-1916); A. A. Howard (1916-1919); G.
F. Woodman Jr. (1919-1922); C. D. Hill (1922-1932); Leroy Lane (1930s).