Point Gammon, or Great Point, at
the southern end of Great Island, had an interesting history before a
lighthouse was established there. In 1796, Dr. James Hedge opened a
hospital on the point and conducted early experiments in smallpox
inoculation, with some success. The hospital was in operation until
Point Gammon is just east of the entrance to Lewis Bay and
Hyannis Harbor, and a little over two miles north of the dangerous
ledges known as Bishops and Clerks. The point's name comes from an old
term used in the game of backgammon. Mariners trying to pass between
the point and the offshore ledges were deceived, or "gammoned," which
often resulted in disaster.
Early photo of Point Gammon
Lighthouse and dwelling.
Courtesy of Nancy Finco.
|As the port of Hyannis
grew in importance it became obvious that a navigational aid was needed
to help mariners negotiate the area. Construction was swiftly completed
and the light went into service on November 21, 1816, with seven lamps
and reflectors exhibiting a fixed white light. The conical tower was
built of stone, with a diameter at the base of 16 feet. The walls were
20 feet high, and the tower was topped by an octagonal iron lantern.
The one-and-one-half-story dwelling was 16 by 30 feet, with a
The first keeper, Samuel Adams Peak, died in 1824. His teenage son,
John, took over at a salary of $350 per year and remained keeper until
1858, when the light was discontinued. This gives Point Gammon the
distinction of having only two keepers, both from the same family. John
Peak and his wife raised nine children at the lighthouse, two of whom
became lighthouse keepers.
In his 1946 book A Pilgrim Returns to Cape Cod, Edward
Rowe Snow wrote about Imogene Peak, one of Keeper John Peak's children:
School for her meant a walk of six miles each way.
One of nine Peak children at the light, she said later that the walk of
twelve miles daily with other children of the family was beautiful in
spring, summer, and fall, but lonely in the winter.
The keeper's house, which was connected to the tower,
apparently wasn't very well constructed. The engineer I. W. P. Lewis
visited for his important 1843 survey. Lewis found fault with many
aspects of the station:
Tower of rubble masonry, to which has been added a
superstructure of brick, making the entire height 25 feet; masonry
rough-cast outside, but in bad condition; roof soapstone, and leaky;
walls leaky; wood work rotten; whole structure out of repair.
Dwelling-house of rubble stone, rough-cast outside with
gravel and cement; roof shingled; whole structure leaky; wood work
decayed, and requires thorough repairing.
John Peak complained that the house was "extremely
leaky, particularly on the east side, where the rain leaks in, so that
we always have to move our beds during an easterly rain, and also to
mop up bucketfuls of water."
In 1855, John Peak counted 4,969 schooners, 1,455
sloops, 216 brigs and four steamboats passing his station. As traffic
increased, the lighthouse was considered inadequate, and a lightship
was stationed close to the Bishops and Clerks ledges. In 1858, the
lightship was replaced by the new Bishops and Clerks Lighthouse.
John Peak became the first keeper of the new lighthouse.
In 1882, Great Island was sold to Charles B. Cory, a
wealthy ornithologist from Boston. Cory established the island as a
game preserve, with elk, deer, antelopes, pheasants, and other animals.
Non-game birds were protected; the island thus became one of the
nation's earliest bird sanctuaries.
The lighthouse's iron lantern was removed at some point
after the light was discontinued. Cory added a taller structure to the
top, designed to facilitate the use of the tower as a viewing platform.
The old stone dwelling was utilized used as a museum for
the butterfly collection amassed by Cory and his wife, Harriet.
- Malcolm G. Chace, a banker from Rhode Island who had
visited Great Island as a boy, purchased the property in 1914. In the
1930s, the dwelling was dismantled and the stones were used to build a
new house on the island. The lighthouse's observatory/lantern installed
by Cory has been rebuilt in relatively recent years.
Above and below, two views from
the top of the tower
Most of Great Island has remained in the ownership of
the Chace family, but they have surrendered development rights for 266
acres through an agreement with the Trustees of Reservations, which
ensures it will remain in its natural state.
Great Island, including the lighthouse, is off-limits to
the public. The lighthouse can be viewed distantly from the
Hyannis-Nantucket ferry, or from excursion boats and fishing charters
You can read much more about this lighthouse in the book
The Lighthouses of Massachusetts by Jeremy
A ferry leaving Hyannis passes Point
Keepers: Samuel Peak (1816-1824), John Peak (1824-1858)