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Graves Lighthouse

Graves lighthouse

Boston, Massachusetts
Built in 1905


On a collection of rocky ledges called the Graves, just outside Boston Harbor.

Latitude: 42° 21' 48" N
Longitude: 70° 52' 09" W


Historic Stories:

The Graves is a group of jagged rocks on a series of ledges about nine miles offshore from Boston, named after Rear Admiral Thomas Graves, who sailed to Boston with John Winthrop in 1628, not because of the many shipwrecks that occurred there. The challenge to many mariners is that a good portion of these rock formations would be submerged underwater at high tide, especially during severe New England storms. 

An iron bell buoy was placed near the ledges in 1854, which was later replaced by a whistling buoy. 

The original lighthouse was built between 1903 and 1905. Its tower made of granite was cut locally from Rockport, in the same style as Maine's Ram Island Ledge Light in Portland. The lighthouse was equipped with a first order Fresnel lens, making it the most powerful light in New England (for some time) and the largest lens at 9 feet by 12 feet high, sitting on over 400 pounds of mercury.

Graves Lighthouse Tower
Graves Light Tower

The beacon is the tallest lighthouse in the Boston area, and the outermost lighthouse in Boston Harbor. 

Its first keeper was Elliot C. Hadley in 1905.


Even with its powerful light that saved many mariners from crashing on the ledges, there were still some vessels that shipwrecked near the lighthouse.

areial view graves lighthouse
Graves Lighthouse
Courtesy US Coast Guard


The Grounding of the Giant Six-Masted Coal Schooner Alice M. Lawrence

On March 29, 1907, the massive six-masted schooner Alice M. Lawrence, measuring over 300 feet along her hull, was heading to Boston with a load of coal, giving her a deep draft of her keel underwater. When she reached outer Boston Harbor, she was picked up to be towed about eleven miles from the shore when she ran aground on a small group of rock outcroppings near the Graves lighthouse about nine miles from shore. 

The tide was starting to come in and within two hours the giant schooner was able to float off the rocks and made it to one of the Boston piers to discharge her cargo. Upon inspection it was found the ship had lost about 100 feet of her keel among some other injuries on her hull. She was hauled out to drydock for repairs as no one was injured.


Wreck of the Schooner Davis Palmer

One of the larger coal schooners of its day, the five-masted British schooner Davis Palmer, left on December 21, 1909 from Newport carrying a load of coal heading towards Boston. On the 24th of December a barge had passed the the 300-foot schooner just off Cape Cod and observed the crew gathered on deck, singing and celebrating Christmas Eve. 

On December 26, 1909 the Davis Palmer got caught in a fierce winter blizzard that had entered the bay causing it to run aground on Graves Ledge, a group of dangerous rocks near Graves Lighthouse. The captain tried to drop her anchor on the ledge to hold fast to ride out the storm, but the massive waves lifted the ship off the ledge, and pushed it out into the open waters, as water rushed in from broken timbers in her hull. The schooner with her full load of coal quickly sank, in nearly 40 feet of water, drowning all 14 members of her crew in the icy waters.


City of Salisbury "Zoo Ship" Wreck

The City of Salisbury was a 400-foot British freighter known as the “zoo ship” for its cargo of exotic zoo animals. In April 1938, the ship struck a reef near the Graves Ledge and remained for a time, becoming a tourist attraction until it eventually split and sank. There were no lives lost at the mishap, but there was plenty of blame for Captain Lewis of the vessel.

Years later the Coast Guard investigation would clear Captain Lewis and his Boston pilot at the helm of any wrong doing, finding that “Government Chart #246 was incorrect” in indicating there was over thirty feet of water available, where clearly a portion of the ledge was not mapped.

Graves lighthouse on a foggy day


The fog signal house was swept away by the "Perfect Storm" of October 1991.



Contact Info:

Boston Harbor Island Park Service
191W Atlantic Ave
Boston, MA 02110
Phone: (617) 223-8666

Boston Harbor Now
1 Constitution Road
Boston, MA 02129
Phone: (617) 223-8667


Boston's Waterfront Directions

Directions to Boston's Rowes Wharf for Harbor Cruises:

Directions to Boston's Long Wharf for Harbor Cruises


Local Boat Tours For Visitors

Occasional tours are offered by the Boston Harbor Cruises and Friends Of Boston Harbor Islands pass by the lighthouse. Boston Harbor Island Park Service also passes close to the lighthouse on its 3 hour narrated summer tours to climb Boston Light on Little Brewster Island.

Many private lobster boats work around the lighthouse for daily catches that you may be able to catch a ride for close up views.


Boston Harbor Islands Park Service and Boston Harbor Now
Narrated trips by the park rangers are provided during the summer along Little Brewster Island where you can see Boston Harbor Light, Graves Light, and Long Island Head Light. They are directly involved in preservation of islands in the harbor. Boston Harbor Now is the non-profit partner of the 34-island Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park.

Note: Boston Harbor Lighthouse is undergoing extensive repairs from nasty winter storms, therefore, there are no tours of the lighthouse tower in 2023.

Boston Harbor Island Park Service
191W Atlantic Ave
Boston, MA 02110
Phone: (617) 223-8666

Boston Harbor Now
1 Constitution Road
Boston, MA 02129
Phone: (617) 223-8667


New Book Just Published Summer 2023!

The Rise and Demise of the Largest Sailing Ships:
Stories of the Six and Seven-Masted
Coal Schooners of New England

book of the rise and demise of the largest sailing ships

Available in paperback, hard cover, and as an eBook for all devices.

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In the early 1900s, New England shipbuilders constructed the world’s largest sailing ships amid social and political reforms. These eleven giants of sail were built to carry massive quantities of coal and building supplies, and measured longer than a football field!

This book, balanced with plenty of color and vintage images, showcases the historical accounts that followed these mighty ships. These true stories include competitions, accidents, battling destructive storms, acts of heroism, and their final voyages. In fact, one of these ships grounded in the rocks by Graves Light.

Click for larger video here.



My book, Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Southern New England: Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, published by Schiffer Publishing, provides special human interest stories from each of the 92 lighthouses, along with plenty of indoor and outdoor coastal attractions and tours you can explore.

In the book you'll find local stories from all lighthouses in the Boston area region, including more stories about Graves light, and more details about the City of Salisbury zoo ship, and lots of Boston attractions and boat tours.

Look inside!

book about lighthouses and local coastal atttractions in southern New England




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