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Palmer Island Lighthouse

palmer island light

New Bedford, Massachusetts
Built in 1849


West side entrance to New Bedford Harbor.

Latitude: 41° 37' 36" N
Longitude: 70° 54' 36" W


Historic Stories:

New Bedford was the nation’s whaling capital up to the mid-19th century. In 1838, Frederick Douglass, the runaway slave who became a famous abolitionist settled in New Bedford. Herman Melville, who worked in New Bedford as a whaler, wrote the novel Moby Dick and published it in 1851 where the city became the initial setting of the book.

With the six-acre Palmer Island perched outward along the west side entrance to New Bedford's harbor, and with the increasing shipping and whaling traffic, Palmer Island light was constructed in 1849, to safely guide traffic around the island.

From the 1860s to 1890 a hotel and dance hall were built on Palmer Island and became a favorite stop not only for visitors, but also for returning whalers who became involved in much illegal activity, causing the eventual closing of the hotel. It later became an industrial center for textiles in the 19th and 20th centuries.

During the September 1938 hurricane, Palmer Island Lighthouse and its walkway were destroyed. Mabel Small, Keeper Arthur Small’s wife, died of injuries during the hurricane at the lighthouse while trying to save her husband, who survived his injuries.



Places to Visit:

New Bedford’s history involves its rising status as one of the world’s main whaling ports.

New Bedford still is a busy fishing port, and nearby you’ll find the New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park with its cobblestone streets, specialty shops, and museums. New Bedford Harbor

New Bedford’s Whaling Museum displays maritime exhibits and historical artifacts from its hay day in the 19th century, as the nation’s whaling capital. Palmer Island light can be seen from the museum.

Rotch-Jones-Duff Garden Museum showcases three elegant homes from merchants of the whaling area, with a full city block of special gardens. Other museums include the New Bedford Fire Museum to see fire trucks from the 1800s, and the New Bedford Museum of Glass for exploring the elegance of glass from around the world.

During low tide you can get close to the Palmer Island lighthouse from New Bedford's hurricane wall. For those who enjoy hiking, take a good hike that spans over 9,000 feet on the largest hurricane barrier on the East Coast, protecting New Bedford Harbor. At the end you’ll find close views of Palmer Island Light. Be wary to travel during the daytime with companions.

Although it was moved in 2015 to Boothbay Harbor in Maine for a complete restoration, in 2018, you can visit the restored 156-foot Schooner Ernestina built in 1864, which is the official vessel of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts located in New Bedford on the State Pier. Its legacy includes sailing to within 600 miles of the North Pole, and providing safe sailing for immigrants.

The Cuttyhunk Ferry that departs from New Bedford goes past the lighthouse. The tour boats from Whaling City Expeditions pass by the lighthouse in its harbor tour. Seastreak provides tours to Martha’s Vineyard from New Bedford and passes by the lighthouse.



Alternate Directions:

Contact Info:
City of New Bedford

133 William Street
New Bedford, MA 02740



Local Ferries

The following ferries pass by Palmer Island Light as they leave and enter New Bedford Harbor.

Cuttyhunk Ferry Company, Inc.
66B State Pier, South Bulkhead
New Bedford, MA 02740 (508) 992-0200


Whaling City Expeditions
120 Front Street
New Bedford, MA 02741
(508) 98-4979


Ferry from New Bedford to Martha’s Vineyard
49 State Pier
New Bedford, MA 02740
(866) 683 3779


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

Look inside!

book of lighthouses in southern New England

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