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Newburyport Range Lights

Plum Island
(Newburyport Harbor) Lighthouse

Newburyport Harbor (Plum Island) light

Newburyport, Massachusetts
Built in 1838


Located at the northern end of Plum Island, opposite the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, at the entrance to the Merrimac River.

Latitude: 42° 48' 39" N
Longitude: 70° 49' 06" W


Historic Stories:

Birthplace of Our American Navy

By 1764, Newburyport was a thriving shipbuilding and trading center. After the Revolutionary War, where the area made major contributions in helping the Colonists, shipbuilding began to decline and the harbor was becoming a major fishing, whaling, and trade port. The harbor was still considered important to the new country's defense. George Washington and John Hancock met in Newburyport in 1789 to discuss the building of America’s first revenue cutter vessel for local protection, which was completed in 1790. This became the starting point in building a national fleet of ships that has evolded into our current Coast Guard, establishing Newburyport as the birthplace of our American Navy.

Note: For more details about the three lifesaving rescue branches that evolved into our current Coast Guard, select the link "Rescue Branches History" Blog at the top of the page to be directed to my Lighthouse Stories section.


From Torches, to Range Lights, to Three Lights, to the Current Plum Island Light Station

Plum Island is a long sandy barrier island about nine miles long. As shipping in the region dramatically increased, the entrance to the harbor wreaked havoc with mariners due to shifting channels at the mouth of the Merrimack River, near the northern end of Plum Island. During the Colonial period, fires were set up on Plum Island's beaches to aid mariners. 

In 1783, the Marine Society of Newburyport erected two day beacons as early range lights and employed locals to hoist poles with torches on top of them each night. These private range lights were welcomed aids to those mariners coming along the Plum Island coastline to the mouth of the Merrimack River.

Later, in 1788, two wooden lighthouses were built on Plum Island by the locals, which provided more help for mariners wishing to enter the Merrimack River. 

early Newburyport light 1793 construction

Wooden Tower
NewburyPort Light (1793)
Courtesy US Coast Guard

President George Washington appointed the first keeper of the Plum Island Lighthouses, Abner Lowell. Afterward, there were three generations of Lowells that served as lighthouse keepers there; Lewis, Joseph, and later on, Abner Lowell who served as a temporary keeper there in 1849. With the constant shifting of the sandbars around these beacons, the original towers had moveable foundations so they could be relocated and rebuilt effectively.

The lighthouses were moved and rebuilt in 1838 as two range lights. These range lights, or leading lights, were located at a distance apart from one another to allow mariners to line the front light and the rear light to establish a ship's position in relation to the river and the shoreline. Another light was later added to the two range lights as a “Bug Light” which acted as a third light.

In 1856, one of the three lighthouses caught fire and was destroyed. It was never replaced. Over the years the two remaining lighthouses were moved several times due to the shifting sands.

newburyport light early construction 1898
Newburyport Light (1898)
Courtesy US Coast Guard

In 1898 a new tower replaced the two lights, which is the current lighthouse. During construction, the new wooden lighthouse was built right next to the old one.

Today, the station with its keeper's building and the tower are cared for by the Friends of Plum Island Light, under a lease agreement with the city.



Places to Visit Nearby:

One of the most picturesque coastal towns on the New England coast, Newburyport offers plenty of history, shops, events, concerts, and over 70 great restaurants, along its cobblestone streets around the waterfront.

Newburyport (Plum Island) light tower The lighthouse tower is located on the northern end of Plum Island. Tours of Plum Island Lighthouse are provided by the Friends of Plum Island Light during the open season. You can find more information at their website.

The Newburyport Whale Watch offers dinner cruises, fireworks cruises, fishing, and whale watching. If you enjoy live music, try out the Newburyport Blues Cruise, as you travel down the Merrimac River.

Visit the Custom House Maritime Museum containing exhibits from Newburyport’s over 300-year history as a major shipbuilding seaport, (978) 462-8681.

The Firehouse Center for the Arts provides all kinds of entertainment in music, dance, theater, film, and art exhibitions. If you are interested in period architecture, the Newbury Historic District is an outside museum of 27 reconstructed and restored buildings from 1650 to the early 1900's. You also visit the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm and explore unfurnished rooms that openly reveal three centuries of construction techniques.

Maudslay State Park features 19th century gardens, meadows, and towing pines along the Merrimac River with plenty of trails for walking, biking, or even horseback riding.

Nearby is the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island.

Visitors enjoy hiking and bird watching on the refuge, along with its majestic clean beaches to connect with nature. beach at plum island


Directions to Plum Island Light:

Alternate Directions:


Directions to Plum Island lighthouse from downtown Newburyport by the Newburyport Range Lights:

Directions to Plum Island Beaches and Parker River Wildlife Refuge:


Contact Info:

The Friends of Plum Island Light offers tours of the Plum Island Lighthouse in the open season. Please visit for more information.

Friends of Plum Island Light
P.O. Box 381
Newburyport, MA 01950



Local Boat Tour

The boat cruise mentioned below may offer many types of cruises, and will pass by the lighthouse during specific lighthouse tours, as part of charters, narrated wildlife and historic tours, fishing tours and other types of excursions.

Yankee Clipper Harbor Tours
Offers various eco, wildlife, sunset and dinner tours. There is also a Parker River National Wildlife Refuge Tour that may pass the lighthouse at high tide.
1 Merrimac Landing #26
Newburyport, MA
(603) 682-2293


Books to Explore

Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Southern New England: Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, provides special human interest stories from each of the 92 lighthouses, along with plenty of indoor and outdoor coastal attractions you can explore, and tours. Also included is information on lighthouse history, some of which started in Newburyport.

Look inside!

book about lighthouses and local coastal atttractions in southern New England





book of the rise and demise of the largest sailing ships

To order a signed paperback copy:

Available also from bookstores in paperback, hardcover, and as an eBook for all devices.

my ebook on apple books

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

In the early 1900s, New England shipbuilders constructed the world’s largest sailing ships amid social and political reforms. These giants of sail were the ten original six-masted coal schooners and one colossal seven-masted vessel, 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.



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