Bug Light

Location

buglight1Duxbury Pier Light – also known as Bug Light – is located in Duxbury Bay, the main channel to Plymouth (Massachusetts) Harbor. (Coordinates: 41 59 15 N   70 38 55 W)

Specifications

Height: 34 feet

Construction: cast iron

Two red flashes every five seconds (active Coast Guard aid to navigation)

Fog signal: One blast every 15 seconds

Design and Structure

  • The lighthouse contains three levels that were used as living quarters and a watchroom. The lantern room held a fourth order Fresnel lens, first lighted on September 15, 1871.
  • To protect the structure, 100 tons of stones were placed around the base in 1886. A 700-gallon water cistern was added in 1900.
  • Bug Light survived the Hurricane of 1944 when 30-foot waves battered the isolated station. Heavy seas on the east side destroyed the fog bell mechanism, the lightkeepers’ boat, and its outhouse

History

Bug Light 1871

Bug Light in 1871, with pier from 1813 at left

Bug Light, (officially known as Duxbury Pier Light, or, fondly, “The Bug”) is located on the channel that leads to Plymouth, Kingston, and Duxbury (Massachusetts) harbors. First lit on September 15, 1871, it was installed to protect mariners from the dangerous shoal off Saquish Head.

In truth, the lighthouse is neither in Duxbury nor is it on a pier. In 1813, a stone pier was erected near where Bug Light is today. It was twelve feet square at the bottom, and eighteen feet high, six feet above the water at high tide. The lighthouse’s closeness to the pier and to the town of Duxbury is probably how it came to be officially named Duxbury Pier Light. The picture to the right shows both the original lighthouse and the pier close by.

So how did it come be known as Bug Light? No one is really sure. There are many theories, including:

  • The rock piles around it were often covered with lobsters, also called “bugs”
  • It looks like a bug from a distance
  • One of the lighthouse keepers said one can go “buggy” from living on a lighthouse for an extended time.

Bug Light was the first cast-iron caisson style lighthouse built in the United States. Its light stands 35’ above high tide. The lighthouse contains four levels that include living quarters, sleeping quarters, a watch room, and a lantern room. The lantern room at the top held a fourth order Fresnel lens – red glass shade inside made its beam bright red.

Improvements were made to The Bug over time, including

  • Adding 100 tons of stones around the base in 1886, and another 175 tons in 1890
  • Building a catwalk with a roof in 1897
  • Installing a 700 gallon cistern in 1900
  • Adding a fog bell in 1902

In 1964, the operation of the lighthouse was automated. The Fresnel lens was replaced by a plastic optical system, with a signal of two red flashes every 5 seconds. The signal lantern stands about 2 feet high. By this time a fog horn had been installed on Bug Light, producing a blast every 15 seconds. Residents in Duxbury, Kingston, and Plymouth can still hear the reassuring sound of the horn on a foggy night, even though they are miles away from it.

Once the lighthouse was automated in 1964 and the keepers were no longer needed. Over the next two decades Duxbury Pier Light fell victim to much vandalism and seabirds made themselves a home in the interior. In response, a group of concerned residents who did not want to lose this treasured lighthouse, formed Project Bug Light to save it. Under licenses from the Coast Guard, a salty band of volunteers has preserved the Bug for over 30 years.

Historical Images

Transitions

  • The lighthouse was automated in 1964 and the keepers were no longer needed. A modern optic replaced the Fresnel lens. Over the next two decades Duxbury Pier Light fell victim to much vandalism and seabirds made themselves a home in the interior.
  • In 1983 Duxbury Pier Light was slated by the Coast Guard to be replaced by a fiberglass tower much like the one that had replaced Boston Harbor’s old Deer Island Lighthouse. The Coast Guard had estimated that a renovation of the current structure would have cost $250,000. A group of concerned local residents formed Project Bug Light.
  • A five-year lease was granted to the preservation committee. The Coast Guard sandblasted and painted the structure and did some repair work in 1983; the work was completed in 1985. The Coast Guard spent $100,000 to refurbish the lower half of the lighthouse.
  • Project Bug Light raised $20,000 from local businesses, as well as sales of T-shirts and bumper stickers, a fashion show, baseball games, and raffling a painting. They used this money to restore the upper parts and the interior, including the rebuilding of the roof and the catwalk.
  • At the same time solar power replaced the older battery system. The fog signal was also converted to solar power.
  • In the late 1980s, vandals broke into the lantern room, leaving it susceptible to leaks. The weather deteriorated the wood interior so much that all the wood had to be removed, leaving bare iron walls.
  • After a few years Project Bug Light virtually dissolved as an organization, and the five-year lease expired. In 1993, the Coast Guard again talked of replacing the lighthouse with a fiberglass pole, or at least removing the lantern room. This time, Dr. Don Muirhead of Duxbury, an avid sailor, spearheaded a new preservation effort.
  • The Coast Guard again refurbished the lighthouse in 1996.
  • The volunteers of Project Bug Light continue to do maintenance at the light and have raised funds toward the continued preservation of “The Bug.”

Bug Light Today