Keeper Of Boston Light Reflects On America's First Lighthouse Boston Light, the nation's first lighthouse, first lit up the Boston coast 300 years ago. Its resident keeper — one of the last in the country — calls it "the best government housing" in the U.S.

Keeper Of Boston Light Reflects On America's First Lighthouse

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And let's hear now about a very old technology designed to offer safety to seafarers. Little Brewster Island just outside Boston Harbor is home to America's first lighthouse, Boston Light. Three hundred years ago today, that tiny outpost began lighting the way for ships. These days, it's manned by Sally Snowman.

SALLY SNOWMAN: I jokingly say womanned (ph). I'm the 70th keeper of Boston Light. The first 69 were all men.

MONTAGNE: Now, this isn't just a job. Sally Snowman knows the mechanics of the lighthouse, all of it's history. She even dresses in period costumes, which she sews herself. When you bring up today's anniversary of Boston Light, she's quick to clarify it's the 300th anniversary of the light station, not the actual light tower.

SNOWMAN: The original tower built in 1716 was blown up by the British in 1776. We have the new one.

MONTAGNE: The new one was built in 1783, guiding ships with light powerful enough to see from 27 miles away.

SNOWMAN: It's an 11-foot crystal made up of 336 prisms that rotates. That makes the 1,000 watt lamp that is on 24/7 appear to flash.

MONTAGNE: And three centuries later, the role of lighthouse keeper is a little different. Boston Light is fully automated.

SNOWMAN: No longer needing to climb up the 76 spiral stairs and two ladders to light the lantern at sundown and extinguish it at sunrise.

MONTAGNE: And back then, the keeper would fire off gunpowder in a cannon to warn sailors away from the rocks. Now a foghorn is activated by radio signals. Snowman's job is maintaining the grounds, giving tours and managing 90 volunteers. She oversees Little Brewster Island, not an easy task, although the island is tiny,

SNOWMAN: At high tide, it's one and a half acre, and at low tides, it's three and a half. Part of the fun is sleeping out overnight out here is just hearing the waves crashing onto the rock.

MONTAGNE: Snowman is one of the last lighthouse keepers in the country, and she says from the moment she first saw Boston Light as a kid, she knew she wanted to be part of its history.

SNOWMAN: Oh, how could I forget that day? I came to visit the island with my dad and stepped off the dingy onto the beach and looked up at this 89-foot tower and said when I grow up I want to get married out here.

MONTAGNE: And she did. She and her husband moved into the keeper house in 2003. That's when the Coast Guard made the light station a civilian post and officially designated Snowman as keeper of Boston Light.

SNOWMAN: I just think it as the best government housing in the United States.

MONTAGNE: And sitting on a rocky outpost eight miles off Boston Harbor, Sally Snowman may just be right.

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