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Nation’s oldest lighthouse celebrates 300 years

Philip Marcelo
Associated Press

Boston — Boston Light, the nation’s first and oldest lighthouse station, is marking 300 years of warning mariners as they navigate the tricky waters of Boston Harbor.

A summer celebrating the milestone kicks off this weekend with the National Park Service’s ranger-led tours resuming Friday for the season.

A big anniversary bash is scheduled for September 14, the date when the light — the Coast Guard’s last manned lighthouse — was originally lit in 1716.

“Not many things are 300 years old in this country,” said Coast Guard Lt. Karen Love Kutkiewicz, who is helping to plan the anniversary celebrations. “It’s a really big deal. This is America’s lighthouse and it’s still doing the mission it had 300 years ago, lighting up the path for mariners coming up the eastern seaboard. They see this light and they know there’s a safe harbor in Boston for them.”

Boston Light sits on Little Brewster Island, a rocky outcrop roughly 9 miles from downtown Boston that’s part of a group of small islands dotting the harbor.

The original light was built by the British and later destroyed by them in 1776 when their forces were repelled from the city by General George Washington and the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.

It was rebuilt with financing from the state of Massachusetts when the war ended in 1783.

The optic lens in use today casts a beam visible for 27 miles and dates to 1859, when the light tower was raised to 89 feet and other improvements were made.

Public tours were suspended last year as the U.S. Coast Guard undertook a $1.5 million renovation project that included resurfacing the light tower and replacing roofs on the keeper’s house and other buildings.

And while the Coast Guard has gradually transferred its stewardship of lighthouses across the country to private organizations and other groups, Boston Light is uniquely protected.

Its lightkeeper was set to be phased out as part of the Coast Guard’s broader move toward automated lighthouses, but local preservationists objected and Congress passed legislation in 1989 requiring the Coast Guard to staff the light and keep it open to the public in perpetuity.

The ranger-led tours that start Friday include visits to Boston Harbor’s two other historic lighthouses — Long Island Head Light and Graves Light — which are no longer managed by the Coast Guard.

The roughly three-hour program also provides dramatic views of Boston’s skyline and stories from the harbor’s rich maritime history and those who have tended the light over the years.

Visitors can even talk to the current lighthouse keeper, Sally Snowman, who has served since 2003 and is the light’s first female keeper.