The first Minots Ledge Lighthouse was built on Minots Ledge one mile off Cohasset between 1847 and 1850 and was lit for the first time on January 1, 1850. One night in April 1851, the new lighthouse was struck by a major storm. The following day only a few bent pilings were found on the rock. Two assistant keepers who were tending the lighthouse at the time perished.
Work started on the current lighthouse in 1855, and it was completed and first lit on November 15, 1860, the most expensive lighthouse that was ever constructed in the United States. The lighthouse is built of large and heavy dovetailed granite blocks, which were cut and dressed ashore in Quincy and taken to the ledge by ship.
Despite its solid construction, Minots Light was a difficult assignment for a keeper. The keepers lived part of the time with their families on shore in two duplex houses at Government Island in Cohasset, but the keepers lived most of the time inside the tower.
In 1894, Capt. F. A. Mahan, an engineer with the Lighthouse Board, suggested a new system for lighthouse characteristics. As a trial of the new system, on May 1, 1894, Minots Ledge Light was given its distinctive characteristic 1-4-3 flash.
In 1915, Winfield Scott Thompson arrived as an assistant keeper. Thompson’s wife and children lived in one of the duplex houses on Government Island. At night, they could see the 1-4-3 flash of the lighthouse. Thompson’s wife, Mary, told the children that their father was telling them how much he loved them each night with the “I Love You” flash.
Originally built in 1858, the remaining keeper’s house was restored and remodeled in 1993 by the nonprofit Cohasset Lightkeepers Corporation for use by the community as a site for meetings and events. The Cohasset Garden Club offered to landscape and maintain the garden immediately in front of the entryway. Margaret Cotter and Charlotte Sommerfield worked on a design that included a lawn that could be used for outdoor events and a native plant shade garden that transitioned into the rocky area that went up the hill.
In 2016, several members of the garden club and a local landscaper developed a landscape plan for an extensive replanting of the area for which the club was responsible. Four areas were replanted that spring. First, the roses behind the small white fence were replaced with a row of hydrangeas. Along the foundation of the building, where the sun exposure is best, the baptisia was replaced with perfect roses. At the main entrance, the two damaged hollies on either side of the French doors were replaced with two dwarf hinoki cypress trees. Finally, junipers were planted to act as a visual barrier along the walkway to hide the neighboring house that is visible from that area. Other junipers replaced the inkberry bushes by the fire escape. The Lightkeepers House renovation project is currently complete. It is a wonderful and welcoming garden overlooking Cohasset Harbor.
Since the completion of the original landscaping in 1993, the Cohasset Garden Club has had a rotating team of members that dedicate one hour a week during growing season to maintain this beautiful garden.
The Light was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987 as Minot’s Ledge Light. It’s not the tallest or the oldest lighthouse in Massachusetts, and few would claim it’s the prettiest. But this rugged, wave swept tower has probably sparked more imaginations—and possibly more romances—than any beacon in the state.