Shining a light on Bird Island Lighthouse

Sep 14, 2019

MARION — Marion residents gathered to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Bird Island Lighthouse on Sept. 14 with a party that featured daring and humorous stories, a brief history lecture and a donation of historical art to the town’s Historical Society. 

Harbormaster Isaac Perry opened the remarks at the Music Hall by explaining that Bird Island Lighthouse had started 200 years and four days ago, jesting that “we’re a little late on the party, sorry.” 

He then introduced Charlie Bradley, who served as Marion’s harbormaster before him and worked extensively to restore the lighthouse. 

Though it has been around since 1819, the lighthouse was unlit for 62 years.It wasn’t until 1996 that Bradley formed the Bird Island Lighthouse Preservation Society to begin restoring it.

Bradley remarked that old lighthouses are “sometimes abandoned and sometimes restored.” The former harbormaster explained that Bird Island Lighthouse pre-dates Ned’s Point Lighthouse, and was once the only lighthouse on Buzzards Bay. 

He said in those days Marion was primarily a lumber community, and also had a salt factory where Tabor Academy’s fields are now, drying salt in the sun to ship out of town. 

The former harbormaster peppered his talk with stories from his time restoring the lighthouse, both humorous and dramatic. 

Bradley recalled a moment where he was cleaning the lighthouse with an assistant harbormaster, when the other man found “a couple hundred spiders in the lamp room.” His assistant then fled the island, and took shelter in their boat.  

Another memorable moment was when a gale blew up and he went to rescue five others in a boat that was really not meant for six. 

“I’ve never been that scared in a boat in my life. I didn’t think we would make it,” Bradley confessed. 

Bradley called the endangered Roseate Terns that nest on the island a “double-edged sword,” recalling an incident where he had to get full fire gear to put a flag on the island during mating season because the birds were dive bombing him. He also had to stop restoration work in April to allow the birds to nest, since Marion has the second largest nesting population in the state. 

But, he said, the birds give the island a “built-in security guard.” 

Bradley’s younger brother, Ed, also spoke at the event, to tell the story of a painting of the lighthouse that he presented to the Sippican Historical Society. 

“I couldn’t have made up a story like this,” Ed said. The art fan learned that a painting of Bird Island Lighthouse in 1913 was going to be up for auction at a Medway house auction. At first when he saw the painting, he wasn’t sure if it was Bird Island or not. 

He continued to look at other works and in another section of the house noticed a piece of paper sticking out of two couch cushions by about a quarter inch. When he pulled it out, he found that it was a printout of the history of Bird Island, including a photo of his brother! This confirmed the identity of the painting for him.  

He outbid several Boston marine art bidders for the work. “I don’t want to tell you how high the bid went, but it was higher than I expected,” Ed said.  

Ed wanted the painting “somewhere in Marion where other can view it,” so he presented it to Pete Smith, the Curator at the Sippican Historical Society.

The party also featured a raffle of several more contemporary works of art, including a painting by Mattapoisett’s Anthony Days. 

All proceeds from the party and the raffle will go to the Bird Island Lighthouse Preservation Society.