Sepia Saturday - Navigation Locations

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This week is a double postcard special! The two cards are related in that they are navigational aids at the mouth of the Merrimack River where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean between Salisbury Beach and Plum Island, Massachusetts. The river here is notoriously dangerous and is known to be the 2nd most dangerous entrance on the US east coast. The first most dangerous being the at the Cape Hatteras area. Each year there are several boating mishaps at the entrance. This year there has been a fatality.

The first card is of the Plum Island Lighthouse. There have been several lighthouses in this area. Most have had to be moved as the mouth of the Merrimack has shifted to different locations over the centuries. The current light house dates back to 1898. It originally burned whale oil to keep the light shining. It was converted to kerosene in 1878 and electicity in 1927. The keepers cottage is still in use today owned by the Parker River Wildlife Refuge.
Photo: L. Bograd
CrazyasaCoolfox staff photographer

In 2003 the US Coast Guard turned over ownership of the lighthouse to the city of Newburyport. The light blinks green every 15 seconds, 50 feet over the land. It is automated and is still maintained by the Coast Guard.

The other major navigational aid at the river mouth is known locally as "The Toothpick" or "Butler's Toothpick.

Benjamin Franklin Butler was a Civil War general who later turned his hand to a number of business ventures, and who also served in Congress and as Governor of Massachusetts. Butler commanded African-American troops and had a special silver medal made to honor the gallantry of those soldiers in the battle of Newmarket Heights in Virginia in 1864.

Butler was despised by his Confederate opponents during the war and still is hated in the south to this day. He went to Congress as a radical Republican. As military governor of New Orleans, he imposed harsh martial law on the city and insulted its women. As a commander in Virginia, he refused to go along with the common practice of Union generals who routinely returned runaway slaves to their masters.

Butler directed the construction of a navigation aid in 1873 when he was involved in a shipping business using the Merrimack River to transport goods. He constructed it of wood with a base of granite. Today it is officially known as Coast Guard Day Beacon No. 10.

After the war, he was involved in several commercial operations, including a Rockport granite company He also had an interest in a company that made the first American flags out of American fabric. Before the 1866 "Butler Flag,'' the Stars and Stripes had previously been fashioned out of British-made cloth.

Photo: L. Bograd
CrazyasaCoolfox staff photographer
I remember the Toothpick was a favorite of mine to spot first as we motored downriver toward the ocean in our family's cabin cruiser. It was always known to me and everyone else locally as "The Toothpick." It wasn't until recent research and information on some postcards did I know the name "Butler's Toothpick."

As you can see by the post card view the toothpick was in the middle of shallow water in 1910. That's an indication how much the river mouth changes over time. The current photos show the Toothpick attached to land. It warns of Badger's Rocks and Black Rocks located nearby.

In 2009 the Toothpick was given a fresh coat of red paint by the Coast Guard. It is known as a day beacon as it has no red lighted beacon attached.

Together with the Plum Island Lighthouse, The Toothpick helps sailors enter the treacherous waters of the Merrimack River. Sailors always remember the three R's, "red, right, returning." When returning to port always keep the red things to your right. (buoys, beacons, lights)

The History of Plum Island lighthouse.

You can navigate your way through the dangerous waters of Sepia Saturday by clicking here.
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