A Tall Toothpick

The Toothpick. What a strange name for a navigational aid.

I can recall the Toothpick as a child when we passed it on our way out to sea to go fishing with my father. It was always a landmark that served as a milestone for me as we ventured in and out of  the mouth of the Merrimack River. The marked channel would take us within a few hundred yards of the Toothpick precariously close to some exposed rocks. Sitting in the bow of our little boat I would shout to my father, "theres the Toothpick!" Of course I'm sure he saw it well in advance of my exclamation.

The Toothpick is used as range marker for entering the channel of the Merrimack. A mariner would line up the Toothpick with another marker to know they were on track for the channel. It was a welcome sight for many sailing vessels and later steam power. When a vessel passed the marker the crew knew they were within the safety of the harbor and in the home stretch. It was a great relief for the crew as the mouth is one of the most treacherous river entrances on the east coast.

Postcard reverse side

The Toothpick is named for Benjamin Franklin Butler who was a Civil War general, He later turned his hand to a number of business ventures, who also served in Congress and as governor of Massachusetts.

ben butler, toothpick, navigation, merrimack river

Butler directed the construction of the navigational aid in 1873 when he was involved in a shipping business using the Merrimack River to transport goods. It is officially known by the United States Coast Guard as Day Beacon No. 10.

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