Ten Pound Island Light Station was established in 1821 to guide ships into the inner harbor.
A commonly told tale is disputed by the Cape Ann historian Joseph Garland, who wrote that it was more likely named for the number of sheep pens (also known as pounds) on the island, which was reserved in the early days for “rams onlie.”
Ten Pound Island gained notoriety in 1817 when several people reported seeing a large sea serpent in the vicinity. One of the witnesses was future light house keeper Amos Story, who said:
It was between the hours of twelve and one o’clock when I first saw him, and he continued in sight for an hour and a half. I was setting on the shore, and was about twenty rods from him when he was the nearest to me. His head appeared shaped much like that of the sea turtle, and he carried his head from ten to twelve inches above the surface of the water. His head at that distance appeared larger than the head of any dog I ever saw.
Ten Pound Island is located near the eastern end of Gloucester Harbor and its historic lighthouse is on the National Register. On May 15, 1820, Congress allocated $9,000 to erect two lighthouses, Ten Pound Island Light, at the entrance to Gloucester’s inner harbor, and another near Salem, MA.
Amos Story was the first lighthouse keeper, hired in 1833. The island also served as a home and studio for Winslow Homer (1880); a base for a Federal Fish Hatchery(1889 until 1954) which released over a billion fish eggs annually — mostly cod — to replenish stocks. One fisherman recalled, “they’d go aboard them gillnetters and squeeze the ripe spawn out of these fish. And then they’d take a male fish and they’d squeeze him and got so much milt.”; and a Coast Guard station.
The Island also served other uses, during Prohibition in the United States (1920-1933), Cape Ann was known as the Atlantic Coast “delta” for smuggling contraband hidden beneath codfish. In reprisal, the first Coast Guard seaplane station was established on the island with an “old crate” scout plane and a surplus tent for a “hangar.” Three planes and a 70 foot speed boat were soon added to thwart the many rum-runners, but “the ocean is so big, and the patrol boats had to replenish fuel and supplies, that it was often a heart breaking task.” Smugglers recalled cannon balls whistling across their bows and outrunning machine gun fire.
Today, the conical cast-iron tower is now topped with a modern optic lens. The granite house-where artist Winslow Homer stayed during the summer of 1880-no longer stands. Although there is no longer a lighthouse keeper and the island is overgrown, locals swim or row to the island and enjoy the small beach area at low tide.
Vintage Postcard showing a harbor view and Ten Pound Island