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  • Writer's picturelil pines


Stay a night at the light, in Salem Harbor, Massachusetts.

Bakers Island sits about five miles off the coast of Salem, Massachusetts, in Massachusetts Bay alongside the neighboring Misery Island. The lighthouse can be spotted from the shore of Salem, Marblehead, and Manchester-by-the-Sea. The Island is mostly private land - fifty acres of summer cottages - along with a ten-acre Light Station which had been owned and operated by the federal government, and for a short while preserved by the private Bakers Island Association. Under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, the light station became available to a new much-needed force of preservation and maintenance, and ownership of the station was properly transferred to the Essex National Heritage Commission in 2014. The only way for the public to access Bakers Island is aboard Essex Heritage's boat called the Naumkeag. The Naumkeag takes visitors out to the island twice a day on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays seasonally. The boat tours Salem Harbor before heading out to Bakers and landing on the rocks of the Light Station - literally, because there is no dock on this property. The Naumkeag lowers a platform right over the rocky beach for passengers to disembark.

Once landed, visitors get a tour of the grounds of the Light Station - the lighthouse, the Keeper's House, the Assistant Keeper's House, a few storage buildings, and a handful of walking trails - and then are free to explore on their own for about an hour. Essex Heritage also offers overnight stays on Fridays and Saturdays, July through September. Guests stay in the Assistant Keeper's House which is a beautiful off-the-grid old home with an expansive lawn, cozy rooms, and amazing views of Salem Harbor and the ocean.

The wood-frame Assistant Keeper's House was built in 1873, to accompany the Keeper's House, a rustic Victorian built in the 1850's. Both Houses and the lighthouse are solely solar-powered, making the entire light station off-the-grid. The Keeper's House houses seasonal keepers on the island for maintenance of the property, and the Assistant Keeper's Home houses four guests at a time, allowing the public to experience Bakers Island overnight.

The Assistant Keeper's House is rustic and sweet with rooms to lounge in, three bedrooms with ocean views, and a large but very simple kitchen - plus a Weber in the yard - for making an awesome dinner during your stay. A huge picnic table sits out on the lawn, perfect for a big spread. There is nothing elaborate here- everything about the house is low-key and relaxed. 

Across the lawn sits the lighthouse and Perkins Point, an overlook with a good view named after Joseph Perkins who guided the American frigate U.S.S. Constitution from danger into Marblehead Harbor after seeing the vessel in distress from this spot during the War of 1812. The lighthouse that stands today is called 'Pa', as it was the taller of the two that once shared this spot. It was constructed in 1820. 'Ma', a shorter twenty-six foot octagonal lighthouse that sat about forty feet away, was removed in 1926. A sign marks where she once stood.

There are a handful of trails to explore on the ten acre property. Many are lined with blooming sumac, varied shrubs and beautiful flora. One trail leads down to Old Norseman Point, a rocky bump on the coast that resembles a man's head. You'll see thousands of migrating swallows swooping and swarming on these trails.

Back down on the rocky beach where visitors disembark the Naumkeag, you can go swimming. The water is shallow along the coast for a bit, the rocks are relentless, and the water is crystal clear and brisk, but it's still nice to dip in the water. It's also a nice place to lounge and watch boats travel in and out of Salem Harbor.

The property owned by Essex Heritage is very private and peaceful. The summer residents who own private property throughout Bakers keep to their side of the island and there is no access to their land or amenities. The seasonal light keepers are the only contact you'll have on the island. During our stay, the keepers had two friendly dogs who greeted visitors. The entire evening was quiet except for the far-off ringing sound of buoys, and the call of gulls. We had a big dinner on the picnic table in the yard, watched the sun set, and later laid out on the grass when the stars came out.

Check out all the things Essex Heritage does to preserve the character of Essex County, a place with 9,968 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places, 26 National Historic Landmarks, 86 historical sites and museums open to the public, 400 farms and 9 State Parks. Consider becoming a member if you are in the area. You can find more information on day visits to Bakers Island and their Night at the Light program here. You can read more about the history of the island here and here.


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