NEWBURYPORT — Descendants of Arthur W. Woods, a longtime lighthouse keeper on Plum Island in the early 1900s, donated his family diary and photographs to the Custom House Maritime Museum last week, including one photo which will be on display with a series of other lighthouse keepers.
Susan Boccuzzo, co-founder of the First Parish Church Newbury Community Food Pantry, and great-granddaughter of lighthouse keeper Woods and her daughter Jenn Bogard, great-great granddaughter of Woods, donated a small piece of local history to be preserved for future research.
Woods was the keeper of Plum Island Light from 1905 until his death in 1919, Bogard said. He was also the keeper at Baker’s Island.
“My grandfather, also named Arthur Woods, had a passion for the light — its past, present, and future,” she said. “He and my grandmother lived on 78th street, Plum Island, in the very same house where his grandfather once lived as the lighthouse keeper.”
Bogard’s grandfather was one of the founders of the Friends of Plum Island Light and helped preserve and maintain the lighthouse after the Coast Guard transferred it to control by the city in 2003. The younger Woods died in March 2017 at age 85. One day before he died, Bogard said her grandfather pulled out two photo albums from his bookshelf and sat beside her on the coach, walking her through each photograph — sharing stories of the past and putting pieces of the puzzle together.
Woods also held onto a diary that belonged to the lighthouse keeper’s immediate family, including his father, his aunt Grace and children. The diary will be archived at the Newburyport Public Library. Documents will also be donated to the Friends of Plum Island Light and local museums that are interested.
“The mother writes about how the kids go to school and used to meet them,” Bogard said. “I feel like you can’t tell who wrote in it. There’s three different types of handwriting. It’s from the lighthouse keeper’s immediate family.”
One photo, which features the elder Woods, his wife and two children, will be displayed at the Custom House in one of the rooms which pays homage to other lighthouse keepers.
“I had a special relationship with my grandfather,” Bogard said. “I still remember how serious his face looked when he told me to make sure the diary was always cared for. He knew I shared his love of history. Of course I was teary, realizing the deeper meaning of this exchange and the passage of time.”
In addition, several family photos of the keeper and his family are part of Bogard’s collection. As an elementary school teacher for many years, she said she wanted to share with children in a way that they could read the diary and see some of the artifacts. Bogard published her children’s book, “The ABCs of Plum Island”, to share her love of the island.
Kevin MacDonald, museum curator at the Custom House, said it’s “not so usual” that the museum receives as many donations as it used to in the last 10 years, making the donation of Woods’ photos, diary and other documents a significant one to local history.
“We work with the historical society, so there’s a decent reciprocal collaboration that goes on among institutions here,” MacDonald said. “It is available for research. It’s mostly archival material, not artifacts. It’s not like a bell, it’s mostly photographs.”
Staff writer Amanda Getchell covers Newburyport and Seabrook. Follow her on Twitter @ajgetch.