Highland Lighthouse (Cape Cod Light) Truro

Highland Lighthouse Highland Lighthouse Aerobeacon

Cape Cod, or Highland Light

Highland Lighthouse was the first lighthouse built on Cape Cod - built on ten acres originally owned by Isaac Small in North Truro.  The walkway up to the lighthouse from the parking area is along the original right of way that Small had conveyed in his deed. The lighthouse was first lighted in 1797 and served as a way to reduce the number of ships running aground along Cape Cod. The sea was an important route not only for travel to Boston and New York, but also as a way to make a living - fishing, whaling and trade.  The tower was originally a 45 foot tall wooden one, but then replaced by a 30 foot brick tower in the 1830's. In the 1850's, as he worked on his book Cape Cod, Henry Thoreau had stayed here as a guest of the lightkeeper; Thoreau had  marveled at the sights and harsh weather here.  Due to deterioration of the lighthouse due to the weather, the tower was completely replaced with a new 66 foot brick tower in 1857; the total cost was just $17,000.  How times change!  This is the same tower still in use today, but it was moved about 450 feet inland in 1996 due to the severe coastal erosion.  In the 1850's, the tower had an oil lamp with four lighted wicks and a twelve foot high Fresnel lens.  This system was replaced by a rotating lens in 1901 and then fitted with an electric bulb in 1932.  This resulted at the time in the tallest and most powerful lighthouse on the New England coast. In the 1950's, two aerobeacons were installed; at that time, the Fresnel lens was removed and also damaged, but portions of it can still be seen in the museum in the lighthouse buildings.  In 1986, the lighthouse was fully automated and still is operational today.   Presently, a VRB-25 lighting system is used, installed in 1998.

You can visit the grounds, now part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, all year round, with guided tours of the lighthouse itself and a museum and gift store open from May - October.  Take Highland Road from Route 6 in North Truro to its end, then turn right on South Highland Road, and then left onto Highland Light Road, where there is parking on the right.

Highland Light

Chatham Lighthouse

Chatham Light MA in 2007
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Chatham Lighthouse

The second lighthouse to be built on Cape Cod was built in Chatham in 1808, on Jame's Bluff that looks out over Chatham Bars and the open Atlantic.  The idea was to provide a second key lighthouse along the treacherous outer Cape area.  In order to distinguish the location from the single Highland Lighthouse, two matching towers were built here in Chatham; they were known as the "Twin Lights".  One tower was also moveable so that they could be lined up with the available passageway through the Chatham bars. The forty-foot towers were built of wood and each included six lights with silver-coated reflectors.  By 1841, though, the towers had deteriorated and were replaced with brick towers at that time. But by 1879, both of those towers had tumbled into the ocean due to the continuing erosion of the cliff there.  Two new 80 foot lighthouses were built at that time (1877), first using lard oil and then kerosene. The towers were made of cast iron, and lined with brick. In 1923, the northernmost of the two towers was removed and taken 12 miles north to Nauset Beach to become Nauset light - it is still there today.  The southernmost tower remains there today just to the left of the lighthouse keeper's house, which now serves as a Coast Guard Station.  The concrete foundation area from the northermost light can still be seen to the immediate right of the Coast Guard building. In 1939, the lighthouse was electrified with a 1000-watt bulb and an electric motor.  In 1969, the entire lighthouse top (lantern) was rebuilt and aerobeacons were installed to replace the light and Fresnel lens system.  The original lens is still on display at the Atwood House in Chatham.  The lighthouse was automated in 1982 and is still an important navigation light on Cape Cod.

The lighthouse is easily seen from the parking area at Chatham Beach on Main Street in Chatham.  The lighthouse can be toured on Wednesdays for several hours; the Chatham Chamber of Commerce can provide specific hours which are subject to change.    

Chatham Light House sunset

Nobska Lighthouse Falmouth

Nobska Light - Woods Hole

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Nobska Lighthouse

Nobska Point lighthouse stands on a bluff 87 feet high above the ocean with direct views up the coast to the mid-Cape, over the water of Vineyard Sound to Martha's Vineyard, to Falmouth and Woods Hole Harbors and to the southwest to the Elizabeth Islands.  The lighthouse is fitted with a foghorn that can be heard for a distance of five miles. The lighthouse was the ninth lighthouse built on Cape Cod, in 1828, on eight acres of land at Nobska Point in Woods Hole. The first lighthouse was built in the center of the lighthouse keeper's house, similar to the Long Point lighthouse built two years earlier in Provincetown. By 1875, though the building was in poor condition and it was replaced in 1876 by a 42 foot cast-iron tower with a brick lining.  The tower is built of four rings of iron that were cast in Chelsea, Massachusetts and then assembled on site.  The design is very similar to the Race Point Lighthouse. The tower was painted red at the time, but has since been painted white. Originally an oil-burning lamp, the lighthouse now uses a 1000 watt electric bulb, but still uses a Fresnel lens. The lighthouse was automated in 1985, and the lighthouse keeper's house, some built in 1876 and some in 1907, has served as the Coast Guard Commander's home.  Recently, the buildings were be taken over by the Town of Falmouth and the Friends of Nobska Light. One of the small buildings, still preserved, had served as an oil storage when the lighthouse had burned oil.  A second outbuilding serves to house radio equipment.

In the past, the Coast Guard had conducted occasional tours of the lighthouse, but it has now transferred the running of those tours to the Friends of Nobska Light. The lighthouse grounds can always be visited during daylight hours, though, and the views there are fantastic.  A museum is planned in the next few years.

Nobska Lighthouse Spiral Stairway, Nobska Point

Nauset Lighthouse Eastham

Nauset Light MA in 2007
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Nauset Lighthouse

Nauset Lighthouse is situated high on the bluff in Eastham, looking out over the outermost shores of Cape Cod along the Cape Cod National Seashore, and directly out from there to the open Atlantic. At this location in 1837, three lighthouses called the "Three Sisters" had been built. When erosion threatened those three structures in the early 1900's, they were sold to private parties. In 1923, one of the two twin lighthouses in existence 12 miles to the south in Chatham was moved to this location, and that is the present tower that exists here today.  The tower itself is 48 feet high and is made of cast iron with a brick lining; its original construction in Chatham was in 1877.  In the 1940's, the originally-white Nauset lighthouse was repainted with red on the top half, creating an iconic symbol of Cape Cod - it is the lighthouse on the Cape Cod Potato Chips packages!  In 1952, the original Fresnel lens of the lighthouse was replaced with aerobeacons and the station was automated. You can see the original light fixture and lens in the museum at the Cape Cod National Seashore Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham. The cliffs here continue to erode in winter and spring storms; as a result, the lighthouse was only about 40 feet from the edge of the cliff and the lighthouse was then moved about 300 feet further away from the shore in 1996.  Two years later, the lighthouse keeper's house, originally built in 1874 and brick oil house (1892) was moved also, to bring those along with the lighthouse.  The lighthouse is still a working lighthouse, using DCB-224 aerobeacons installed in 1981.

Nauset Lighthouse is now maintained and operated privately by Nauset Light Preservation Society.  The dwelling on the property is private, but the lighthouse itself can be toured during the summer season. Information about tours is at the Nauset Light page.  Here is a short video about the lighthouse:


Three Sisters Lighthouses Eastham

Three Sisters Lights Original Three Sisters of Nauset

Three Sisters Lighthouses

In 1837, three 15 foot lighthouses were built on the bluff in Eastham several hundred feet to the east of where the current Nauset light is now located. Three separate lights were built to allow mariners to distinguish the one light at Highland light, the two twin lights at Chatham, and the new lights in Eastham; there was some controversy whether three lights were really needed. The towers were built of brick, and there were additional difficulties and disagreements with the quality of the contractor's work. Believe it or not, the lighthouses were not viewed positively by the locals at first. Some of the more unsavory members of the town would use bright lights along the shore to attract vessels, causing them to run aground - this would provide all sorts of financial opportunities, and the lighthouse put an end to this! The towers used whale oil initially, and were upgraded with Fresnel lenses in the 1850's and again in the 1870's. With continuing erosion along the shore here, though, the brick towers were totally lost to the sea by the 1890's. At that time, three 22 foot high wooden towers were constructed 30 feet further inland, to replace the brick ones.  It was felt that the wooden structures could be moved back from the eroding shore if needed.  In 1911, two of the towers were retired from use, and only the center one continued to be used, called "The Beacon" at the time. By the 1920's, though, the wooden towers were all no longer used and were replaced by the single Nauset lighthouse still there today, which was moved from the Chatham twin lighthouse area, resulting in three single lights along the eastern-most coast of Cape Cod, Highland Light, Nauset Light, and Chatham light. Two of the three wooden towers had purchased by a private party for a total of $3.50 and were incorporated into their home as towers to the sides of the main home. The third tower was used by another private party as a dwelling. By 1975, the National Park Service eventually obtained ownership of all three of the wooden towers, and located them all together to the west of the current Nauset Lighthouse where they were renovated in the 1980's. While in a wooded area where they could never shine a light over the ocean, they are oriented and separated by one another by the original distance that they had been separated when near the shore. Only one of the lights now has a lantern top.

The Three Sisters can be viewed at the Cape Cod National Seashore property on Cable Road in Eastham.  Tours are given just a few hours each week - you can check at the Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham to determine the current schedule.

Long Point Lighthouse Provincetown

Long Point Lighthouse Provincetown Long Point Light and Outer Battery

Long Point Lighthouse

Long Point Lighthouse was the seventh lighthouse built on Cape Cod, in 1826.  It is at the very tip of Cape Cod, overlooking Provincetown Harbor.  The first lighthouse built there was 35 feet high, in the center of the lighthouse keeper's house.  Today the area is a very desolate one, but in the early 1800's, it was a busy place, a village called Long Point, with dozens of homes. Salt works powered by the wind and sun used ocean water to make salt; this had become a common activity along the Cape coast.  There was also fishing from the area as well, with bountiful takes using seine nets right near the shore, so several hundred people were living here; there was even a school and a post office in the village. But all things change, and by the mid 1800's, the salt works were no longer being used, and the area was all but abandoned. As the village itself died out, houses from the village were actually floated back to the town of Provincetown to be used there; the are still present in the West End of Provincetown, and denoted with blue plaques. By 1873, the original lighthouse building leaked seriously, had deteriorated itself, and needed replacing.  In 1875, the present 39-foot tall square brick tower was built, along with a new keeper's house.  The lighthouse design was almost identical to the Wood End lighthouse that had been built just a few miles away in 1872.  In the 1950's, the lighthouse was improved with aerobeacons and automated at that time.  In the 1980's, solar panels were installed to power the light.  At that time, all the keeper's housing was removed, leaving only the tower and the oil house.  The earthen mound near the lighthouse is all that remains of military outposts that were present at Long Point during the Civil War; local residents ridiculed the situation, noting that it was unlikely for Provincetown to be attacked.  The cross visible near the lighthouse is a memorial to Charles Darby who had loved the area, and who was killed in Europe during World War II.
Long Point is not easy to see except from the water. It is a long walk from Herring Cove Beach or from Provincetown over the breakwater to get to Long Point; there are boat shuttles, though, from MacMillan Pier.  There are no tours of the lighthouse; the light is still in use and is maintained by the American Lighthouse Foundation..  The grounds are part of the Cape Cod National Seashore and are open to the public.
Long Point Lighthouse

Wood End Lighthouse Provincetown

Wood End Light Wood End Lighthouse

Wood End Lighthouse

The Wood End lighthouse is just a mile to the north of the Long Point Lighthouse, at the tip of Provincetown.  The area is one where, even after the lighthouses were built, dozens of shipwrecks have occurred due to the heavy shoaling of the area.  Sand eroded from the Cape's eastern shore, from Wellfleet and Truro, moves northward along the shore, and is deposited in the Provincetown area, creating huge shipping hazards.  The Wood End lighthouse was built in 1872, just after the Civil War.  During the War, a military fort had been set up here, and afterwards, the area was used for the lighthouse construction. The square based pyramidal 39-foot high tower was originally painted brown, but repainted to white just a few years later. The building is nearly identical to the Long Point lighthouse. In 1896, the lighthouse keeper's home was rebuilt and an oil storage building was constructed also. Most importantly, the breakwater that can still be walked on at low tide from Provincetown to Wood End was built in 1911 to allow for easier access to the area by the lighthouse keeper.  In 1961, an aerobeacon was installed in place of the Fresnel lens and the station was automated.  The lighthousekeeper's house was removed also at that time. In the 1980's, solar power was installed at the lighthouse due to its remote location; it was the first lighthouse in Massachusetts to be outfitted with solar power.  The lighthouse presently uses a VRB-25 aerobeacon optical system with rotating Fresnel lenses.
Wood End is a little over a mile walk from Provincetown over the breakwater which can be walked on during low tide.  There are no tours of the lighthouse but the light is still in use and is maintained by the American Lighthouse Foundation..  The grounds are part of the Cape Cod National Seashore and are open to the public.

Race Point Lighthouse Provincetown

Race Point Light, Low Tide
Race Point Lighthouse 1876

Race Point Lighthouse

Race Point lighthouse is located at the very northwest tip of Cape Cod, looking out the Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts Bay to the north, and out to the open Atlantic. It is the northernmost lighthouse on Cape Cod. Due to the heavy sand accumulation in the area from sand eroding along the eastern Cape Cod coast and moving north, this area has been the site of numerous shipwrecks.  The name "Race" refers to the strong currents just offshore. As early as 1808, requests were made by the town of Provincetown to build a lighthouse here.  Race Point lighthouse was the fourth lighthouse built on Cape Cod, in 1816.  It was 25 feet high, made of cobblestone and cement, and used light green lenses to focus the light. As at Long Point, during the 1800's, there were many people living in a small village here, making a living fishing and running salt works.  As time went on, the mortar around the cobblestones deteriorated, and the structure was covered with shingles to prevent leaking.  By 1873, the lighthouse was replaced entirely with a new 40 foot cast iron structure lined with brick, similar in design to the lighthouses at Nobska and Chatham. Originally painted brown, the lighthouse was soon painted white and is the same structure present there today. The lighthouse and several keeper's buildings were maintained and upgraded, and there were even three keepers at one point; despite all this work, accidents continued in the dangerous shoals of the area.  In the huge storm of 1888, for example, three ships washed ashore and hundreds of people were killed.  The Race Point area was so remote and difficult for family members to get back and forth to the area that in 1838 a dike, still present today, was built along Hatches Harbor to allow for an easier walk.  By the 1930's, modified cars were able to make the trek through the sand, much as they still do today.  In 1950, the lighthouse was electrified with a 1000 watt lightbulb and the system was automated in the 1970's. Presently a VRB-25 aerobeacon provides the light for the lighthouse and the building is solar powered with a wind-turbine backup supply also.
At the present time, the American Lighthouse Foundation maintains the lighthouse, which is still an important navigational aid.  You can visit the lighthouse with a 1.5 mile walk from Race Point Beach parking area, and can even stay overnight at the area. The fog horn whistle house has been renovated for overnight guests, and the lighthousekeeper's house as well.  Tours of Race Point Lighthouse are provided on alternate Saturdays in the summer.  Information about reservations and tours can be found at the Race Point Lighthouse webpage.

Here is a windy sounding video showing the three Provincetown lighthouses.

Billingsgate Island Lighthouse Wellfleet

Billingsgate Island 1895 Billingsgate 1910

Billingsgate Island Lighthouse

When the Pilgrims had landed on Cape Cod in 1620, they explored the area south of Provincetown and reported an island south of what is now Great Island in Wellfeeet.  The island which was 60 acres in size at that time, was later called Billingsgate Island, after the Billingsgate fish market in London.  The Pilgrims had noted  large numbers of fish in the shoals around the island.  This richness led to a village on the island of about 30 houses and even a school.  Because of its location looking over Cape Cod Bay, it was felt that it was a perfect location for a lighthouse, so in 1822, the Billingsgate Lighthouse was built a 40 foot brick lighthouse with a granite foundation.  Erosion of the island was dramatic, though, and many of the homes there were floated back to the mainland in the mid 1850's.  In 1856, a new lighthouse was built, but conditions continued to be bleak on the island - the lighthouse keeper at the time reported flooding of the tower in 1873, ice everywhere in 1875, and then more flooding in 1875, flooding that ultimately took his life.  The next keeper saw the same with five feet of water in the middle of the island during one storm in 1882.  In 1888, more than 1000 feet of stone jetties were build around the island to help to protect the lighthouse and the few buildings still there.  By 1915, though, the lighthouse began to lean into the water and its days were numbered; the light was removed.  By 1942 there was no longer any land left of the island.  Now, a few spots of rock can be observed there at very low tides, remnants of the tower itself and of the jetties that had built to protect it.

The area where Billingsgate had been can only be reached now by boat.  It is south of the very end of Jeremy Point, the southernmost tip of Great Island in Wellfleet.

Point Gammon (Great Island) Lighthouse Yarmouth

Point Gammon Lighthouse


Point Gammon (Great Island) Lighthouse

The third lighthouse built on Cape Cod is unfortunately sequestered away from easy public view in a gated community on Great Island in Yarmouth. The history of the lighthouse is very interesting, however. The "island" is actually a penisula that forms the eastern boundary to Hyannis Harbor, and Point Gammon is the southernmost promontory on the peninsula. The 20 foot lighthouse, towering about 70 feet above the sea, was built in at the Point in 1816 from cobblestones native to the area.  At the time, it was painted white, but is now unpainted. A small keeper's house was also built of stone at the same time. From 1816 until 1858, the light was operated by Samuel Peak and his son John. The light served to guide vessels to Hyannis harbor until 1858 when the Bishop and Clerks light took over that function. John himself served as lightkeeper at Bishop and Clerks and then at the Hyannis Harbor light. The light was removed in the 1880's and the top of the tower was converted at that time to a bird observation area with the bottom used for a butterfuly colllection. The small keeper's houses was dismantled in the 1930's and used to build a home elsewhere on the island. In the 1970's, the lighthouse was renovated as a small home with the bedroom on the top. The tower has not been used as a lighthouse since 1858.

Unfortunately, the only way to view the lighthouse at this time is from the air or the from the water.  Hopefully at some time in the future, this important historic landmark will be restored as a lighthouse and open to the public.

Channel Point Hyannis Harbor Lighthouse

Channel Point Lighthouse

Channel Point Hyannis Harbor Lighthouse

The Channel Point Lighthouse is one of the most visible lighthouses on Cape Cod due to its location right on busy Hyannis Harbor.  Ferry boats to Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, fishing vessels and pleasure craft leaving the Hyannis Harbor go right by this lighthouse.  Interestingly, this is the newest lighthouse on Cape Cod, built in 1976-1977.  And, as easy as it is to see from the Harbor, it is often confused with the Range Rear Lighthouse which is only a mile or so away.  The 26 foot tall wooden lighthouse that flashed green is known by several names, Channel Point Lighthouse after the promontory in Hyannis that it is built on, Lewis Bay Lighthouse after the bay that it overlooks, and Hyannis Inner Harbor after its location right next the the main harbor.  Probably the best name is Channel Point, as most lighthouses are named after the promontory on which they are located. The intent of the builder of the lighthouse, Kenneth Shaughnessy, was to create an exact replica of the Brant Point Lighthouse which itself can be seen entering the harbor on Nantucket. He was a builder, and probably did the work as a fun project Shaughnessy sold the property in 1988, and it has since been owned by three other owners. The Channel Point light has 3 windows instead of 2, and is also trimmed above the door with black paint instead of green as at Brant Point.  The Channel Point light is a private navigation aid.  
You can view the Channel Point Lighthouse on any boat that leaves the Hyannis Harbor, including the ferries.  You can also park a few streets away at a water right of way, then walk over the beach to view the lighthouse. From Ocean Street, turn left onto Channel Point Road, then right onto Daisy Bluff Road.  Park at the beach access on the left, follow the trail to the water and the shore a few hundred yards to the left to see the lighthouse. Remember, though, that the lighthouse is a private dwelling, not to be visited closely.  

Hyannis Range Rear Lighthouse



Hyannis Range Rear Lighthouse

In the early 1800's, the area around this lighthouse was a very different place than it is today. The railroad that now ends at the train and bus station on Main Street extended at that time straight across Main Street, down Old Colony Road (hence the name) and to the ocean along Harbor Road. The railroad ended at a 300 foot wharf; if you zoom out on the Google aerial view (top image), you can see remnants of the wharf still visible in the water. The trains could load directly from the wharf onto ships harbored there or vice versa. Coal, grain, lumber, and fish were important commodities being shipped here, mostly being brought in to Hyannis. This was a busy spot, with the steamship to Nantucket docking here, and many other ships mooring there as well. The brick Hyannis Rear Range Lighthouse, also called the South Hyannis Lighthouse, was built in 1849. At 20 feet in height and shorter than most lighthouses, the lighthouse was designed to guide ships to the wharf. An additional light was set up at the far end of the wharf, and the comparison of the front and rear lights helped to guide ships to the pier. As the use of the railroad declined in the early 1900's due to increasing use of trucks and automobiles, the lighthouse was entirely shut down in 1929. At that time, the property was auctioned and has been in private ownership since.

The lantern itself had been removed in 1929, not to be replaced until 1986. At that time, the lantern was replaced by an 8 sided viewing room, built on the ground and raised by a crane to the top of the lighthouse. A spiral staircase leads to the room, and the interior of the room is finished with teak and holly wood. The house now serves as a private residence and houses an extensive collection of marine artifacts. The interior of the home includes several murals showing lighthouses of the area as well as one showing the wharf that the lighthouse had protected in the 1800's.

The lighthouse can be seen at the end of Harbor Road in Hyannis, but is a private residence and is closed to the public. Hopefully at some point in the future, the light itself can be restored so that the fascinating history of the area can be shared by all.

Hyannis Rear Range Light Old Lantern

Sandy Neck Lighthouse Barnstable

Sandy Neck Lighthouse and Colony

Sandy Neck Colony

Sandy Neck Lighthouse

Sandy Neck is an eight mile barrier island protecting the Great Marsh of Barnstable.  The island grows longer with time, as sand eroded from the Sandwich coastline moves gradually toward the east.  Interestingly, when Sandy Neck lighthouse was built in 1827, the lighthouse was near the end of the point, overlooking the channel to Barnstable Harbor.  Now the lighthouse is almost 3000 feet from the tip of Sandy Neck.  In the 1800's, Barnstable Harbor was a busy port with fishing, packet boats to Boston, shipping to Europe and whaling.  The first lighthouse built here was built with the wooden lighthouse in the middle of the keeper's house roof, this was a fairly common construction at the time.  By 1857, the house and lighthouse both were torn down, and a new 48 foot brick tower and wooden lighthouse keeper's house were constructed.  In the 1880's, two iron bands were added to strengthen the structure of the tower; those can still be seen on the lighthouse.  The use of the lighthouse ended in 1931 when the light and lantern were removed. At that time, the light was moved to a steel tower a few hundred feet to the east; that light itself was discontinued in 1952.  In 2007, a solar powered light and new lantern were installed to make the lighthouse a private navigation aid, and with the efforts of the Sandy Neck Lighthouse Restoration Committee and local donations, the light shines again.
The lighthouse can still be seen at the Sandy Neck colony at the tip of Sandy Neck, but it is a difficult journey.  There are no tours as the area is private property. The location is 8 miles over the sand; the lighthouse can also be seen from the water just south of the end of Sandy Neck or from Yarmouthport from the Long Pasture Audobon property.  
 
Sandy Neck Light

Bishop and Clerks Lighthouse Yarmouth

Original Bishop and Clerks Lighthouse Current Bishop and Clerks Lighthouse\

Bishop and Clerks Lighthouse

About 2 miles south of Great Island in Yarmouth (south of Point Gammon), there is a partially submerged ledge, about a mile in length itself, that is very dangerous to ships in the area.  During the 1700's, there was actually a 5 acre island there, and farmers would ferry cattle to the island for grazing.  By the 1800's, a large rock on the northern area of the ledge (called the Bishop) and many smaller rocks toward the south (the Clerks) still formed an area that was a hazard to mariners in the area.  As a result, in 1858, a 65 foot granite lighthouse was built to guide ships around the area.  All the materials to construct the lighthouse were ferried with great difficulty directly from the mainland.  On the west side of the granite lighthouse tower itself, a wooden tower was also installed to house a bell that was rung in poor visibility conditions.  There were no grounds or other buildings; the two lightkeeper's lived in the tower itself where there was a kitchen and two bedrooms. This was an important navigation light in Nantucket Sound at the time, close to shipping lanes from Hyannis to Nantucket.  In the late 1880's, more than 150 tons of stone were added around the base of the tower to further protect it from the actions of the waves.  In 1923, the light was automated, but by 1928, the light was entirely shut down.  The tower then continued to serve in the day as a warning of the rocky ledge.  The lighthouse was damaged significantly by a storm in 1935, and gradually continued to deteriorate and be vandalized.  Eventually, it began to lean in a hazardous way, so in 1952, it was entirely taken down with dynamite.  Several buoys now mark the ledge area, and a 30 foot tall red and white solar-powered fiberglass tower built in 1998 on the original granite foundation currently provides a navigation light at Bishop and Clerks.
The Bishop and Clerks light as shown at the above right, can only be seen by boat south of Great Island.

Bass River Lighthouse West Dennis

Bass River Lighthouse

Closeup of West Dennis Lighthouse


Bass River Lighthouse

The area around Bass River in West Dennis had become a very important maritime area by the early 1800's.  Hundreds of ships visited the harbor at Bass River, schooners, packet ships, fishing ships.  There was a strong trade up and down the east coast, and ships rounding Cape Cod from Boston area would pass through Nantucket Sound on their way south, and often take up safe harbor in the Bass River area.  Indeed, a breakwater was built in the early 1800's, with the intent of creating a quiet water area right off what is now West Dennis beach and providing a spot for a lighthouse; the breakwater was not completed, but can still be seen about 1 mile off of West Dennis beach.  Mariners in the area had grown accustomed to a small private light placed in the upper windows of the Crowell home near West Dennis beach.  Finally, in 1851, a lighthouse construction was approved, but then quickly cancelled as unnecessary; mariners protested and by 1855, the Bass River lighthouse was completed.  A little over a mile east of Bass River, the lighthouse was built, as many at that time, in the center of the roof of the lighthouse keeper's home.  Interestingly, it is the only remaining light on Cape Cod that was built in this way; most had leaked severely and resulted in deterioration of the building, and thus most were replaced with independent towers.  The Bass River light guided vessels through the area, along with the Stage Harbor Light and the Point Gammon and Bishop and Clerks lights, for many years.  Then in 1880, the government closed the lighthouse, and then just a year later reestablished it.  When the Cape Cod Canal opened in 1914, though, marine traffic could avoid going around the Cape and thus the lights in the area were deemed less important; as a result, the Bass River light was last used in 1914.  At that time, the property became private property.  In subsequent years, the extensive beach, a mile in length was sold to the town for use as West Dennis Beach, and the lighthouse building began to be used as an inn and restaurant.  During its use as an inn, the original building has been substantially enlarged to the sides, but the central portion of the building is still the original keeper's house with the light in the middle of the roof.  The current owner of the inn and restaurant restored the light in 1989 and presently, the light does operate as a private navigational aid during the summer months.  Several jetties were built by the owners to protect the beachfront after severe erosion in a storm in the 1950's.

The West Dennis lighthouse is readily seen from the eastern-most parking area at West Dennis beach; a short walk to the east will bring you to the end of the public beach area where the private inn beach begins, but excellent views of the lighthouse can be seen from the public beach area.  From West Dennis Beach, you can also (barely) see Monomoy Point Lighthouse, Bishop and Clerks Light, and Point Gammon itself, but not the lighthouse.  The ocean must be calm and the lighting just right to see these best.  Binoculars will help, too.   But from West Dennis Beach, three different lighthouses plus Point Gammon can be seen.

Hardings Beach (Stage Harbor) Lighthouse Chatham

Stage Harbor Light

Harding's Beach (Stage Harbor) Lighthouse

Just to the east of Harding's Beach in Chatham is the channel leading to Stage Harbor, a busy harbor even today, with frequent use by fishing and recreational boats.  On the south coast of the Cape, the area was a critical one for a lighthouse, and together with the Monomoy Lighthouse, served to aid mariners Nantucket Sound or rounding the Monomoy area, in determining their location.  Built originally in 1880, the Harding's Beach, or Stage Harbor, lighthouse was the last commissioned lighthouse constructed on Cape Cod.  The 48 foot tall white lighthouse was built of iron sections much like Nobska lighthouse and the Chatham lighthouses.  The keeper's house was a Victorian style home with gingerbread trim. During the years of service of the lighthouse, several of the keepers performed lifesaving missions in the dangerous shoals nearby.   In 1933, despite the lightkeeper's active protests, the light was shut down and steel frame tower has been used to provide a light since. The lantern room was also removed at that time, and has not been replaced.  
The tower and keeper's home is presently privately owned.  It can be viewed by walking east on Harding's beach about 0.8 miles, but is closed to the public.  The lighthouse can also be viewed in the distance from the Sears Road landing in Chatham. 

Monomoy Point Lighthouse Chatham

Monomoy Lighthouse Lighthouse at Monomoy national wildlife refuge

Monomoy Point Lighthouse

Monomoy Island is an eight mile sandspit extending south from Morris Island and Stage Harbor south into Nantucket Sound.  It is formed by the southward movement of sand from the eastern coast of Cape Cod as far north as Wellfleet. The area is a particularly difficult one for ships passing from the south north toward Boston or Maine, or vice versa, as there are many and changing shoals in the area.  As early as the 1700's, the Monomoy area had been used for fishing, though, and by the 1800's, a village of several hundred people existed on the Monomoy area.  Harsh weather affecting the harbor there, and crime in the village itself eventually sent all back to the mainland.  Presently, there are no residents on the island and it is a National Wildlife Refuge.  In recent years, the grey seal population has exploded near the Monomoy area, and this has also attracted great white sharks to the coasts of Cape Cod.  With the difficult navigation in the area, it was important to have a lighthouse here.  In 1823, the first lighthouse was built, in the center of the roof of the keeper's dwelling; it was the sixth lighthouse built on the Cape. But with the harsh weather in this area, by 1849, the lighthouse and building had deteriorated considerably and were replaced with a 47 foot high, cast-iron, cylindrical, brick-lined tower. This is the same tower seen there today. Braces and cables have been used to stabilize the structure over the years.  In 1882, the tower was painted a bright red; it is still that same color.  In 1923, with upgrading of the lighthouse at Chatham Light, and declining shipping traffic in the area overall due to the Cape Cod Canal, it was decided that the Monomoy Light was no longer needed, and it was shut down. As the island accretes sand at the tip, the lighthouse is now a little further back from the water than it was in the 1800's.
Boat taxis to Monomoy Island leave from the Morris Island area and there are boat tours from the area as well.  Once you reach the island, it is a very long walk to the lighthouse area itself, but you can be left much closer by the taxis if you wish. 
 

Mayo Beach Lighthouse Wellfleet

Point Montara Light (2013)

Mayo Beach Lighthouse

Wellfleet Harbor, on the Cape Cod Bay side of the Cape, is a large, protected location and has always been an important harbor on the Cape.  In 1838, a lighthouse was quickly built at Mayo Beach in Wellfleet, just adjacent to the current harbor area.  The lighthouse was constructed in the middle of the roof of the keeper's house.  Later in that year, the lighthouse inspector was surprised to see the lighthouse - it had been quickly without his knowledge. Despite his protests, the lighthouse continued in operation.  However, as most of the lighthouses of that design, the lighthouse gradually deteriorated, and in 1881, a new lighthouse and keeper's house were completed.  This was a separate 30 foot tower made of cast iron and lined with brick, much like the lighthouses at Chatham.  The use of the lighthouse was discontinued in 1922.  At that time, the property was auctioned off and has been in private ownership since then.  The street view at the top shows the current view of the old lighthouse keeper's home, with the harbor area to the left. Taking a few steps down the road to the left will also provide a view of the old oil storage shed, still on the property.  For many years, it had been thought that the lighthouse itself had been torn down and destroyed.  Recent research, though, has found that the lighthouse itself was brought 3000 miles away to California, in 1925.  Most likely, the sections of the lighthouse were unbolted from one another and transported  by train to California.  The lighthouse, as shown in the lower image above, is now at Point Montara, California, overlooking the Pacific Ocean about 20 miles south of the busy port of San Francisco.  The lighthouse is still operational with an FA 251 lens.
The lighthouse can be visited, but it is a long trip to Point Montara in California!  However, a youth hostel is now on the property, so you can stay at the lighthouse and see it close up!  Here is a short video from the Point Montara Youth Hostel site, with the lighthouse being shown during the first minute or so of the hostel tour.

Additional Cape Cod Information



Additional Cape Cod Links 







Lighthouse Keeper's Rules in 1881







History of Lighthouse Lighting

Verre du bec d'Argand
Argand Light, above

Along with the overall appearance and design of lighthouses over the years, the specific lighting source used in lighthouses has changed over the years as well. At first, open fires and candles were used, or wicks floating in oil.

Argand Burner with Reflector


In the late 1700's, the Argand hollow wick tube was invented by Aime Argand, as shown above, this allowed for a bright flame and for oil to be above the light and drain into it by gravity.  Parabolic reflectors were often combined with the wick tube to produce directed beams.  Fuel varied from whale oil to vegetable oils,  lard, and even olive oil.  By the 1870's,  kerosene was a common fuel, and acetylene began to be used around 1900.  Frequently, several Argand reflectors were combined together in a single lighthouse mechanism.

Sometimes the entire mechanism was rotated by a handwound clockwork mechanism, later by electric motors.  Sometimes a refracting lens, light bottle-green in color, was placed in front of the system as well.

The next major advancement in lighthouse lighting was the invention of the Fresnel lens.  The Fresnel lens allowed 85% of the light the be directed in the beam, much more than with a plain lens or reflectors.  Invented by Augustin-Jean Fresnel in the early 1800's, the Fresnel lens thinner than a conventional lens, thus able to focus more light.  The lens itself is divided into a series of glass rings that each bend the light.  Older automobile headlights made of glass used this same design.  (More modern headlights are using reflectors and polycarbonate lenses.)  The Fresnel lenses were made in different sizes, from first "order", the largest lens - about 8.5 feet high, to the fourth "order" lens about 2 feet high, to a sixth order lens, about 1.5 feet high.  The larger lenses allowed for greater brightness and distance and were thus used in key lighthouses such as the Highland Light.  Lights requiring less distance used smaller, less expensive lenses of the fourth order.  Nobska Light, for example, still uses a fourth order Fresnel lens. The Fresnel lens from the Nauset light is on display at the Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham and from the Chatham Light at the Atwood House in Chatham.

 
1st order Fresnel lighthouse lens
First Order Fresnel Lens

  Fourth Order Fresnel Lens, Nobska
Fourth Order Lens Still in Use At Nobska Light

During the early 1900's, electric lightbulbs began to replace the oil based lamps.  The most common bulbs were 1000 watt lightbulbs manufactured by GE.  Now, they are often powered by solar cells. In 2009, a new quartz halogen version of the 1000 watt bulb, with a ceramic base was introduced.  A few lighthouses have begun to use LED lights.

In the 1950's, Fresnel lenses were beginning to replaced by aerobeacons such as th DCB 24  (and eventually DCB 36 and DCB 224).  The aerobeacon is a cast aluminum drum with a built-in reflector.  In an aerobecaon, a single bulb can last up to two years.  The aerobeacons were lighter and less expensive than Fresnel lenses and could be used entirely outdoors, without the requirement of a lighthouse.  This is why some lighthouses were discontinued and steel towers were used instead to support the beacons.

Several companies manufacture the beacons including Carlisle and Finch Company and Crouse-Hinds.

The most recent aerobeacon design is the VRB-25 aerobeacon,  designed in 1995 by a New Zealand Company (Vega) in conjuction with the US Coast Guard.  It is seen in the Highland Lighthouse shown in the image below:

Highland Lighthouse 5

The VRB-25 has a bulb inside a series of rotating Fresnel lenses and can be installed without a lighthouse lantern structure at all.  Many object, though, to changing a lighthouse structure in this way, and prefer to keep the lantern, as is done in the Highland Light above.  The VRB-25 bulbs can last about 2000 hours, but can be set with multiple bulbs that automatically change if necessary; this can allow the system to run for up to 3 years straight.
VRB-25 exploded view

In the most recent versions of the VLB aerobeacon, the VLB-44 LED, LEDs are being used as the lighting source. These will probably be the standard in the near future.