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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Lighthouses of Cape Cod

Imagine it is the 1800s and you are Captain of a whaling ship that has been at sea for 3 years. Your ship is laden with the whale oil from your catch and you are headed back to your family and your home on Cape Cod. You know from past experience that the waters off the Cape are treacherous and that heavy fog can make coming into port extremely hazardous. As you approach land you pray for guidance from above as you scan the horizon for the beacons of light that you know will give you your points of reference and lead you to safety.

Nobska Light Photo by Rick Constantineau
From Wings Neck in Buzzards Bay to Race Point in Provincetown, Cape Cod is home to 16 lighthouses. These beautiful and historic structures were built to aid mariners with navigation when shipping was vital to life in America.

Today, many visitors to Cape Cod go in search of these picturesque symbols of safety to seafarers (try saying that three times). Whether you want to photograph them, tour them, or perhaps spend the night in one of them, we wanted to give you an introduction to each one.

Wings Neck extends from Pocasset out into Buzzards Bay. The first lighthouse to sit on this spit of land was built in 1849. In 1857 a fourth order Fresnel lens replaced the multiple lamps and reflectors and in 1928 the lens was replaced and the light changed to a flashing one. In 1934 the light was converted to electricity. A new tower was built to rise 44 feet above the water in the 1890s, and in 1902 a fog bell was added. In 1945 the light was discontinued and in 1947 it was sold to a private party. The grounds are not open to the public but it is available for rent. Wings Neck Lighthouse can be seen from a gate near the lighthouse. From Route 28, take Barlow’s Landing Road onto Wings Neck Road and follow it to the end.

One of the most picturesque of the Cape’s lighthouses is the circa 1828 Nobska Light in Woods Hole. It was built to facilitate boat traffic in Vineyard Sound and Buzzards Bay. The present tower was built in 1876 and the light was automated in 1985. The grounds are open to the public but the lighthouse is open for tours only during scheduled times.  To reach the lighthouse, take Route 28 in Falmouth to Woods Hole Road and turn onto Church Street and follow it to the lighthouse.

Lewis Bay Light has been know as Hyannis Light and is sometimes referred to as Channel Point Lighthouse. It was built to resemble Brant Point Light on Nantucket. The original light was built in 1849. By 1854, Hyannis had become a major harbor. At that time, the lighthouse was refitted with a 6th order Fresnel lens. When the channel into Lewis Bay was dredged in the early 1900’s, Hyannis Light was no longer needed. In 1929 the lantern room was removed and it was sold as private property. Lewis Bay light is not open to the public but you can see it from North Street and Lewis Bay Road. The best views are from a boat. If you take a ferry from Hyannis Harbor to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard, you will pass right by the lighthouse.

Bass River Light went into service on April 30, 1855 with a fifth order Fresnel lens that displayed a fixed white light. In 1880, the lighthouse was closed and sold at auction. In August of 1810, after the lighthouse was built on Stage Harbor in Chatham, Bass River light was closed and the property sold at auction. A local mariner appealed to his relative, then President James Garfield, and in July of 1881, Bass River Light was reinstated by executive order. With the building of the Cape Cod Canal, the government deemed the lighthouse unnecessary and on June 15, 1914 the light was extinguished and the Fresnel lens removed. The property was sold at auction and today operates as an inn.

Stage Harbor Light in Chatham, built in 1880, is the Cape’s most recent lighthouse. Fishing traffic and thick fog around Chatham prompted the building of this lighthouse, which went into service in 1880. As this is now private property, it is best viewed from Harding’s Beach. Take Route 28 in West Chatham to Barnhill Road and turn on Harding’s Beach Road and follow it to the beach.

Fourth Order Fresnel Lens
Chatham Light was established in 1808. To help mariners distinguish it from Highland Light, it had two fixed white lights. It was fitted with fourth order Fresnel lenses with fixed white lights. In 1857. The current tower was built in 1887 and towers 48 feet into the air. It was electrified in 1939 and was automated in 1982. This is an active lighthouse and is not open to the public except during specified times in which guided tours are provided. From Route 6 (Mid Cape Highway) take exit 11 to Route 137 towards Chatham. Turn left on Old Queen Anne Road and stay on that until you reach Main Street and turn left. From Main Street take a left on School Street and a left on Water Street. Turn right on Silver Leaf Avenue and follow it to the lighthouse.

Monomoy Light was the fifth lighthouse to be constructed on the Cape. It was built to help mariners navigate the shifting sands, the rising and falling tides, and the rip currents that flow around what was then Sandy Point. In November of 1823, eight lamps shone a fixed light twenty-five feet above sea level over what is now known as Monomoy Point. The lighthouse was essential for ship traffic along the east coast. It received a Fresnel lens in 1857. After the opening of the Cape Cod Canal and the increase in intensity of the Chatham Light, the need for the light on Monomoy Point was no longer necessary. Day-trips aboard the Monomoy Island Ferry are let by a naturalist and include a visit to the lighthouse if you wish to go.

The Three Sisters (3 lighthouses) are located in Eastham. Because of so very many ship wrecks off the coast of Eastham, in 1837 congress appropriated funds to build a lighthouse there. To help mariners tell the difference between Highland Light (with one light) in Truro to the north and Chatham Light (with two towers) to the south, three towers with three lights were erected to mark the dangerous sandbars off the coast of Eastham. They became known as the “Three Sisters”  because some thought they resembled three sisters wearing white dresses and black hats. You can determine that for yourselves when you visit. In 1920 the three sisters were replaced by Nauset Light which is still operational today. After the Orleans Rotary on Route 6 east, turn right onto Nauset Road. Follow this to Cable Road and turn left. The Three Sisters are at the end of Cable Road in a clearing on your left.

With a history that is tied to the Three Sisters, Nauset Light with is red and white tower is recognizable as the logo for Cape Cod Potato Chips. Traveling east on Route 6, Nauset Road is the third traffic light after the Orleans Rotary. Turn right onto Nauset Road and follow it to Cable Road and turn left. At the end of Cable Road, turn left onto Ocean View Drive and you will see Nauset Light.

Highland Light, also known as Cape Cod Light, went into service on November 15, 1797 and was the twelfth lighthouse in the United States and the first on Cape Cod. It was also the first to have a flashing light. The light was erected because of the increase in maritime traffic around Cape Cod and the treacherous sand bars off the coast or Pamet, which later became Truro. In 1996 the lighthouse was moved back from the cliffs edge due to massive erosion. Guided tours of Highland Light are available from May 1 through late October but the grounds are open year round.  Take Route 6 east to Highland Road and turn right. Follow this to the end and turn right on Coast Guard Road. Turn left onto Highland Light Road. Be aware that signs to the lighthouse will say “Cape Cod Light”. 

Race Point Light
Race Point Light went into service on November 5, 1816 and was the Cape’s third lighthouse. It was erected to help mariners with the nightmarish navigation around the end of Cape Cod. It is located on Race Point Beach at the northernmost of Cape Cod in the National Seashore. During the summer months there are regular tours available to visitors and pre-arranged overnight lodging, but you must park in the lot at the Race Point Coast Guard Station and hike the 2 miles to the lighthouse.   From Route 6 in Provincetown, take Race Point Road and follow it to the beach.  Park in the parking lot and walk towards the Coast Guard Station and follow the trail to the beach and the lighthouse.

Woods End Light was built in 1872. It is unmanned and requires a long and treacherous hike to reach the lighthouse.  It is about a mile to the breakwater and across the sand to reach the lighthouse. If you choose to visit, bring drinking water, bug spray, and sun screen.  You can reach it by walking to the breakwater and across the sand. You might prefer to rent a kayak and paddle out to the light but you will still have a hike through the sand to reach it. You can actually see the lighthouse from a distance at the foot of the breakwater on Commercial Street in Provincetown.

Long Point Light is located at the entrance to Provincetown Harbor at the tip end of Cape cod. It can only be accessed on foot or by boat. It sports a green beacon and has horns that are activated by fog. Construction on the lighthouse began in 1826 with the first lamp being lit in 1827. The oil lamp was replaced by a Fresnel lens in 1856. Threatened by erosion, the structure was replaced with a 38-foot brick tower in 1875. Since 1982 the light has been powered by solar panels. It is still an active lighthouse and is maintained by volunteers.

Sandy Neck Light stands as a symbol of Barnstable Harbor’s past as an important port for trade and fishing during the early 1800s. The first lighthouse on what was then known as Beach Point was constructed in 1827, and in 1857 it was replaced by a brick tower that was painted white. Today, this area is called Sandy Neck and is a wildlife refuge.

All of these historic lighthouses are within easy driving distance of our bed and breakfast. We have had many guests who came to the Cape for a pilgrimage to each of these historic structures. We will be happy to give you a map that will help you locate them when you come for a visit.

Jan Preus, the Innkeeper, chef, and artist in residence at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

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