Chatham is the site of the second lighthouse of Cape Cod.
After the completion of Highland Light, the next logical
location was the southeastern tip of the Cape. To distinguish
it from Highland, the Chatham station had twin lights. The
original two towers were 40 feet tall, constructed of wood
(the contractor being unable to find stone in the sandy
region!), and set up as movable range
lights. This meant that the lights would line up to mark a
safe channel. A ship approaching the lights from a direction
such that the lights were not aligned would be at risk of
running aground on the shifting sandbars.
The original towers were replaced by 40-foot brick towers in
1841. In 1857 these lights received fixed fourth-order
Fresnel lenses. Erosion would eventually claim the second
twins. In 1870, the lighthouse keeper reported the lights to
be 228 feet from the cliff. By 1876, this distance had shrunk
to 95 feet, and to 48 feet by 1877.
In 1879, the south tower slid over the
cliff. The north tower was lost 15 months later.
Fortunately, the optics of the twins had been moved to a new
set of towers prior to their demise. These two new towers,
built of iron plates lined with brick, were completed in
1881. 1923 marked the end of the Chatham twins, as the north
tower was moved to Nauset
to replace the remaining tower of the original "Three Sisters". The foundation
of this light is still visible. The remaining south tower was
given a rotating fourth-order lens and incandescent oil vapor
lens, which increased candlepower to 30,000.
The Coast Guard took over the tower in 1939, and installed a 1000
watt electric lamp, further increasing the light to 800,000
candlepower. In 1969, the entire lantern room was rebuilt,
and 2.8 million candlepower aerobeacons installed, which are
visible for 25 miles. The original lantern room is on display on the
grounds of the Chatham Historical Society Museum. In 1982, the light was automated.
The lantern was updated to a more efficient aerobeacon
in 1994. The keeper's house now serves as US Coast Guard Station Chatham.
In 1987, a Nor'easter broke through the barrier beach offshore of the lighthouse.
The break eventually grew to over a mile.
The overlook and part of the parking lot were washed away in the
"Perfect Storm" of October 31, 1991.
The lot and overlook have since been restored, and the station is
not in any immediate danger from erosion.
A monument near the foundation of the north tower stands
to preserve the memory of Capt. Marshall N. Eldredge and six
surfmen of the Monomoy Life-
Saving Station, who died on March 17, 1902 trying to rescue
survivors of the stranded schooner-barge Wadena.
Lighthouses of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket - Their History and Lore, Clark pp. 31-38
The Lighthouses of New England, Snow pp. 267-270, 273
Massachusetts Lighthouses - A Pictorial Guide, Thompson pp. 67-68
Lighthouses and Life Saving Stations Along the Massachusetts Coast, Claflin pp. 76-77
New England Lighthouses, Roberts and Jones pp. 69-70
Lighthouses of Massachusetts, Roberts and Jones pp. 58-59
The U.S. Life-Saving Service, Shanks and York p. 55
The Keepers' Log Spring 2005