Situated on a cliff 183 feet above sea level, Highland (Cape
Cod) Light was the first of the lighthouses of the Cape.
Construction of the lighthouse was prompted by numerous
shipwrecks in "the dark chasm between Cape Ann and
Nantucket" (Clark, p. 23). Shipping interests, rallied
to action by Dr. James Freeman, petitioned the young
federal government to act.
The original lighthouse was authorized by
George Washington in 1796. That year, the government purchased
ten acres of land for the lighthouse from Isaac Small of
Truro for $110. The lighthouse was completed in 1797.
The light consisted of 15 Argand lamps,
which were surrounded by a revolving
eclipser. This flashing light, the first in the US,
was intended to differentiate this light from Boston Light.
However, reports of the time indicate that this was not entirely
successful. One visitor, Edward Augustus Randall, wrote that
"the light is full only for a single moment in the course
of each revolution; it is also only eclipsed for a single moment;
but during all the time in between, it is no more than obscure
and imperfect light." (Snow p. 256)
By 1857, the original structure was deemed unsafe and replaced.
The new light featured a first-order Fresnel lens, which
was replaced in 1901 by an even larger rotating first-order Fresnel
lens, supported on a bed of mercury. In 1932, a 1000-watt
electric lamp was installed, which was said to be visible 45
miles away. The light was automated in 1986.
In 1987 the Fresnel lens was replaced by a pair of
aerobeacons. Each beacon contained two
1000-watt lamps (one flips on should the other fail).
By 1990, Highland Light was at serious risk of being lost to
erosion. The first lighthouse was built 500 feet from the
cliff. The current lighthouse stood a mere 100 feet from the
cliff in 1990. In 1990, somewhere between 40 and 117 feet of
cliff were lost to erosion. In an effort to save this
historic lighthouse, the Truro Historical Society spearheaded
an effort which, along with national Park Service, state, and
Coast Guard funding, raised $1.5 million to move the
lighthouse and keeper's house. In a span of 18 days in July
1996, International Chimney Inc. of Buffalo NY and Expert
House Movers of Maryland moved the lighthouse to a new
position 570 feet from the cliff. The lighthouse is
currently located on Highland Golf Links.
In 1998, the aerobeacons were in turn replaced by a
110-watt beacon. The lighthouse currently belongs to the
National Park Service as part of the Cape Cod
National Seashore, and serves as an active aid to
The lighthouse is open to the public. On the day
of our visit in 1998, the light was closed. We spoke briefly with the
docent, who turned out to be Gordon Russell, president of the
Truro Historical Society. He told us that the Coast Guard
was doing some repair work. The cashier at the souvenir shop
later told us that the damage was caused by an errant golf
Lighthouses of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket - Their History and Lore, Clark pp. 22-30
The Lighthouses of New England, Snow pp. 255-264
Massachusetts Lighthouses - A Pictorial Guide, Thompson pp. 73-75
Lighthouses and Life Saving Stations Along the Massachusetts Coast, Claflin pp. 64-65
New England Lighthouses, Roberts and Jones pp. 67-68