The lighthouse was built to help mariners navigate around
Monomoy Point - nine miles south of Chatham. Difficulty in
navigating the shoals of Monomoy convinced the pilgrims to
settle in Massachusetts, rather than continue to Virginia.
The original light was built in 1823. The original structure
was a wooden tower atop a brick residence. The lighthouse
keepers were not entirely isolated - a settlement known
as Whitewash Village existed nearby
on the island, and remained until the 1860's due to storms
and a decline in fishing. The current tower was
built in 1849. The light was fitted with a
fourth-order Fresnel lens in 1857. Two lifesaving
stations were built in 1872. The tower was painted red in
In 1902, Captain
Marshall N. Eldredge and surfmen of the Life-Saving
Service at Monomoy attempted to rescue the crew of
the coal barge Wadena during a terrible storm off Monomoy Point.
Despite the conditions, Eldredge said to his men
"we must go, there is a distress flag in the rigging."
During the rescue attempt, the surf boat also fell victim
to the storm. Only surfman Seth L. Ellis survived.
The is a memorial at Chatham Light
to Captain Eldredge and the six surfmen who perished.
With the completion of the Cape Cod Canal in 1914 and the
increased power of Chatham
Light in 1923, Monomoy Light was decommissioned, and the
property sold to private ownership. The island served as a
US navy bombing range during World War II. In 1964, the light
was sold to the Massachusetts Audubon Society. In the
1970's the US Fish and Wildlife Service took ownership. The site was
refurbished in 1964 and again in 1988.
For a time, personnel of the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History
offered trips to the property. The trips are, sadly, no longer offered.
The structure was partially re-roofed nd a new ventilation system
installed in 2005.
As of 2006, the islands and lighthouse
are administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Funding is in place for a major renovation in 2010.
The above photo was taken by Chuck Young, who grew up on the island.
His father and uncles had camps on the island - his
uncle lost his camp during the 1978 blizzard.
Lighthouses of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket - Their History and Lore, Clark pp. 56-65
The Lighthouses of New England, Snow pp. 270-273
Massachusetts Lighthouses - A Pictorial Guide, Thompson pp. 62-63
Lighthouses and Life Saving Stations Along the Massachusetts Coast, Claflin pp. 78-79
The U.S. Life-Saving Service, Shanks and York p. 55
Lighthouse Digest December 2006
Thanks to Chuck Young, who provided the photo.