In 1837, a lighthouse station was established at Nauset Beach
- halfway between the single light at Highland, and the twins at Chatham. To distinguish
the Nauset Station, a keeper's house and three small towers
of brick were constructed 150 feet apart. This site marked
the only station in the U.S. designated by three towers.
The three towers were built for $6500, which was $3500 less than the
appropriation for the new lighthouses. The low bidder was Winslow
Lewis. Apparently shoddy workmanship was the reason Lewis
could underbid his competitors. The project overseer
at first refused to sign off on the work due to the poor construction.
He wrote "the masons...laid the bricks comprising the interior of
the wall entirely at random...I detected the masons several times
shoveling in sand instead of mortar." Lewis' own nephew, I.W.P.
Lewis, criticized the work. He wrote that the "towers were built on
sand with no foundations, inferior lime went into the mortar, that
bricks were laid without bonding." (Clark, pp. 84-85)
Sixth-order Fresnel lenses replaced Winslow Lewis' reflectors in
1858. Fourth-order lenses were installed in 1873.
In 1892, three new movable wooden towers
were built to replace the original brick towers. That same year,
the brick towers were lost to erosion - one of their bases can
still occasionally be seen offshore.
In 1911, due to the encroaching sea, the central tower was
moved back near the keeper's house. The north and south
towers were discontinued, due to maintenance costs and the questionable
need for three lights instead of a single light with a unique
flashing signature. These two towers were sold in 1918 to
Mrs. Helen R. Cummings of North Eastham for $3.50. The
towers were removed and became part of a summer cottage in 1920.
The central tower served until 1923 (three flashes every ten seconds)
when the north tower at Chatham
was moved to Eastham. The fourth-order lens was transferred to the new tower.
The last sister was sold to Albert Hall, who made it part of
another summer cottage.
The National Park Service purchased the north and
south towers (sans lantern rooms) in 1965, and acquired the central
tower in 1975. In 1983, the three towers were moved to a
site near Nauset Beach about a quarter mile from their original
location. Restoration began in December 1988. According to Jeff
Jelniker, NPS project manager during the restoration,
the available funding was used to
replicate the timber for the tower restoration - there was not
enough funding to restore the lantern rooms of the north and
south towers. Jelniker recalls that "On several occasions
I would hike at lunch in the woods adjacent to the project site
and I did come across pieces of the parapet railing of the
North or South towers. My guess is that when they were sold the
top(s) were just dismantled and discarded in the woods."
Work was completed in 1989. The lights were restored in their
original configuration - 150 feet apart and approximately 8.5
degrees off north. (J. Jelniker, via email)
The vestibule plans for the sisters were never located during
restoration. Old photos bore a resemblance to
That light was used as a model for restoring
the vestibules of the sisters. (J. Jelniker, via email)
Life on the Edge - the Lighthouses of Nauset West pp. 11-20
Lighthouses of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket - Their History and Lore, Clark pp. 83-91
The Lighthouses of New England, Snow pp. 265-267, 272
Massachusetts Lighthouses - A Pictorial Guide, Thompson p. 72
Lighthouses and Life Saving Stations Along the Massachusetts Coast, Claflin p. 69
New England Lighthouses, Roberts and Jones pp. 70,72
Lighthouses of Massachusetts, Roberts and Jones pp. 54-55
Thanks to Jeff Jelniker, National Park Service project manager responsible
for the restoration, for providing additional information.
Thanks to Lynn Cope Conroy for providing the photo of the
Middle Sister prior to restoration.