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Lighting the Way

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“(A lighthouse) is such a potent image: practical, because lives depend on it, and at the same time, utterly romantic, this lonely building on the cusp of land and sea, sending out light into darkness.”– Jeanette Winterson 

Cape Cod Guided Vacation

Image Courtesy Cape Cod NPS

Your Cape Cod Guided Vacation includes time in beautiful Nantucket where windswept beaches, sand dunes and picturesque charm awaits.  NO cars, but the shuttle will take you past seaside cottages, old whaling captains’ mansions and historic harbors where you will find quaint inns, boutique shopping, chowder shacks and upscale dining charm.  You must sample the fantastically fresh striper, bluefish and bonito. Right from the ocean to your table – culinary heaven!

I found the most impressive attraction in Nantucket to be the lighthouses – three of them.

Easily one of the most photographed, the Brant Point Light is a real gem. It was the first lighthouse on Nantucket and the second lighthouse built in the colonies, the original Brant Point Light being a simple wooden structure built about 1746.

That structure burned down in 1757 and was replaced with the second Brant Point Light in 1758. The new wooden structure fell prey to a “violent Gust of Wind” (as reported in the Massachuseetts Gazette), which was most likely a tornado. A succession of wooden lighthouses were built and burned or destroyed by storms until 1856 when a new, permanent lighthouse was built 135 feet south of the previous site. Built of brick laid in cement, the new tower was lit on December 10, 1856.

Of course the new permanent structure could not escape the consequences of erosion. A new lighthouse was constructed in 1901 about 600 feet from the 1856 light. The new tower was a 26-foot wooden tower, the shortest lighthouse in New England. The light was switched from white to red in 1933 to avoid confusion with lights in town. The last civilian light keeper left in 1939 when the Coast Guard took over the lighthouse property.

Today Brant Point houses modern equipment including an automated modern optic. The red light flashes every 4 seconds and is visible for 10 miles. The 1856 tower still stands and is used as an office and radio room for the Brant Point Coast Guard Station. In 1987 this lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1785, a lighthouse was built to light the way between Nantucket and the mainland. Great Point Light, also known as Nantucket Light, was a wooden structure with no keeper’s house and I’ve heard that the first keeper, Captain Paul Pinkham, had to travel seven miles across the barrier beach to and from the tower. Interesting commute!

As seems the case with most of these old treasures, the original tower was destroyed by fire in 1816 and replaced with a 60-foot tall stone tower in early 1818. The lighthouse was whitewashed to increase visibility, but the 14 lamps could be seen from 11 miles away.

The stone tower protected the lighthouse from fire, but it could not protect the lighthouse from the ravages of erosion and on March 29, 1984, the lighthouse that had guided so many to safety, collapsed during a brutal storm with gale force winds.

To maintain the historic integrity of the island, a replica of the 1818 tower was erected using exterior stones from the original building. The tower was placed three hundred yards west of the previous tower to ensure its safety from future erosion. The $1 million Great Light was lit on September 6, 1986.

While the last of the lighthouses built on Nantucket, Sankaty Head Light was the first US lighthouse to receive a Fresnel Lens making it the most powerful light in New England. Called the “blazing star” by local fisherman, it was visible 20 miles away and considered one of the best in the country. Built in 1849, on a ninety-foot high bluff on the eastern shore, the 60-foot tower was painted white with a wide red stripe and a keeper’s house was built nearby.

The Fresnel lens was replaced by aerobeacons in 1950, but the lens was preserved, and you will find it on display at the Nantucket Whaling Museum. The light was automated in 1965, however the keeper’s residences were occupied until 1992 – there must be a story there.

Like the other Nantucket lighthouses, the Sankaty Head light would not escape the tragic consequences of erosion. In 2006, the tower stood only 79 feet from the edge of the cliff and the bluff was losing about a foot every year. The tower was moved 400 feet to a new location near the fifth hole of the Sankaty Head Golf Course and the relighting ceremony took place on Thanksgiving weekend in November 2007. According to an article in the Lighthouse News, “the Coast Guard, in conjunction with the ‘Sconset Trust, allowed the relighting ceremony to be delayed until the full moon was rising in the east and the sun was setting in the west, creating the perfect photo opportunity.” – you just can’t escape marketing!!!

Please read the complete itinerary of this Cape Cod Guided Vacation and plan to be a part of this en_LIGHT ening travel experience.

Cape Cod, Newport & the Islands:  6 nights/7 days (click here for details) – Offered both Spring and Fall

Eadie, Interlude Blog Team

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