As the inspiration for the Cape Cod potato chip logo, the Nauset Lighthouse is possibly one of the most recognizable lighthouses on the East Coast. Visitors can tour this very special lighthouse and see for themselves what makes it such a beautiful and important historic place. The original Nauset lighthouse was constructed in 1838, although it was not actually lit for the first time until 1877.
The lighthouse that is currently has been moved a variety of times, both due to updates and also coastal erosion. It is currently funded and supported as a private site and relies on private donors to keep it maintained and updated. It is currently considered a private navigational aid, as the United States Coast Guard has no jurisdiction over it and no part in its maintenance. Originally lit by oil lantern, then by a variety of Fresnel lenses, it has been upgraded to the most modern lenses and is fully automated.
The main exhibit while visiting is the lighthouse itself. Guests can climb the historic lighthouse steps and look out from the aptly named Lookout room to see exactly what lighthouse keepers would be seen when the lighthouse was built hundreds of years ago. Tour dates and times are all available on the lighthouse website and, during busy times, visitors may have to wait as only 10 to 15 people are allowed in at any given time due to safety precautions. Tours are only offered in the summer and early autumn months (from May until October). Call ahead for additional information or to inquire about availability.
The lighthouse is built out of cast iron and is lined in brick. It is an impressive 48 feet high and was actually originally built in a different location and moved to Eastham after the previous lighthouse was retired. It is painted with red and white striping which is a bright daytime indicator for any approaching ships. Two aero beacons that rotate flash both day and night in alternating red and white flashes with five seconds between them, approximately 110 feet above the average high-water level. They can be seen for up to 17 miles. Although it was at one time manned by a lighthouse keeper, the lights are now fully automated and only require human intervention to change the beacons. The most recent lighthouse keeper retired in the early 1950s.
Next to the lighthouse is a small building that is also open to tours and was originally used for housing the oil that was used to illuminate the lighthouse lenses prior to it going automated. It has also served as the lightkeeper’s home in the past.
Due to coastal erosion, the lighthouse has had to be moved further away from the shore and will probably need to be moved again roughly every 30 years. It is listed on the registry of historic places in Massachusetts. While touring the premises, make sure to check out the shoreline and see just how much it has changed over the years. It is estimated that the entirety of Cape Cod may eventually be eroded away.
Keep an eye on the lighthouse website for information on the special events offered, as they change and are updated frequently.
The Full Moon Tour is a favorite of lighthouse visitors. Bring a flashlight and come see what the lighthouse looks like at night and why it is so important to ships (it gets very dark so visitors with small children who may be afraid of the dark should be aware). This two-hour, twilight tour of the lighthouse is a unique opportunity to see the lighthouse at night and look at it in an entirely new and different way.
The lighthouse also participates in National Lighthouse Day, which includes a tour of many east coast lighthouses. There is also a limited amount of special tours available for guests who become members of the lighthouse society on National Lighthouse Day. Visitors should also consider purchasing a poster, as all proceeds go back into preserving the lighthouse.
Different educational opportunities and field trips may be available at the lighthouse. Contact the staff for information on how to book and what is offered. Staff may be able to lead small tours (usually no more than 15 at a time) through the historic grounds. This would be better suited to older students, as the premises require respect and gentle touch.
Nauset Light Preservation Society, 120 Nauset Light Beach Road, Eastham, MA, 02642, hone: 508-240-2612
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