Description: In addition to its role as an active light for mariners, picturesque Nauset Light is the iconographic symbol of Cape Cod. The light has been immortalized in a painting by Edward Hopper and is now a “poster child” for local fundraising. For $100 every two years, residents may purchase a vehicle license plate with an image of Nauset Light to benefit special projects on Cape Cod and the Islands. You may also find Nauset Light’s distinct red and white tower gracing bags of potato chips and popcorn in your local supermarket.
The 48-foot-tall, brick-lined, cast-iron Chatham tower, originally built in 1877, was dismantled, hauled up the cape, and rebuilt 200 feet from the cliff’s edge at Nauset Beach. The remaining Sister (minus its fourth-order Fresnel lens) was sold for $10 to Albert Hall, who incorporated it into his residence known as "The Beacon." After its reconstruction, the former Chatham tower became known as Nauset Light or Nauset Beach Light, and the fourth-order Fresnel lens was installed in its lantern room.
The keepers of Nauset Light would live in a one-and-a-half-story keeper’s house built for Three Sisters Light in 1875 and use that station’s 1892 oil house.
The top portion of the previously all white tower was painted red in 1940, to give it a distinctive daymark.
When Eugene L. Coleman arrived at Nauset Lighthouse as keeper in 1942 after having served more than a decade at Cape Neddick in Maine, he was greeted at the local combination post office/store with the words, “Cap, I think you’re going to like it here. We have a great climate here. Never gets cold for much of a time. Once in a while we get a below-zero temperature, but, I tell you, there are some beautiful days here in winter.”
In 1946, the Coleman’s went for some time without a radio, because they were unable to obtain replacement batteries, but Amanda Coleman was pleased to be with her husband at an onshore station where they could at least enjoy their neighbors. “Many’s the time, from Christmas to Mother’s Day, that I haven’t seen another woman to talk to. The hardest part of lighthouse duty is being alone, having no one to talk to.”
The Coleman’s did not have electricity, although it had been promised. “The big icebox there,” Amanda said, “runs off kerosene. But it’s better here. We can go out. We had to learn to drive a car when we got here, we’d never had one. Now we go shopping once a week in Orleans. It was harder in Maine. Three times we almost drowned.”
Nauset Light was automated by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1955, and the keeper’s house was sold. In 1981, modern aerobeacons replaced the fourth-order Fresnel lens, which is currently displayed at Cape Cod National Seashore Visitor Center in Eastham. The light characteristic was changed to alternating red and white flashes, which ties in nicely with the tower’s daymark.
By the 1980s, the strength of the surf and harsh storms had eaten away the nearby cliff, endangering Nauset Light. Through the efforts of the Nauset Light Preservation Society, the 90-ton lighthouse tower and companion oil house were moved intact to safety 336 feet from the bluff’s edge by International Chimney Corporation and Expert House Movers. The move, which took just two days and started on November 16, 1996, was much easier than the job of relocation Highland Light, which the two companies had undertaken earlier that year.
At the time of its relocation, the tower stood a perilous twenty-five feet from falling off the cliff. Before the Society stepped in, the U.S. Coast Guard had no plans to save it, but they gladly leased the tower to the organization in 1995, so the move could be planned.
Through a combination of Federal grants and funds raised by the Nauset Light Preservation Society, on May 10, 1997, Nauset Light was relit as a private aid to navigation. (It had been decommissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard before the move.)
In 1998, Mary Daubenspeck agreed to donate the 1875 keeper’s dwelling to the National Park Service granted that she retain the right to use and occupy the house for another twenty-five years. In October of that year, the dwelling, which was just twenty-seven feet from the edge of the bluff, was moved across the road and reunited with the tower, keeping the same orientation and relative position to the lighthouse that it originally had.
Through the efforts of the Nauset Light Preservation Society, who maintain and operate the light, Nauset Light should remain safe—at least for the 75 to 100 more years it is expected to take for erosion to threaten the light again.
Located adjacent to Nauset Light Beach. The lighthouse is owned by the National Park Service and managed by the Nauset Light Preservation Society. Grounds open, tower open during tours. Dwelling closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the National Park Service and managed by the Nauset Light Preservation Society. Grounds open, tower open during tours. Dwelling closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.