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 Nantucket Cliff Range, MA    
Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.Lighthouse accessible by ferry.Privately owned, no access without permission.Lighthouse appeared in movie.
Description: When Lieutenant Edward Carpender was inspecting the lights of Nantucket in 1838, he noted that two beacons were being erected at the “head of Brant point, opposite to the best water on the bar.” These range lights, officially known as the Nantucket Cliff Beacons but called the “Bug Lights” by locals, served along with a pair of range lights on Brant Point and various buoys to guide vessels into Nantucket Harbor.

Original Nantucket Cliff Range Lights and dwelling
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
Peleg Easton was hired as the first keeper of the Cliff Range Lights at an annual salary of $300, and a dwelling was provided for his convenience. An 1850 inspection report noted that Easton was a “fine old man” and that one of the towers had been relocated “to suit the channel.” Following the passing of Peleg Easton in 1852, his wife Mary took over the duties of keeper and remained at the station until 1856.

The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board notes the following modifications to the station over the years:

1868 – Plank walks renewed; illuminating apparatus examined and adjusted; timepiece oiled and cleansed; lamps repaired; two lamps refitted with new burners; chest of tools supplied.

1869 – The scuttle on roof of dwelling has been removed and a glazed skylight set; iron sink and cistern pump set in kitchen; one room repapered; one side of one of the beacons reshingled, and fence repaired.

1882 – The plank walks were repaired.

1885 – A barbed-wire fence was built around the light-house lot.

In 1889, the wooden pyramidal towers were replaced with the present conical wooden towers. A brick oil house was added to the station in 1904, and the roof of the front tower was modified - likely to permit the reflector to be raised by two feet.

The Bug Lights were discontinued in 1912, and the front range light and the “keeper’s tool house” were sold to Ellenwood B. Coleman. Frank B. Gilbreth, Sr. purchased the property from the Coleman estate in 1921 for $1,840. At that time, the rear range light was still located a few hundred feet south of the property, and the keeper’s dwelling was located across Pawguvet Lane and owned by Philip R. Whitney, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Not many years after the Gilbreths showed up with their eleven children and expanded the tool house, the Whitneys relocated their dwelling to 11 Easton Street.

Gilbreth family at The Shoe
By the time the Gilbreths were ready to move into the enlarged toolhouse, Frank B. Gilbreth, Sr. had acquired the taller rear range light, and it was relocated to their lot. Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. remembers the occasion.

An unforgettable sight for your chronicler, then a deliriously excited, freckle-faced tyke of ten, was that of a group of Nantucket men with a horse and a ship's capstan, moving the larger lighthouse to its current location, close aboard and just abaft our present cottage, The Shoe, built in 1952. We took the name of our house from the original toolhouse cottage that it replaced. Dad named the original place The Shoe to tease Mother, whom he compared to the old lady with more than enough children who resided in one.

The horse that provided the muscle to move the taller tower was blindfolded so that it wouldn't get dizzy as he walked around the capstan. The tower, jacked up and placed on rounded logs, was pulled at the rate of about thirty feet an hour. This was a ticklish job, fraught with considerable danger to all hands and the horse, and was performed bravely and successfully.

The two towers were named “Mic” and “Cyc” after Mike and Ike, two cartoon figures of the day. (Name signs still hang over the doorways – Cyc is the taller tower.) As there was not enough room for the family in The Shoe, the towers were converted into dormitories for the children.

Frank B. Gilbreth, Sr. and his wife Lillian were engineers who studied the work habits of manufacturing and clerical employees in order to create processes that were more efficient. The Gilbreths often used their children as guinea pigs in their experiments, and the family exploits were later chronicled by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and his sister Ernestine in the book Cheaper by the Dozen, which inspired two films of the same title.

Inside the towers, a circular wooden staircase with accompanying handrail leads from the first floor to the top where there is a built-in cabinet with a brass plate for holding the lantern next to the window. Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr added a vestibule to Cyc that contains a small kitchen and a bathroom with shower. This addition made the taller tower a stand-alone guest lighthouse, as the bottom floor of the thirty-five-foot-tall tower has a sofa bed, small dining room table, bureau, and chairs, the second floor landing has a second bed, and the third floor has a desk a space for hanging clothes.

Photo Gallery: 1

References

  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
  2. “The Gilbreth “Bug-lights,” Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr., Historic Nantucket, Vol 39, no. 2.

Location: Located just under a mile northeast of the Brant Point Lighthouse.
Latitude: 41.29391       Latitude: 41.29382
Longitude: -70.10665   Longitude: -70.10632

For a larger map of Nantucket Cliff Range Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: From the Steamboat Wharf, take Broad Street for one block then turn right onto Beach Street. Follow Beach Street for 0.6 miles and then turn right on Bathing Beach Road. You will see the pair of lights to your left shortly after making the turn.

The pair of lights are privately owned. Grounds/towers closed.

Find the closest hotels to Nantucket Cliff Range Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
Here is an excerpt from the Nantucket chapter in Cheaper by the Dozen that mentions the lighthouses:

"We spent our summers at Nantucket, Massachusetts, where Dad bought two lighthouses, which had been abandoned by the government, and a ramshackle cottage, which looked as if it had been abandoned by Coxey's Army. Dad had the lighthouses moved so that they flanked that cottage. He and Mother used one of them as an office and den. The other served as a bedroom for three of the children.

He named the cottage "The Shoe," in honor of Mother, who, he said, reminded him of the old woman who live in one.

The cottage and lighthouses were situated on a flat stretch of land between the fashionable Cliff and the Bathing Beach. Besides our place, there was only one other house in the vicinity. This belonged to an artist couple named Whitney. But after our first summer at Nantucket, the Whitneys had their house jacked up, placed on rollers, and moved a mile away to a vacant lot near the tip of Brant Point. After that, we had the strip of land all to ourselves."

The two range lighthouses and The Shoe can also be seen in the 1950 based on the book and also entitled "Cheaper by the Dozen." You can also see the lighthouses in "To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday."


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Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.