The waters off Chatham are notoriously dangerous because of the treacherous shoals and currents. The need for lights to warn mariners was recognized in early days of the country, and in 1806, nine years after the erection of the first lighthouse on Cape Cod in Truro, Congress made its first appropriation for a lighthouse in Chatham, with the actual building being completed in 1808. A light on Nantucket displayed a single fixed beam, Chatham two, and Highland Light three lights. The first octagonal towers, each about 40 feet high, were built of wood, as the contractor could not find stones on the Cape. Placed 70 feet apart, they were on movable skids so that they could be positioned to account for the shifting sand bars and provide a range for ships.
Samuel Nye was appointed by President Thomas Jefferson as the first keeper and was provided with a one-bedroom house. Thirty years later the towers had deteriorated so that it was dangerous to ascend them in windy weather. Realizing this condition the Treasury Department appropriated $6,750 for construction of two brick towers in 1841, with a brick keeper's house between them. Collins Howes, who had lost his leg in an accident, was appointed keeper. He complained bitterly that the construction was inferior and that rats infested the cellar. Four years later he was replaced for political reasons, and Simeon Nickerson became keeper, but he died shortly therefore, and his wife Angeline took over. Deciding the he would like his old job back, Collins Howes tried to have Angeline removed but President Taylor ruled in her favor, and she remained as keeper for another ten years.
In 1857 the lights received fourth-order Fresnel lenses, each showing a fixed white light that was fueled by lard.
The most notable keeper was Josiah Hardy, who served from 1872 to 1900. In 1875 Hardy reported serious erosion of the bank in front of the lights, and by 1877 the towers were only 48 feet from the edge. The same year two 44 foot cast iron towers with brick interiors were erected. On December 15, 1879, the old south tower tumbled to the beach below, and 15 months later the north tower followed it.
Related albums • See other albumsMassachusetts Historical Markers
Related locationsMA, Barnstable Co, Chatham Lighthouse
Related peopleJosiah Hardy