In 1850 the Sankaty Head Lighthouse was built on a 90 foot bluff. The 60 foot tower was painted white with a red band midway for use as a day marker. The first lighthouse in the United States to be equipped with a Fresnel lens as part of its original equipment, the second order lens made the light the most powerful light in New England. It could be seen at sea approximately 20 miles away. Local fisherman dubbed the light “the shining star”.
The bright light made the lighthouse a tourist destination. The keeper had to enlarge the entrance to the lantern room to allow women with hoop skirts to pass through. Telegraph lines reached the light in 1886 and in 1887 a new keeper’s dwelling was built. The wooden structure was big enough for the keeper and the assistant keeper’s families. The tower was raised 10 feet in 1888 and a new lantern was installed.
The lens was replaced by aerobeacons in 1950. The light was automated in 1965. The lens was removed for safe keeping and is displayed at the Nantucket Whaling Museum. The lantern room was replaced with an “odd shaped aluminum cap” in 1970. The new cap caused the light to sweep over homes and autos. After numerous complaints the Coast Guard restored the original lantern room.
The tower now stands precariously on the bluff. The rate of erosion is quickly eating the bluff and puts the tower in danger of falling into the sea. Fundraising efforts have begun and have raised funds that have been used to secure the bluff. All of the other buildings have been removed. The tower remains an active aid to navigation.
Location: Southeastern part of Nantucket Island
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