About This Location
The Cape Ann Light Station, commonly known as the Thacher Island Twin Lights, is a historic and iconic landmark situated on Thacher Island, just off the coast of Rockport, Massachusetts. Thacher Island, a rocky 50-acre island, earned its name from Anthony Thacher, who, along with his wife, survived a tragic shipwreck during the Great Storm of 1635 near the island's shores. This devastating event claimed the lives of many passengers and crew members, making Thacher Island infamous for shipwrecks. As a result, the Massachusetts colonial government acquired the island and established a light station to guide and protect mariners navigating these treacherous waters.
The Cape Ann Light Station, constructed in 1771, was one of only ten lighthouses operating in North America at that time. It was built to serve as a guiding beacon, safely leading ships past Thacher Island. The original lighthouses, standing at a modest 45 feet, were constructed and illuminated in 1789, making them among the oldest lighthouses in the United States.
The idea behind the twin lights was that they would be more easily distinguishable by passing ships. However, this notion faded over time as single lights were equipped with their own signature lighting sequences for identification. Each of the towers was equipped with first-order Fresnel lenses, which were approximately 10 feet tall and weighed several tons. These twin towers stood as the tallest lighthouses in Massachusetts.
In the past, the absence of flashing lights often led mariners to confuse one light for another, sometimes with disastrous consequences. The only solution was to build more than one light. Multiple lights were a common sight, with examples like two lights at Plymouth and three at Nauset Beach. However, as technology advanced and it became possible to create flashing lights using revolving lens systems, the use of multiple lights was gradually discontinued.
In 1932, the north tower of the Thacher Island Twin Lights was taken out of service, marking the end of its use as an operational twin light station. The south tower, now the sole operational light, was electrified via a submarine cable to the mainland, providing a more intense light. Eventually, the south tower was automated and became unmanned, with a modern optic replacing its original Fresnel lens in 1979. The north tower's original Fresnel lens no longer exists, while the south tower's original lens is on display at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Museum in New London, Connecticut. In 1989, the north tower was relit as part of its restoration to serve as a private aid to navigation.
In 2013, thanks to a collaborative effort between the Cape Ann Museum and the Thacher Island Association, the original first-order Fresnel lens from the north tower returned to Cape Ann. Today, it is proudly displayed at the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
The Cape Ann Light Station holds great historical significance and is a testament to the region's maritime heritage. This recognition earned the site a place on the National Register of Historic Places as the Twin Lights Historic District – Cape Ann Light Station on October 7, 1971 (reference number 71000355). In 2001, it received further recognition as the 9th light station to be designated a National Historic Landmark. This prestigious status is a testament to the station's historical and architectural significance, preserving its legacy for generations to come.
Today, both towers of the Cape Ann Light Station are owned by the Town of Rockport and managed by the Thacher Island Association. While these lighthouses can be admired up close, reaching them requires a journey, and several options are available for visitors.
Some adventurous visitors choose to kayak to Thacher Island, a unique and challenging experience that spans approximately three miles from Rockport Harbor. However, kayaking to the island requires caution, attention to weather conditions, and a level of experience, as it is not a simple paddle, especially for novice kayakers or those with limited endurance. Straitsmouth Island, closer to shore, is also accessible via kayak but demands vigilance when navigating rocky terrain during low tide. Groups larger than five boats are requested to contact the keepers in advance with their expected arrival time. A suggested $5 donation per person arriving by kayak is encouraged, and access to the islands is restricted after 5 pm.
For those with personal boats, Thacher Island offers three guest moorings near the ramp, approximately 50 yards offshore. Visitors must contact the island's keeper in advance at 508-284-0144 to notify them of their arrival. Moorings are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Additionally, a boat launch service operates to transport visitors to the island, providing an opportunity to admire the lighthouses up close. The Thacher Island boat launches operate trips to Thacher Island on Wednesdays and Saturdays, as well as limited Tuesdays, from June through August. Trips to Straitsmouth Island are available on Tuesdays. Reservations are required for all passengers, and links for ticket reservations can be found under Launch Reservation Information.
In conclusion, the Cape Ann Light Station, known as the Thacher Island Twin Lights, stands as a historic and iconic symbol of maritime history and guidance. Its rich history, architectural significance, and status as a National Historic Landmark make it a cherished part of Massachusetts' heritage. Visiting Thacher Island to admire these towering beacons is an opportunity to connect with the region's maritime past and experience its enduring legacy.