Chatham Lighthouse

Chatham, Massachusetts
Chatham Lighthouse on the shores of Cape Cod in Chatham, Massachusetts, marks a history spanning more than two centuries.
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Chatham Lighthouse: Guiding Mariners for Over 200 Years

Chatham Lighthouse stands as a steadfast sentinel on the shores of Cape Cod in Chatham, Massachusetts, marking a history spanning more than two centuries. Established in 1808, this iconic structure has provided unwavering guidance to mariners navigating the treacherous waters of the Cape for generations.

A Cape Cod Community Surrounded by Water

Nestled in the heart of lower Cape Cod, Chatham boasts a unique geography, as the only community on the Cape surrounded on three sides by water. Its picturesque landscape is embraced by Pleasant Bay to the north, Nantucket Sound to the south, and the boundless Atlantic Ocean to the east. However, this captivating coastal expanse has also earned a reputation as a perilous stretch for seafarers.

Throughout its history, the Cape Cod coastline has witnessed over 3,500 shipwrecks, a testament to the formidable challenges posed by its sandbars, rip currents, and dense coastal fog. Sailors have recounted tales of ghostly illusions that lured vessels towards apparent safety, only to dash their hopes against the rugged Cape shores. Even today, these maritime hazards continue to challenge boaters.

A Legacy of Light: Chatham Lighthouse

The journey of Chatham Lighthouse began in 1808 when it was initially established with two wooden towers. However, these structures rapidly succumbed to the unforgiving coastal elements and were replaced in 1841. Eventually, more money was set aside for the light station.  A significant transformation occurred in 1877 when two new cast iron towers, each rising 40 feet in height, took the place of the second pair lighthouses. These twin towers, known as the “Twin Lights,” provided critical guidance to mariners. They were the third and final lighthouses to be built at the station.

In 1923, one of the towers embarked on a new chapter of its own when it was relocated to Eastham and rechristened as Nauset Lighthouse. Painted in distinctive red and white colors, it set itself apart from its all-white twin that remained in Chatham. Nauset Lighthouse replaced the Three Sisters of Nauset lighthouses.

Today, Chatham Lighthouse along withits adjacent keeper’s home continue to serve as a active station under the auspices of the United States Coast Guard. These quarters host on-duty personnel and an array of essential facilities, including boats ready for service. The station plays a vital role in conducting missions such as search and rescue, maritime law enforcement, and homeland security. The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 11-01 calls Chatham Light Station home, further enhancing its role in safeguarding these coastal waters.

A Beacon of Historical Significance

In recognition of its historical and cultural significance, Chatham Lighthouse was rightfully designated a National Historic Place on June 15, 1987. This prestigious honor underscores the lighthouse’s role as a timeless symbol of maritime history, steadfastly serving mariners through the ages. Being on the National Register of Historic Places also ensure that the lighthouse will be maintained for generations to come. Its reference number, assigned by the National Park Service, is 87001501.

Visiting Chatham Lighthouse

For those eager to glimpse this iconic structure, Chatham Lighthouse is easily accessible. A spacious parking area awaits at the Lighthouse Overlook, providing 44 free 30-minute parking spots. However, it’s important to note that parking violations are stringently enforced at this location. Visitors planning a more extended stay can acquire a Chatham beach pass, allowing them to park along nearby Bridge Street.

For those who prefer to explore on foot, downtown Chatham offers hundreds of free parking spaces, making it a convenient starting point for a visit to the lighthouse. Due to its status as U.S. Government property, visitors are kindly asked to remain behind the safety fence when admiring the lighthouse.

During the summer months, guided tours of the lighthouse are occasionally available, providing a unique opportunity to ascend the tower and experience the lighthouse up close.

A Touch of Hollywood: Chatham Lighthouse in “The Finest Hours”

Chatham Lighthouse also enjoys a touch of Hollywood glamour, having made a cameo appearance in the film “The Finest Hours.” This gripping movie recounts the daring 1952 rescue of the SS Pendleton by the U.S. Coast Guard off the coast of Chatham. The heroic crew members were awarded the Coast Guard’s Gold Lifesaving Medal, cementing their place in maritime history. Chatham Lighthouse plays a small yet poignant role in this cinematic tribute to their bravery. The movie was mainly filmed in Chatham, Massachusetts.


Address: 37 Main Street, Chatham, Massachusetts
Place GPS Coordinates: 41.671539, -69.950000
Parking GPS Coordinates: 41.671539, -69.950000
Parking Notes: There are 44 parking spots located at the Lighthouse Overlook which is free for 30 minutes. Parking violations are strictly enforced at the overlook. If you’re looking to stay the day at the lighthouse, you can purchase a Chatham beach pass and parking on Bridge Street.

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