Nantucket, Massachusetts

Great Point Lighthouse is an iconic lighthouse that stands at the tip of a remote peninsula on Nantucket, Massachusetts. The historic light was built in 1784.

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About This Location

Great Point Lighthouse, located at the remote tip of a peninsula on Nantucket, Massachusetts, is an iconic beacon with a rich maritime history dating back to 1784. This historic lighthouse has played a vital role in guiding vessels through the treacherous waters around Nantucket Island and is known for its enduring legacy.

The history of Great Point Lighthouse is closely intertwined with the maritime significance of Nantucket. Before the completion of the Cape Cod Canal in 1914, the waters between Great Point and Monomoy were among the busiest sections of the Atlantic Coast. Nantucket had already established itself as an essential port by the 18th century, with whaling becoming a prominent industry, boasting around 150 ships involved in whaling by 1775. The need for a lighthouse at Great Point, originally called Sandy Point, was evident, and in 1784, the General Court of Massachusetts approved the construction of a lighthouse.

The first wooden tower was swiftly completed, and it wasn't long before former whaleman Capt. Paul Pinkham took on the role of the first lighthouse keeper, earning a salary of $166 per year. In 1791, Keeper Pinkham published a highly regarded chart of Nantucket Island and its surrounding shoals. For the initial years, there was no keeper's house at Great Point, forcing the keepers to travel seven miles on foot or horseback to reach their station. Keeper Pinkham occasionally used a boat to journey to Brant Point for supplies.

The first keeper's house at Great Point was constructed in 1812 but was tragically destroyed by fire that same year. It was subsequently rebuilt. Keeper George Swain, who served at Great Point Light in 1804, experienced an unusual event when the schooner Republican ran aground close to the lighthouse. After the ship struck, the captain heroically swam ashore with his wife, and they both survived. In gratitude, the captain sold the schooner to Keeper Swain for a mere $50.

In 1816, the original Great Point Lighthouse was consumed by another fire. While some suspected arson, no conclusive evidence was found. A new 60-foot stone tower was completed in 1818 at a cost of approximately $7,400. The lighthouse featured 14 lamps, with three equipped with 15-inch reflectors and the remaining 11 with 16-inch reflectors.

Over the years, improvements were made to the lighthouse. In 1857, a third-order Fresnel lens was installed, significantly enhancing its efficiency. The tower was lined with brick that same year, and an assistant keeper's house was added to the station. However, despite these advancements, shipwrecks continued to occur in the area. Between 1863 and 1890, there were 43 shipwrecks near Great Point Light, with some attributed to confusion between Great Point Light and the Cross Rip Lightship.

Great Point Lighthouse witnessed numerous keepers, some with fascinating stories of their own. Judah Berry, a former sea captain, briefly served as keeper and had voyaged to distant places such as China, Japan, and Africa during his seafaring career. In 1931, Keeper Theodore L. Chase and Assistant Keeper Otis E. Walsh earned praise for their heroic efforts in rescuing the crew of the fishing schooner Elizabeth Foley, which had caught fire just two miles from the light.

The light was automated in the 1950s, and in 1966, the original keeper's house fell victim to a suspicious fire, leaving the stone tower standing alone. However, erosion gradually brought the sea perilously close to the lighthouse, and despite pleas from local residents to move it inland, the Coast Guard rejected the proposal.

In March 1984, a severe storm dealt a devastating blow to Great Point Lighthouse, reducing the 1818 tower to a pile of rubble. A replica of the lighthouse was constructed in 1986, funded in part by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and stands approximately 300 yards west of the original tower's site. This new tower was built at a cost exceeding a million dollars, more than 200 times the cost of the 1818 tower. The excess funds were utilized for the rehabilitation of Cape Poge Light on Martha's Vineyard and Monomoy Point Light off Chatham.

The relighting ceremony for the new Great Point Lighthouse took place in September 1986, with Senator Kennedy smashing a bottle of champagne against the tower. The lighthouse now stands proudly as part of the Coatue Wildlife Refuge, a nesting site for endangered piping plovers. Accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicles, the area offers a natural history tour from May to October. Visitors can also see the lighthouse by taking a boat or a plane ride. The solar-powered light continues to guide mariners, visible for 12 miles, and serves as a testament to the enduring legacy of Great Point Lighthouse, a cherished beacon on Nantucket's shores.

Lighthouse Specs
  • Originally Constructed: 1784
  • Current Tower Constructed: 1986 (third tower on this point)
  • First Lit: 1986 (current tower)
  • Construction: Stone, concrete, and plastic
  • Tower Shape: Cylindrical
  • Height: 70 feet
  • Focal Height: 72 feet
  • Markings: White tower with covered way and white framed dwelling. The lantern room is black.
  • Characteristic: Flashing white light every 5 seconds with a red sector from 084° to 106°
  • Range: White light has a range of 14 nautical miles and the red light has a range of 12 nautical miles
  • Status: Active
  • NRHP Number: 82005272

Location Features

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Great Point, Nantucket, Massachusetts

GPS Coordinates:
41.390111, -70.048250
Directions to location:
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Directions to parking area:
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Parking Notes:
Visitors can park at the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge Gatehouse and walk to the lighthouse. The more popular option is to get a permit to drive right out to the lighthouse. There are also options to see the lighthouse from boat or plane.


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