Sankaty Head Lighthouse is a beautiful, historic lighthouse located high above a bluff located in the ‘Sconset village in Nantucket, Massachusetts. The navigational aid has been active since 1850. It got its name from the Indian word, “sankoty,” meaning highland.
The shoals off Nantucket’s eastern coast have a long history of posing a navigational hazard. In 1843, civil engineer I.W.P Lewis reported to Congress that a lighthouse on Nantucket Island’s southern elbow should be built. He even said it was the most worthy location for a lighthouse in the entire United States at the time. Lewis noted how many ships were lost while attempting to navigate around this stretch of shoreline and shoals.
The United States government agreed with Lewis and decided in the 1840s to establish an influential lighthouse to warn mariners of the hazard. In 1848, Congress appropriated $12,000 for its construction, with additional funds totaling $8,000 in subsequent years. The light was turned on in February 1850. Sankaty Head Lighthouse was the first in the United States to be outfitted with an original Fresnel lens. The tower was 60 feet tall, with a brick lower section and a granite upper section. A weight-driven brass clockwork powered the light’s turning mechanism.
During the tower’s development, a brick house was built next to it to house the light keeper’s family. This house was demolished in 1887, and a new structure was built in its place. At the time, remodeling to the tower included the installation of a new lantern section, which added 10 feet to its height.
The light was electrified and automated in 1933, and the mechanical works used to work it were decommissioned. The original lens was removed in 1950 and is now on display at the Nantucket Whaling Museum. In 1965, the light was completely automated.
Erosion slowly eroded the bluff in front of the lighthouse over time, and by the early 1990s, all buildings on the grounds had been removed except for the tower itself. After the Perfect Storm of 1991 ripped significant portions of the bluff near the lighthouse away. Six ‘Sconseters formed Save Our Sankaty to save the endangered tower. When the Nantucket Lifesaving Museum and the Nantucket Historical Association declined to take on the lighthouse saving challenge, the ‘Sconset Trust purchased the lighthouse, raised the necessary $4 million, and outsourced for the tower’s relocation.
In September 2007, the moving company decided to use diamond-studded chainsaws to carve holes in the lighthouse’s foundation. This allowed a framework of steel beams to be used to raise up the lighthouse which enabled its relocation. The tower was relocated 390 feet to the northwest and 250 feet from the bluff’s edge using a system of roll beams and hydraulic jacks to a new location on property donated by Sankaty Head Golf Club.
The lighthouse is still operational as a navigational aid, flashing white every seven and a half seconds. With its white tower and distinctive wide red band, Sankaty Head Lighthouse, which stands 166 feet above the sea, is a highly visible landmark from both land and sea. The lighthouse’s interior is only open during special events, but the grounds are open to the public on a daily basis. At the end of Baxter Road, there is a small public parking lot.
Looking for more great spots to explore nearby? Check out these 7 Beautiful Siasconsett (‘Sconset) Photography Spots On Nantucket. Additionally, you can find more great spots to explore all around Massachusetts at goxplr.com/map/massachusetts.
- Constructed: 1850
- First lit: 1850
- Construction: Brick / Granite
- Tower shape: Cylindrical
- Height: 70 feet (21 m)
- Focal height: 158 feet (48 m)
- Markings: White with red band midway and black lantern
- Characteristic: White, flashing every 7.5 sec
- Range: 24 nautical miles (44 km; 28 mi)
- Status: Active
- NRHP number: 87002028
- Address: Baxter Rd
- Town: Nantucket
- State: Massachusetts
- GPS: Lat 41.28439 Lng -69.96628
- Parking notes: There is limited parking at the end of Baxter Rd. There is space for 3-4 cars. Some visitors will park in downtown Sconset and then walk to the lighthouse. Furthermore, Sankaty Head Light can viewed from Polpis Rd.
- Parking directions: HERE
- Location directions: HERE