Stage Harbor Lighthouse

Chatham, Massachusetts
Stage Harbor Lighthouse, aka Harding Beach Lighthouse, stands as one of the prominent landmarks in Chatham, Massachusetts on Cape Cod.
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About This Location

Stage Harbor Lighthouse, also known as Harding Beach Lighthouse, stands as one of the prominent landmarks in Chatham, Massachusetts, nestled on picturesque Cape Cod.

The genesis of Stage Harbor Lighthouse can be traced back to a recommendation put forth by the Lighthouse Board in 1878. In their annual report of the same year, they proposed the construction of a lighthouse at this location, emphasizing its pivotal role as a navigational guide for vessels entering Old Stage Harbor, particularly during nighttime and inclement weather. The excerpt reads, “The establishment of a light at this place, giving a good range with one of the Chatham lights, would serve as a guide into Old Stage Harbor, and would be of great value to vessels seeking refuge there at night and during bad weather. If built on the beach, the light-house, with keeper’s dwelling, including apparatus (fifth or sixth order) and land, would cost, say, $10,000. An appropriation of this amount is respectfully submitted in the estimates.” This proposal garnered approval, leading to the allocation of funds on March 3, 1879.

Construction of Stage Harbor Lighthouse commenced in 1879 at the eastern tip of Hardings Beach in Chatham. At a total cost of $9,862, a 48-foot cast-iron tower was erected, accompanied by a wood-framed keeper’s residence. On July 15, 1880, the lighthouse illuminated for the first time, casting a steady white light from a fifth-order Fresnel lens visible up to 12 nautical miles. In 1882, a chimney ventilator was added, enhancing the lighthouse’s infrastructure. The following year, a barbed-wire fence was erected around the lighthouse premises. Routine maintenance and basic repairs ensued in the subsequent years.

Throughout its operational history, Stage Harbor Lighthouse played a vital role in assisting maritime events such as shipwrecks and vessels running aground. However, in 1933, plans were set in motion to replace the manned lighthouse with an automated light situated 308 feet away on a skeletal tower.

Stanley Gunderson, the lighthouse keeper at the time, expressed his reservations about this transition. He cited concerns about the reliability and regular maintenance of unmanned lights, highlighting that the automated light’s range would only extend from 3 to 10 miles compared to Stage Harbor Lighthouse’s impressive 18-mile reach. Despite his objections, the automated light was installed, resulting in Gunderson’s displacement from his position. This new modular skeletal tower boasted a focal height of 42 feet, featuring a flashing white light every 6 seconds with a range of 7 nautical miles.

Subsequently, the lantern of the lighthouse was decommissioned, removed, and sealed following the installation of the automated skeleton light. No lantern was ever added again to the tower so it is now a lighthouse without any real light. Regardless, the lighthouse and its accompanying three acres of land were sold by the government to an army commander. In early 1936, Henry Sears Hoyt acquired the lighthouse property. It was later revealed that the lighthouse and land were part of the 4,000-acre land grant originally given to Hoyt’s ancestor, William Nickerson, the founder of Chatham, by local Native Americans.

The Hoyt family remains the current owners of the lighthouse, occasionally opening it to the public. The lighthouse still maintains its rudimentary character, lacking plumbing except for a single pump and devoid of modern electrical amenities. The neighboring skeletal tower continues to serve as a navigational aid, exhibiting a white light.

Visitors can catch glimpses of the lighthouse by boat or embark on a scenic walk. The closest parking lot to the lighthouse is the eastern parking lot at Hardings Beach, with visitors covering a distance of just under a mile either by walking along the beach or traversing a path through the dunes. This journey offers a magical experience and affords breathtaking vistas of Chatham’s coastal beauty.

Location

Address: Hardings Beach Road, Chatham, Massachusetts
Place GPS Coordinates: 41.658694, -69.983694
Parking GPS Coordinates: 41.658694, -69.983694
Parking Notes: The closest parking lot to Stage Harbor Lighthouse is the second parking lot at Hardings Beach. Visitors can then walk just under a mile to the lighthouse. A fee is charged for non-residents to park at Hardings Beach during the summer, during the off-season parking is free for all.

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