Sankaty Head Light

Siasconset, Massachusetts | C.1850

Photo Credit: D Ramey Logan

The Sankaty Head Light is a lighthouse located on Nantucket island. It was built in 1850 at the easternmost point of the island, in the village of Siasconset. It was one of the first lighthouses in the United States to receive a Fresnel lens.

The shoals off the eastern coast of Nantucket had a long history as a hazard to navigation. The United States government decided in the 1840s that a lighthouse should be erected to alert mariners to that hazard. Congress appropriated $12,000 for its construction in 1848, with additional funds totaling $8,000 in following years. The tower was constructed in 1849, and topped in 1850 by a state-of-the-art Fresnel lens that reflected the light of a single-wick whale-oil lamp which could be seen more than twenty miles out at sea.

On May 15, 1933, an electric light replaced the vapor light, and a new electric motor was also installed, eliminating the need for the keeper to manually wind the clockwork mechanism to rotate the lens. This simple addition made maintenance of the station much easier, and the position of assistant keeper, then held by James E. Dolby, was eliminated. The light was fully automated in 1965 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

Over the years, erosion slowly ate away at the bluff in front of the lighthouse, and by the early 1990s all buildings were removed except for the tower itself. The Sconset Land Trust acquired the lighthouse in 2007, and had it moved away from the eroding bluff in October of that year. The lighthouse remains an active aid to navigation – showing a white flash every seven-and-a-half seconds – and is a highly visible landmark from both land and sea, with its white tower and distinctive wide red band.

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