Chatham Quick Facts
Year Station Established: 1808
Is the Light operational? Yes
Year Light First Lit: 1877
Year Automated: 1982
Tower Height: 48 ft.
Original Optic: 4th Order, Fresnel
Present Optic: DCB-224
Existing Keepers Quarters? Yes
Year Constructed: 1877
Number of Stories: 1.5
Architectural Style: Duplex
Construction Materials: Wood
(6 photos, 145KB total download)
Last Visited: September, 2007
In 1808 the first set of lights were constructed on the bluff called James' Head to act as a set of range lights for the shifting shoals of the Chatham Harbor Entrance. Twin lights were mandated so that mariners would not confuse the new Chatham Light with the Highland Light in Truro. Distinguishing one light from another was a problem in these early days of lighthouses before an easy way was found to make the lights in the tower flash in a distinctive pattern.
The lights were 43 feet high, octagonal shaped wooden towers placed 70 feet apart with a 22 foot diameter at the base. Between the towers a 17' x 26' Keeper's house was built. The lights were fixed in character using six oil lamps backed by an 8.5 inch reflector and with a green plano-convex lens. Plano-convex just means that the lens is flat on the inside and curved outward on the front, like a flashlight lens. The lights were set upon wooden skids five feet from the ground so that they could be moved to show a new direction of the channel entrance (which only happened once).
In 1841 a second set of 40-foot towers were constructed; this time built of brick, to replace the old wooden structures. The towers were fitted with nine oil lamps each with 14" reflectors. The towers were painted white instead of white-washed.
In 1857 4th Order Fresnel lenses replaced the reflectors in each tower; characteristics remained fixed. These lenses were developed by the French Physicist, Augustine Fresnel, who devised a method of producing circularly polarized light and used his circular, prismatic lenses to replace the mirrors in many U.S. Lighthouses. The cost of each prism is $250.
By 1874, after years of beach erosion caused by tides and storms the towers are only 190 feet from the cliff edge, and the land is washing away in front of the lighthouse at an average rate of 31 feet per year. By1877 the decision was made to build a new set of lighthouses and keeper's dwelling on the west side of the road. The towers are built of a brick-lined, cast iron shell, 100 feet apart and 42 feet high.
In 1923 the north tower is moved to Nauset (Eastham) to replace3 lighthouses called "The Three Sisters". The top is painted with a red stripe to distinguish it from Chatham Light. The sea almost claimed Nauset light, and in 1996 it, too, was moved back to safety. The concrete base of the north tower can still be seen next to the keeper's quarters.
In 1994 Flotilla 11-1 of the USCG Auxiliary "adopts" Chatham Light and assumes responsibility of conducting tours on "open light" occasions throughout the year, as well as light maintenance and polishing of the lamps. Today the South Tower known as Chatham Light flashes it's special characteristics of two flashes every 10 seconds and rises 80' above the sea. It can be seen from 24 nautical miles away (a distance of 27.6 land miles). It flashes 2.8 Million candlepower and is Light List # 505.
Public tours are hosted by the local CG Auxiliary Flotilla every Wednesday from 1:00 pm to 3:30 pm during the summer months of July and August. Tours are also offered the first and third Wednesday of May, June, September and October, from 1:00 pm to 3:00pm. The lighthouse is open on December 31st from 12:00pm to 2:00 pm.
Nearest Address: 37 Main St, Chatham, MA
- Once on Cape Cod take Route 28 into Chatham.
- At the small rotary/circle/roundabout (take your pick), go straight onto Main St.
- Take Main St. 0.8 miles then turn right (continuing on Main St).
- After about 0.4 miles you'll see the lighthouse on your right. There is parking on the left side of the road.
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