Chatham Lights

Chatham Light

Chatham Lighthouse

Locals grew up in the shadow of the guiding light of the Chatham Lighthouse. Some watched its historical move. Although it has undergone renovations, it has remained the same in structural design and purpose. Open; a few hours a week in summer for visitors, the Chatham Lighthouse is an American Icon.

Over the years, thousands of people have had the privilege of visiting the Chatham Lighthouse. Tours began in 1990 and continues to remind people of the contributions that Mariner’s make to the world and its economy.

History of Chatham Lighthouse:

Chatham Lighthouse, in its origin, was placed on Cape Cods Southeastern location. The present lighthouse is one of six that were built in the Cape. This area entertained a great deal of maritime traffic. However, the waters of Cape Cod were brutal to many ships that graced its shores.

The coastline of Cape Cod is rumored responsible for over 3500 wrecked vessels (1850 through 1980). Those who sailed close to the Chatham shores tell tales of ghostly images that lured ships to what seemed like, safety; only to have their hopes dashed against the rugged shores of the Cape.

The building of the lighthouse was no cheap endeavor, nor was it easy considering the sand. In the early years, merchandise took months to reach the American shores, and it took experienced sailors to bring it home, not to mention ships were precious and costly to build. This lighthouse was built with the same solid construction ships were given. Chatham Lighthouse was built to save cargo and lives.

In the days of old, the lighthouse was the only means of preventing a ship from running aground. The beacon emitted light like a giant flashlight, preventing ships from hitting the sharp rocks of the coast. The Chatham Lighthouse, also known as the twin lights prior to 1923, is one of 16 remaining lighthouses on the Cape Cod Coast. The story of the Chatham Lighthouse is more fascinating today as the world looks back over its history. Thanks to the preservation of this guiding light, visitors can visit this historic landmark.

The original structures, built-in 1808, consisted of two towers that were replaced in 1841. These once formerly wood structures were restructured in stone at the cost of $6,750. The Chatham Lighthouse was only one of the 1500 structures built in the United States. Now, there are around 700 left, and many are open for touring. In 1939 the clockwork was motorized, and the Coast Guard began management of the facility. Throughout World War II, Chatham remained operational.

Although the Chatham Lighthouse sits on a coast of more than 600 miles, its primary reach is 64 miles of water encompassed by three sides of the shoreline. Nantucket Sound, located on the south, and Pleasant Bay, on the north. This is why the area is described as the elbow. Those visiting the lighthouse will be privileged to a gorgeous view. However, looks are deceiving, considering thousands of wrecks have taken place along this highly attractive coastline.

The 48 feet tall lighthouse faced the problem of water erosion with 30-feet of shoreline disappearing yearly. This guiding light is a formidable structure that sits 80-feet above sea level and was placed (200 feet from the bluff) in its present position in 1877. The building that stood in 1848 sat further east (noted by pin 2a) of the present lighthouse site.

In the building, fuel was stored on what is described as the oil deck supporting the supply of fuel necessary for keeping the light on. The lighthouse represented land for sea weary sailors, a landmark, and a warning of danger.

As the landscape eroded, placing the tower 26-feet from the edge of the bluff, the tower was in real danger. Within a year, the distance from the shore shrank to 26-inches. The building started to slide into the ocean a couple of months later. A little over a year later, the building constructed in 1841 fell.

The very first building was constructed in 1806. However, the community wanted to create a visible difference from other lighthouse structures in the vicinity; so, the added another building in 1808, placing the second wood structure 70 ft from the older structure. The idea of making these buildings moveable created a safer accessway for ships since the palates these guiding lights sat on were portable.

In addition, to building these portable lights, a one-bedroom dwelling (seventeen by twenty-six feet) was designed for keepers. The light for the tower was fueled with lard in a lamp fastened by a chain. Although this process lasted for years, Chatham Lighthouse was brought up to date in 1982.

Further updating took place in August 1993, when the former Fresnel lens (flashed 4-times every 30-seconds) was replaced by the new DCB-224. Aerobeacons entered the scene as the lantern beam that would take Chatham Lighthouse into the future.

Students, history lovers, and travelers can benefit while visiting this historical landmark. People can let their minds roam into the past while contemplating the conversations that might have taken place back in history about this wonderful piece of history. If visitors want to take in the area, there are plenty of bed and breakfast for hire.

The original plan was to construct the lighthouse platforms from stone. But, as the builder was soon to learn, James Head, the location of the first two lighthouses, was void of stone. Therefore, wood was the final option. Yet, the Chatham Lighthouse still shines around the clock, even today.

Over time, responsibility for the lighthouse has changed hands. In 1923 the decision was made to separate the twin beams. Since more up to date lighting rotates, the need for two towers became obsolete.
When thinking of a lighthouse, trying to imagine standing on the deck of a ship, out on the ocean in a storm, and searching for that beacon of light might seem hard to phantom. Nevertheless, this was a way of life for many, and still creates a livelihood today.

Modern mariners have an abundance of technical gadgets to help them find safe-passage and the mechanism that assists them in measuring the depth beneath the ship. Still knowing that the lights of home, stand strong, well, it has to be comforting.
Now, pieces of the past are affixed to the Chatham Lighthouse property, the North Tower, a museum, and Coast Guard search and rescue. A listing of the keepers and assistants from past to present are listed below, out of all the people listed, the charismatic George F. Woodmen was a favorite.

Assistant Keepers:

Warren Rodgers (1859 – 1863), F.C. Nickerson (1863 – 1867), Samuel H. Hawes (1867), Ezra Hutchings (1867 – 1872), Josiah Hardy, Jr. (1872), Cyrenus C. Hamilton (1872 – 1880), Gilbert Hay (at least 1913 – at least 1921), Thomas E. Carew (at least 1930), James H. Dobbins (at least 1939 – at least 1940).

Head Keepers:

Samuel Nye (1808 – 1813), Joseph Loveland (1813 – at least 1833), Samuel Stinson (at least 1835 – 1839), Lot Norton (1839 – 1841), Collins Howes (1841 – 1845), Simeon Nickerson (1845 – 1848), Angeline M. Nickerson (1848 – 1862), Charles H. Smith (1862 – 1872), Josiah Hardy, Jr. (1872 – 1899), Charles H. Hammond (1899 – 1907), James T. Allison (1907 – 1928), George F. Woodman, Jr. (1928 – 1940), George T. Gustavus (1940 – 1945).

The towers and the people who cared for them were not always harmonious. The keepers and the weather could be tumultuous. Complaints loomed related to construction and the upkeep of the property. When keeper Stinson was keeper, he was terminated. Yet, he made additions to government property and was refused compensation.

The towers replaced in 1841 by “Winslow Lewis, cost over $6,000. However, inside of twelve months, the nephew of Mr. Lewis, collected a report whereas keeper Howes complained of shoddy construction. In another instance, a new president was elected, and a keeper lost his job. So, it is clear politics played a part in the history of Chatham Lighthouse.

The idea of light extending for miles is normal for people of today. People built these towers with no trucks, dragging mounds s of stone through the sand on wagons. No computers with a reach around the world to access the best minds on the planet. These structures have lasted day in and day out, withstanding one of the most powerful forces on earth, the ocean.

However, when you think of the ingenuity of those in the 1800s, the lighthouse is an amazing feat. Buildings built by those with no technology to work with has enabled our modern lifestyle and left a legacy to be proud of, and a structure with an amazing view of the sea.


37 Main St, Chatham, MA 02633

Phone number:

Hours of Operation:

Monday Closed
Tuesday Closed
Wednesday 1–3:30 PM
Thursday Closed
Friday Closed
Saturday Closed
Sunday Closed

Restaurants Nearby:

Experiencing the cuisine of the area while on vacation is usually on the itinerary for most people visiting a region. Whether you want to eat Italian cuisine, Seafood, or Pizza, Chatham restaurants fit every palate. So, here are a few of the local establishments you might want to check out when you feel the need for a good meal: The Chatham Pier Fish Market, The Talkative Pig, Hangar B Eatery, Apt Cape Cod, or Del Mar Bar & Bistro are all good eateries

Tours Available:

The Coast Guard Auxiliary offers tours of the Chatham Lighthouse parklands on Wednesdays beginning at 1:00 to 3:30 PM in the summer period, and every other Wednesday during the Spring and Fall.

Unique Features of Lighthouse to Observe and Experience:

Experience a climb into history by visiting the Chatham Lighthouse. Climb the steps and experience the sea view seen from the same vantage point so many years ago. Play on the beach where ships, plunder, and sailors might have washed ashore. Become a part of history while looking at this grand structure.

The Chatham Lighthouse does not accommodate sleeping facilities for visitors. However, there are plenty of hotels near. The Chatham Gables Inn is a great example of a New England residence, and a great substitute experience, for sleeping at the actual Chatham Lighthouse.

Hotels Nearby:

There are loads of hotels near the Chatham Lighthouse at good-prices. Most properties have four/five-star ratings and are family-friendly. Here are a few traveler favorites: The Chatham Wayside Inn, Chatham Seafarer Inn, Chatham Bars Inn, and the A Beach Breeze Inn. If you are searching for a luxury adventure or on a budget, there are hundreds of properties in the vicinity

Almost 200 years ago, President Thomas Jefferson
appointed the first keeper of a lard-burning lighthouse
to safely guide ships past Chatham.

The present day lighthouse boasts an electric beacon and
overlooks a beautiful ocean beach

Directions to Chatham Light:

Travel along Route 6 and take Exit 11 for Route 137.
At end of exit ramp, follow signs for Chatham, Rt. 137 South.
Travel 1.7 miles and turn left onto Old Queen Anne Road.
After 1 mile, turn right to stay on Old Queen Anne Road.
Go another 1.6 miles and turn left onto Main St.
Travel 1.4 miles and  turn right onto School St.
Travel .3 miles and turn left onto Water St.
Travel .2 miles and turn right onto Silver Leaf Ave.
The lighthouse will be .2 miles ahead.

A great history of the Chatham lighthouse can be found at:

Information about Lighthouse tours for the Chatham Light can
be found here :

More information about the Chatham Light
can be found at:

Nearby Places to Eat:

Chatham Wine Bar
359 Main St #2, Chatham, MA 02633, United States
0.6 miles

The Blue Coral
483 Main St, Chatham, MA 02633, United States
0.8 miles

Impudent Oyster
15 Chatham Bars Ave, Chatham, MA 02633, United States
0.9 miles

Chatham Squire
487 Main St, Chatham, MA 02633, United States
0.9 miles

Bluefins Sushi & Sake Bar
513 Main St, Chatham, MA 02633, United States
0.9 miles

Nearby Accommodations:

Hawthorne Motel
196 Shore Rd, Chatham, MA 02633, United States
0.8 miles

Chatham Wayside Inn
512 Main St, Chatham, MA 02633, United States
0.9 miles

Chatham Bars Inn
297 Shore Rd, Chatham, MA 02633, United States
1.1 miles

The Old Harbor Inn
22 Old Harbor Rd, Chatham, MA 02633, United States
1.2 miles

Captain’s House Inn
369 Old Harbor Rd, Chatham, MA 02633, United States
1.7 miles

Nearby Things to do:

Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge Admin Building And Visitor Contact Station
1 Wikis Way, Chatham, MA 02633, United States
1.3 miles

Struna Galleries Chatham
458 Main St, Chatham, MA 02633, United States
0.8 miles

Godfrey Windmill
125 Shattuck Pl, Chatham, MA 02633, United States
1.4 miles

Atwood Museum
347 Stage Harbor Rd #2229, Chatham, MA 02633, United States
1.2 miles

Chatham Shark Center
235 Orleans Rd, Chatham, MA 02650, United States
2 miles