This is America's second
oldest light station, after Boston Light (1716), and an astounding
total of nine different lighthouse structures have stood here over the
years, not including a bonfire on a hogshead (barrel) that was said to
be in use as early as 1700.
By the 1740s, Nantucket's whaling industry was growing
fast. At a town meeting in January 1746, the merchants and mariners of
Sherburne, as the town was then called, voted to erect a lighthouse at
Brant Point to mark the point around which all vessels passed as they
enter edthe island's inner harbor.
The sum of 200 English pounds was appropriated for the
lighthouse, and three men were assigned the duty of building the
structure. The keeping of the light in the first lighthouse was left to
the ship owners.
No detailed description survives of the wooden 1746
lighthouse, which burned down in 1757 -- probably the result of an oil
The second light, also made of wood, was destroyed in a storm
in March 1774, which was described in a newspaper as the "most violent
gust of wind that perhaps was ever known there." The storm, probably a
tornado, also destroyed many buildings on the island. A third Brant
Point Light was paid for by a tax on shipping coming into the area. All
vessels of 15 tons or more were charged six shillings at the time of
their first coming or going each year.
In September 1781, a band of Loyalist privateers entered
Nantucket Harbor. American forces from Cape Cod came to Nantucket and
set up cannons at Brant Point. They fired on the Loyalist vessels and
managed to force them out of the harbor.
In 1783 the lighthouse burned down again. A new light was
erected, no more than a lantern hoisted up between two spars. This
structure burned down in 1786. The fifth lighthouse lasted only two
years before it was destroyed by a storm. The next lighthouse, built by
the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1788, was ceded to the federal
government in 1795, the same year the town changed its name from
Sherburne to Nantucket. The light was extinguished during the War of
By the 1820s, over 200 Nantucket whaling ships were in
service and a new, more efficient lighthouse was called for. A new
Brant Point Light was built in 1825 at a cost of $1,600. The tower was
situated on top of the keeper's house.
The lighting apparatus consisted of eight lamps and
reflectors. An 1838 inspection by Lt. Edward W. Carpender of the U.S.
Navy reported, "I found the lantern smoked, tube-glasses the same,
lamps not trimmed, and reflectors looking as if weeks or months had
elapsed since they had been cleaned, they were so black and spotted."
An 1843 inspection by I.W.P. Lewis showed Brant Point
Light to be in very poor condition. "In case of a high flood tide,"
said Lewis, "the whole structure might be swept away." The cellar,
where oil was stored, was often flooded. The tower was also reported to
be leaky, and the lantern had become very rusty. The keeper was given
no boat, and complained that "In case of necessity, I have no means of
saving my family, should a storm destroy the house"
1856 tower (U.S. Coast Guard)
The 1856 tower today
In 1856, the station was rebuilt at a cost of $15,000, this time a
47-foot brick tower was built along with a new brick keeper's house.
The tower received a fourth-order Fresnel lens showing a fixed red
This lighthouse still stands, west of the present Brant Point Light,
minus its lantern room. It is part of U.S. Coast Guard Station Brant
Right: A keeper on
the lantern deck of the 1856 tower. New York Public Library
of the Nantucket Historical
Entering Nantucket Harbor, from A
Trip to Cape Cod, 1898
In the 1800s, several other lights were erected near Brant
Point. A light known as the Nantucket Beacon for a time served as a
range light with Brant Point Light. The lights would be lined up as
mariners entered the harbor. Another pair of range lights was
established on skeletal towers in 1908; these lights are still in use.
Two other lights, the Cliff Range Beacons (right), were
established near Brant Point in 1838, along with a keeper's dwelling.
Peleg Easton was made keeper of the Range Beacons at $300 per year.
These lights, popularly known as the Bug Lights, were
later rebuilt and remained in service until 1912. They were sold to a
private party and moved near Bathing Beach Road, where they still
The Cliff Range
Because of shifts in the channel, the 1856 lighthouse
was discontinued in 1900. It was replaced for a short time by a fixed
red light on a pole.
The present Brant Point Light was built 596 feet east of
the previous one in 1901 and fitted with a fifth order Fresnel lens.
Its white light was changed to red in 1933 to avoid confusion with
The lighthouse originally had a 1,000 pound fog bell. An
oil house was added in 1904.
Plans for the 1901 tower
There was eventually an assistant keeper assigned to the
station to help with the extra duties of tending the fog bell and the
Brant Point Beacon. A small assistant keeper's house was added.
Gerald M. Reed, formerly at the Plymouth Light Station,
arrived as keeper in December 1926. Reed came with his family aboard a
lighthouse tender on Christmas Eve. Because it would have been
dangerous to unload the family and belongings by rowboat in the dark,
the Reeds spent Christmas Eve onboard the ship and came ashore on
Christmas morning, 1926.
Soon after it was built, the new Brant Point Light was
threatened by the sea, so 500 tons of riprap were placed around the
beach. The white light at Brant Point was changed to red in 1933 to
avoid confusion with nearby house lights. The light was automated in
In 1983, the entire Brant Point Station complex was
renovated by the Coast Guard. In the fall of 2000, the Coast Guard and
Campbell Construction Group completed an overhaul of the lighthouse.
The design work for the renovation was done by Marsha Levy from Civil
Engineering Unit Providence, Rhode Island. The six-week project
entailed removing the lead paint from the lantern and replacing all the
lantern glass, reshingling the tower, repainting the entire structure,
and replacing the interior stucco work.
Keeper Gerald M. Reed (L) and
Asst. Keeper Frank W. Craig in August, 1932
The lighthouse during the 2000
Brant Point Light's occulting red light is 26 feet above
sea level, making it one of the lowest of New England's lights. It is
seen by thousands of people each year as they enter and leave Nantucket
on ferries from the mainland.
The long tradition of arriving at Nantucket by "coming
'round Brant Point" appears destined to continue well into the future.
Video (2009): Nantucket Coast
Guard crew makes holiday wreath for Brant Point Lighthouse
Keepers: (This list
is a work in progress. If you have any information on the keepers of
this lighthouse, I'd love to hear from you. You can email me at
email@example.com. Anyone copying this list onto another web site does
so at their own risk, as the list is always subject to updates and
David Coffin (?-1831); David Coffin
2nd (1831- ?); James Allen
(c. 1850); W. H. Swain (c. 1867); F. B. Smith (c. 1882); John Chapman
(1898-1907); Everett Joy (1907-1911); Richard F. Dixon (1911-1926);
Gerald M. Reed (1926-1941); Frank W. Craig (asst., c. 1932).