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In his influential 1843 report to Congress, the civil engineer I. W. P. Lewis wrote:
After a survey in 1847 included the discovery of previously uncharted shoals, the superintendent of the Coast Survey recommended a lighthouse. Congress complied with an appropriation for of $12,000 on August 14, 1848. Ten acres of land for the station were purchased from George Myrick for $250.
Overseeing construction was Benjamin F. Isherwood, who was later chief engineer for the U.S. Navy during the Civil War. Early in the summer of 1849, schooners brought building materials into Nantucket Harbor. From there, the materials were carted to the bluff in Siasconset.
The contractor Cabet King built the 53-foot, conical tower and accompanying dwelling for $10,333. The tower was constructed of brick, with a 5-foot- deep foundation below the earth. The top 6 feet of the tower were constructed of granite, and atop the tower a 9-foot- tall cast-iron lantern was installed.
one-and-one-half-story brick dwelling was built adjacent to the
lighthouse, which from its earliest days has been white with a broad
red central band.
Heavy weights attached to a clockwork mechanism descended into the tower to rotate the lens, which exhibited a fixed white light with more brilliant flashes at set intervals. The light went into service on February 1, 1850. Three days later, the Nantucket Inquirer reported, “The flashes of light are very brilliant and must be visible at a distance of twenty-five miles.”
There were other claims that the light could be seen at the unlikely distance of 40 miles. Historian Samuel Adams Drake called its flashes "very full, vivid and striking," and reported that fishermen called the light "the blazing star."
Bunker was keeper until 1854, when he was put in charge of the newly established Nantucket South Shoals Lightship, over more than 23 miles south of the island. He was succeeded by his former assistant, Samuel G. Swain, who stayed until 1861.
The 1884 annual report of the Lighthouse Board announced that new iron stairs had been put in the tower. In 1886, telegraph and telephone lines reached the lighthouse, and a 50-foot pole was added for the display of weather signals. As described in the Lighthouse Board’s annual report of 1888, the “unsightly and dilapidated dwellings” at the station were torn down and replaced by a double wood-frame dwelling. The new house was completed in early 1888 at a cost of $6,700.
in 1888, the top part of the tower, the deck, and the lantern were
replaced, leaving the tower 70 feet tall. While this work was in
progress, the light was exhibited for a few months from a fourth-order
lens on a temporary skeleton tower. Some leftover components of the old
houses and lantern were sold at public auction.
Calvin Hamblin succeeded Folger as principal keeper in 1882 and stayed until 1891. A 1950 article tells an amusing story of a tiff between Hamblin and an assistant, Benjamin Brown. It seems that Brown was about to go to town without permission. Hamblin told him, “Ben—if you go to town I shall have to log you as leaving the station without giving notice—that you are refusing duty!” The angry but outwardly calm Brown replied, “But, Calvin, I am giving notice—I’m not refusing duty—you can put me down in the log as resigning—here and now!”
Joseph Remsen became keeper in 1892, and he remained for 27 years. On a stormy day in January 1892, soon after he became keeper, Remsen spotted a three-masted schooner in trouble on shoals 15 miles to the east. He telephoned the lifesaving station a few miles away at Coskata. A crew of lifesavers made their way to the vessel, but when night arrived and the men hadn’t returned, townspeople believed they had perished.
next morning, the lifesaving crew and the men they had saved from the
schooner arrived safely on the beach at Siasconset. They had struggled
against the seas for 26 long hours before their return.
An 1898 newspaper article described Remsen’s courteous and informative tours of the lighthouse. “As we reached the foot of the tower,” wrote the reporter, “we met another party who were waiting to make the ascent to the top, and I noticed the keeper re-entered the tower with them, and started to retrace his steps up the long, winding stairs without the least sign of resentment on his bronzed and weather-beaten face.
Early 1940s aerial view
Courtesy of Dorothy Bicknell
After his Larsen’s retirement, Archford Haskins, previously at Boston Light and Nantucket’s Great Point Light, succeeded Larsen him as keeper in 1944. In its last years before automation, the station was staffed by a succession of Coast Guard crews. In 1953, the double keeper’s house was razed and replaced by nondescript ranch-style housing. The light was automated in 1965, but Coast Guard personnel continued to occupy the house until 1992.
In 1953, the double keeper's house was razed and replaced by nondescript ranch-style housing. The light was automated in 1965, but Coast Guard personnel continued to occupy the station until 1992. According to Joseph A. Citro's book, Passing Strange: True Tales of New England Hauntings and Horrors, Coast Guard personnel at Sankaty Head reported a variety of strange events, including pots and pans that would fly on their own. The ghost or whatever was responsible would always stop the activity when asked.
James Deo was one of the Coast Guard keepers from 1963 to 1969. In correspondence in 2010, Deo's daughter, Donna, recalled that some visitors to the lighthouse would make a wish and toss money near the tower. Donna and her brother would pick up all the change at the end of the day.
Above, left and right: The Coast Guard painted the tower in September of 2000
In the fall of 2005, the 'Sconset Trust announced that it was working with the Nantucket Historical Association to gain ownership of the lighthouse, with the goal of having it relocated it to safer ground. Preparations for the historic move began in September 2007, and ownership was transferred to the Sconset Trust in the following month.
The move was completed in the fall of 2007, and the lighthouse was relighted in its new location by the end of November. The new location is next to the fifth hole of the Sankaty Head Golf Course, 390 feet to the northwest and 250 feet from the bluff's edge.
For more on the lighthouse move, read the articles at www.sconsettrust.org/News.html
P.O. Box 821
Siasconset, MA 02564
Phone: (508) 228-9917
(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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone copying this list onto another web site does so at their own risk, as the list is always subject to updates and corrections.)
Alexander D. Bunker (1850-1854); Samuel G. Swain (assistant 1850-1854, principal keeper 1854-1861); Henry Winslow (1861-1865); Uriah C. Clark (1865-1873); George F. Folger (1873-1882); Calvin Hamblin (1882-1891); Ethan Allen (1891-1892); Joseph Remsen (1892-1919); Charles Vanderhoop (assistant 1912-1913, principal keeper 1919-1920); Eugene Larsen (assistant 1914-1920; principal keeper 1920-1944); Archford Haskins (1944-?). Other assistants: Charles Swain (1870s), Franklin Murphey (1873-1875), John M. Lamb (1875-?), Freeman Atkins (?), Benjamin Sayer (?), Charles Pollard (?), Benjamin F. Wyer (1880), Benjamin F, Brown (1882-1889), James H. Norcross (1889), Wallace A. Eldredge (1889-?), Marcus E. Howes (?), Thomas J. Kelly (?), George W. Purdy (?), C. A. Ellis (1920-1921), Francis Macy (1921-1925), James Dolby (1925-1933), James Deo (Coast Guard, 1963-1969)