Cape Cod’s First Lighthouse, Highland Light

By Mary Moran

Highland Light (Cape Cod Light)

Originally settled as “Pamet” in 1646, the town of Truro (name change in 1709) is the second most northerly town on Cape Cod. Adding a third title into the mix, Truro earned the nickname of “Dangerfield” early on, due to the frequent and devastating ship wrecks that occurred off the town’s shore. Attempts were made to get the necessary funding to build a lighthouse on the high land adjacent to Cape Cod Harbor. These attempts were made by both the Massachusetts Humane Society and the Boston Marine Society. Unfortunately no action was taken and the wrecks continued to occur at an alarming rate. By 1796 the waters off Truro had more ship wrecks than any other area throughout Cape Cod. In February of 1796, a committee of three men tried once again to gather the attention of Congress in regard to funding and building a lighthouse in Truro. A petition was drafted, signed, and presented to Congress. By May of that year, a sum of $8,000 was appropriated to build the very first lighthouse on Cape Cod, and the 20th lighthouse in the entire country.

The first Highland Lighthouse was a 45-foot octagonal wooden tower that sat about 160 feet above the average water level. On November 15, 1797, Cape Cod’s first lighthouse went into service surrounded by a new barn, oil shed, well, and keeper’s house. Wanting to distinguish the new light from a similar one on the Boston shoreline, the first rotating “flashing” light was created. However, the new machinery proved faulty and from 1812 to 1901 the light went back to the common, fixed, white light. Aside from the shoddy light machinery, it was decided in 1828 that the whole light station was crumbling and was in need of a makeover. With another $5,000 in funding, a brand-new 35-foot lighthouse was built. The structure was built of sturdy brick and was round in shape. The keeper’s house was also replaced by a new brick dwelling, in hopes that the structures would remain intact for many years to come. However, the harsh salty winds once again won the battle, breaking down the second structure bit by bit. When the town appropriated another $15,000 in 1857, the light house was built to endure the weather and help protect sailors for hundreds of years. Constant updates were made to the Highland Light after the third structure was completed. A first order Fresnel lens was imported from Paris, making the Highland Light one of the brightest lights on the East Coast. The light station also added an extremely powerful coal-burning fog signal, for the all-too-common  blinding blanket of clouds that sweep through the area.

Now being one of the brightest lighthouses on the entire coast, Highland Light was the first part of America to be seen by the increasing numbers of European immigrants coming to the country. In 1932, an electric light was installed in the Fresnel lens, making Highland Light the brightest and most powerful lighthouse on the coast. Under normal weather conditions this 4 million candlepower light could be seen up to 45 miles away. In extremely clear weather, the light from Truro could be seen up to 75 miles away! As technology improved, so did the light and finally in 1986, Highland Light was automated. Now that the light was up to par with the times, it was time to deal with the last major problem. Over the years, erosion caused the shore to creep up on the old lighthouse and if it wasn’t moved back from the edge, it would eventually be lost to the sea. The Truro Historical Society began fundraising and accepting donations to pay for the lighthouse’s costly move up the shore. They were able to raise $150,000. In addition one million dollars came from the Federal government and a half million from the state  of Massachusetts. Thus the lighthouse, weighing in at 404 tons was moved a mere 450 feet from its original location. The move took 18 days to complete and the light was re-lit in its new home on November 3rd of the same year.

In 1998, the doors to Highland Light were opened to the public, complete with a gift shop, tours, and exhibits throughout the keeper’s house. Highland’s light was upgraded again, this time to a VRB-25 optic that gives off a flashing white light every 5 seconds. This light remains today. The Highland Light Station is now owned by the National Seashore and managed by Eastern National. The light station is open to the public daily in the summer season and is active year-round. Although it is still called Highland Light, the lighthouse’s name was officially changed to Cape Cod Light in 1976 (and remains so on road signs to this day, FYI). The light’s new name, however, didn’t quite stick with the locals and is rarely used.

More Cape Cod Lighthouses


Cape Cod's Stowe Room, A
Harriet Beecher Stowe room
Cape Cod's Roosevelt Room, B
Cape Cod’s Roosevelt Room, B

While all of the bedchambers at the Palmer House have their own charm suitable for relaxation after the most wonderful day of adventures enjoying the sights of Cape Cod, we recommend the Harriet Beecher Stowe room, the Theodore Roosevelt room or the Emily Dickinson room. These rooms feature comfortable king beds, fireplaces, jacuzzi-style tubs for a relaxing stay before and after your day.

Cape Cod’s Wood End Lighthouse

By Mary Moran

Wood End Lighthouse

Wood End Lighthouse
Wood End Lighthouse

From the 1820’s to the 1860’s, two great lighthouses were the only navigational aids warning ships passing by of the strong and dangerous waters surrounding the outer most town of Cape Cod; Provincetown. Although the two standing lighthouse’s (Race Point and Long Point) proved to be decent aids for navigating the waters, it was decided that a third lighthouse was needed to protect and warn travelers of danger at the southern most entrance to Provincetown Harbor. Wood End Light originally began as a white, pyramid-shaped day beacon in 1864. It wasn’t until 1872 that Congress finally appropriated funds for a proper lighthouse to be built. The sum of $15,000 was given to create the 38-foot brick tower. A fourth-order Fresnel lens was installed giving off a flashing red light every fifteen seconds, shining about 48 feet above the angry water. By November of the same year, Wood End Light officially went into service. The lighthouse, to this day, is a tall brown structure that stands steadily in its concrete foundation.

In addition, alongside the lighthouse a modest keeper’s house was built. It was located about fifty feet away from the tower itself. A man by the name of Thomas Lowe would soon move into the home as the first keeper of the light and it was there he began a long, exhausting, and often dangerous, 25 year reign at Wood End.

Shipwrecks and boating accidents would still occur no matter how many lighthouses surrounded the waters. Lowe took his duties whole-heartedly and was often seen running to the waters to save the frightened passengers from the vessels that were in trouble. Because of the dangers of shipwreck that inevitably occurred, life-saving stations were built near the lighthouses themselves. Wood End Light got its life-saving station in 1896, while Race Point light had one put on its property 24 years earlier. The addition of the saving station was not the only upgrade Wood End Light would get in 1896. A new keeper’s house, storage shed, and oil house for kerosene were also added on the land to help house and protect equipment for the light.

Throughout the years, more upgrades would be made to Wood End Light, including the extremely useful fog bell and bell tower that were added to the property in 1902. By 1961, the light had been automated, leaving no need for the other buildings to remain. All of them were subsequently destroyed; except for the oil house. A more modern optic also replaced the Fresnel lens in 1961 and only twenty years later, in 1981, a major change was made to Wood End Light,  converting the tower to solar power. Now the light gives off a bright red flash every 10 seconds and the foghorn is set to go off in 30 second intervals. Today, Wood End Light still stands, and is currently an active U.S. Coast Guard aid. The Cape Cod Chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation is licensed to maintain and restore the property. The property remains off limits to the public but can be viewed from excursion boats setting sail out of the harbor. To walk to the Wood End Light from the center of town is a strenuous hour long walk through an unpredictable and tricky breakwater. Making the trek is not recommended.


Cape Cod's Stowe Room, A
Harriet Beecher Stowe room
Cape Cod's Roosevelt Room, B
Cape Cod’s Roosevelt Room, B

While all of our rooms have their own individual charm suitable for relaxation after the most wonderful day of adventures all over the Cape, we recommend the Harriet Beecher Stowe room, the Theodore Roosevelt room or the Emily Dickinson room. These rooms feature comfortable king beds, fireplaces, jacuzzi-style tubs and a relaxing stay before and after your day.


Mary Moran is a Falmouth native and knowledgable about Cape Cod. In addition to writing for the Palmer House Inn, she’s also frequently at the inn and available  to answer quest’s questions. She enjoys reading, hiking, and spending time exploring Falmouth’s coastal waterways.

The Clam Shack at Falmouth Harbor

Fried clams on the picnic tables.

A True Cape Experience, the Clam Shack at Falmouth Harbor

Fried clams on the picnic tables.
Fried clams on the picnic tables.
Outside the Clam Shack in Falmouth, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA.
The Clam Shack

For those of you who want the true Cape Cod food experience, in Falmouth, we have the Clam Shack of Falmouth. It is located at the very end of Scranton Avenue at the entrance of Falmouth Harbor. It is Falmouth rustic dining at it’s best. It does not have a bar or even a liquor license, just coffee, tea, bottled water or a variety of soft drinks. You will not find fine china, napkins or elegant eating utensils. Your meal is served on a plastic tray, in a paper basket or plate. Plastic knives, forks and spoons are provided with paper napkins. The atmosphere is casual although shoes and shirts are required. It is literally a shack made of weathered boards. with fishing and lobstering artifacts hung from the rafters to add to the nautical surroundings. The menu is written on a chalk board.

Scallops
Scallops

The specialty of the house are the “Plates”. They have clam (with or without the bellies), scallop, shrimp and fish & chips plates. the plates consist of an overflowing portion of the clams, shrimp,or scollops; fries and coleslaw.  However, for those in your party, who do not want seafood, the kitchen also has wings and chicken tenders plates. Hamburgers, cheese burgers and franks are also offered.

What would an, on the water, Cape Cod restaurant be without lobster, clam and scrimp rolls? The Clam Shack has them all.  In addition the clam chowder is excellent as are the onion rings. Your group has a choice of dining inside or out on the dock where the schooner Liberte is docked from the July fourth weekend to Labor Day weekend. Perhaps the best compliment to the tasty food is the view. One can sit at a wooden picnic tables and watch the activities on bustling Falmouth Harbor.

On nautical charts, the harbor is known as Falmouth Inner Harbor. It is mostly a man-made harbor with a mean low water depth of 10 feet. In 1907 an inlet was created through a barrier beach that divided a fresh water pond from Nantucket Sound. Engineers dredged and widened the harbor to give it the rectangular shape that it has today. This harbor is a wonderfully protected location for boaters to weather one of our legendary coastal storms.

Five marinas and many fishing boats are located along the harbor and the Island Queen ferry-boat to Martha’s Vineyard is docked on the eastern side. The Island Queen runs from early June through to Columbus Day.

Fishermen come from all over to use the harbor as a jumping-off location for fishing trips to the Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard sound inshore fishing grounds as well as offshore grounds. One of the best known local fishing fleets is the Patriot Party Boats that sail out of the harbor. They specialize in deep-sea fishing, bottom fishing and sport fishing.  For more info: www.patriotpartyboats.com or call: 508-548-2626.


Cape Cod's Stowe Room, A
Harriet Beecher Stowe room
Cape Cod's Roosevelt Room, B
Cape Cod’s Roosevelt Room, B

While all of the bedchambers at the Palmer House have their own charm suitable for relaxation after the most wonderful day of adventures sampling the cuisine on the Cape, we recommend the Harriet Beecher Stowe room, the Theodore Roosevelt room or the Emily Dickinson room. These rooms feature comfortable king beds, fireplaces, jacuzzi-style tubs for a relaxing stay before and after your day.