Cape Cod’s Race Point Lighthouse

By Mary Moram

Race Point Light

Jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, at the very tip of Cape Cod, lies the small but lively town of Provincetown. This town, located on famous Race Point Beach, is the home to the Race Point Lighthouse Station. Before the Cape Cod Canal was built, traveling vessels had to sail around the Cape to continue on their journey south. However, this excursion was a dangerous one, because of the strong cross current, or “race”. This current is unpredictable and often, devastating to ships. Race Point Light was named after these dangerous currents that rule the waters surrounding Cape Cod. With treacherous sand bars also adding to the threat of shipwreck, Provincetown mariners and merchants alike began inquiring about the need for a lighthouse as early as 1808.

In April of 1816, the local’s requests were granted and Congress appropriated $8,000. to build a lighthouse station in Provincetown. The light house went into service in November of that year, making it Cape Cod’s third light station. The original tower was twenty five feet tall and was built of rubble stone. The light itself was approximately thirty feet above the sea level and was one of the countries’ first revolving lights to be installed. Attached to the lighthouse by a covered walkway was a small stone home for the keeper of the light to reside.

The timing of the new tower’s existence proved to be extremely beneficial, for the fishing and salt works community that was growing rapidly in the area. This meant a steady increase in maritime traffic as well. However, the lighthouse was put to the test in 1842 when a great storm swept through the waters and in the neighboring town of Truro, 57 lives were lost to ghastly shipwrecks. After the devastating losses from the storm, it was more apparent than an even more effective and reliable lighthouse was needed to guide ships away from the dangers of the area. However, in order for Race Point Light to fit those criteria, some upgrades and changes needed to be made to the stone structure.

Between the years of 1852 and 1855, both a fog bell and a more advanced, fourth order Fresnel lens were added to the lighthouse. These additions stayed in place for nearly twenty years until in 1873  the fog bell was replaced with a more effective steam-driven fog horn, which was sheltered by a freshly built wooden building. Subsequently, another small home was built so that an assistant keeper could tend to the new equipment. Throughout the construction of a new home and new addition to the guiding aid of the light station, the light tower itself was beginning to crumble. Its shoddy material took on major water damage and the structure was rotting out. The lighthouse was on its last leg and needed to be replaced. In 1876, Congress appropriated another $2,800. to rebuild the structure from the ground up. The new tower, still standing today, was built forty five feet tall and consisted of cast-iron with an inner lining of brick. The Fresnel lens was transferred to the new building and the light was changed from a flashing light to a fixed white light. To keep with the theme of the renovations, the keeper’s house was ultimately replaced as well.

After being electrified in 1957, the light was automated in 1972 and the lens was replaced with a modern and efficient, solar powered, VRB-25 optic. At that time, the light also returned to a flashing frequency, giving off a strong white light every ten seconds.

In 1995, the Race Point Light Station property, including the keeper’s house and oil house, were leased to the American Lighthouse Foundation. Under the foundation’s ownership, the buildings were renovated to include plumbing, electricity, and heat. The keeper’s house and fog signal building are now rental properties available from the spring to fall. Race Point Light itself continues to shine as a U.S. Coast Guard navigational aid.

If you wish to visit this Cape Cod landmark, the grounds are open year-round. Park at Race Point Beach, and stroll through the soft sand for about 45 minutes to reach the tower. It is well worth the trip.

More in Provincetown


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 romantic charm suitable for relaxation after the most wonderful day of adventures sightseeing on 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.


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 Captain Edward Penniman House

Captain Penniman House
Captain Penniman House
Captain Penniman House

Edward Penniman was a native of Eastham, Massachusetts. He was born in 1831 and at the age of eleven he began his sailing career. His ship’s voyage sailed to the treacherous waters of the Grand Banks. To this day the Grand Banks area is known as a plentiful fishing grounds. It is located off the coast of Canada’s Newfoundland. For several years he sailed just the New England waters, however, at that time, the best chance to earn wealth was in the whaling industry and New Bedford, Massachusetts with its deep water port and railroad system was the center of New England’s largest whaling fleet. At the age of twenty-one in 1852, Edward Penniman went to New Bedford to sign on to his first whaling expedition. Several years later, after becoming a captain, he chose New Bedford as his home port.

Whale Bone Gate
Whale Bone Gate

By the late 1800’s the whale population in the Atlantic had been exhausted and whalers were forced to sail further from home in search of their quarry. Captain Penniman became one of the region’s most successful whaling masters. The voyages frequently took three to four years. It was not uncommon for the captains to take their wives and children along for the voyage. Captain Penniman wife and children accompanied him on several of these voyages. His wife was named Betsy Augusta but he affectionately called her “Gustie”. Gusty was not just a passenger, she assisted with navigation and other shipboard matters.  Eugene, their Penniman’s oldest son grew up to become the second generation whaling captain in the family.

Penniman House Door
Penniman House Door

After his fourth voyage in 1868, Captain Penniman went back to Eastham and built a second Empire style home that sits on Fort Hill. It is a two and a half story house with a central hallway. Perhaps its most striking feature is an octagonal cupola that has arched windows on all sides. The exterior is clapboards and is decorated with elegant millwork trim. It is interesting to imagine how spectacular this house must have been in rural Eastham, at the time of its construction. Most of the homes in the area were simple Cape Cod cottages with shingled siding and they were never painted. This house yellow clapboards, with white trim, black window sashes, green wooden blinds and it had brown and red roof shingles. The house had an elaborate white wooden fence and the entrance gate that is still standing is made from a whale’s jawbone.

Window Pediment
Window Pediment

The design and colors were grand but it also had “state of the art” technology within its wall. It was the first house in Eastham to have indoor plumbing. The roof had a water collection system that lead to a large tank in the attic. It used a gravity flow system that piped water from the tank to the bathroom and kitchen. There is also a large barn that echos the design of the house.

Captain Penniman House
Captain Penniman House

The charming Penniman House is located at the intersection of Fort Hill Road and Governor Prence Road in Eastham. It is within the “Cape Cod National Seashore”. It is about an hour and a half drive from the Palmer House Inn. It is open to the public during the summer season. For more information call 508-487-1256.


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 romantic charm suitable for relaxation after the most wonderful day of adventures exploring Cape Cod’s finest history, 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.

Chatham Lighthouse

Cape Cod’s Chatham Lighthouse

By Mary Moran

Chatham, a town located in the southeastern area of Cape Cod, known as the lower Cape, is approximately an hour’s drive from The Palmer House Inn.

The area around the lighthouse was once heavily populated with maritime traffic. However, the waters in Chatham harbor are extremely treacherous for traveling vessels. In the early 19th century, there was nothing to warn captains of the dangers lying within. Also, the waters off Chatham are menacing to coastal shipping traffic. There are strong currents and dangerous shoals. It is important to note that before the construction of the Cape Cod Canal, all south bound shipping had to travel around the Cape through these waters. In order to help guide the vessels safely and effectively, a lighthouse needed to be built.

In April of 1808, seven thousand dollars was appropriated to build a light station. It is interesting to note that this was the second lighthouse to be approved on Cape Cod. To increase visibility even more, the new Chatham Light Station would have two towers instead of one. The towers stood forty feet above sea level. The two wooden towers were octagonal in design and were located approximately 70 feet apart. Between the two structures stood a small house for the lighthouse keeper to reside. The first keeper, Samuel Nye, was approved to take on the job by Thomas Jefferson himself. Throughout the years, the lighthouses endured many changes regarding construction and even location. In 1841, only thirty-three years after being built, the wooden towers began to rot from the harsh salty air and damp eroding land. At that time, it was decided that two new thirty foot tall brick structures be built to replace the decaying wooden ones. Then in 1857, fourth-order Fresnel lens were installed to improve the quality of the light given off by the towers. They remained lit by using lard oil. Unfortunately, a number of devastating storms took a major toll on the surrounding land and severe erosion left the twin lights only forty-eight feet from the water’s edge.

Knowing that nothing could be done to save the towers, residents let the lights succumb to the hungry sea. In 1877, before their ultimate demise, two new cast-iron lighthouses were built across the street, this time with two homes to house both the keeper and an assistant. The towers now stood forty eight feet above the water and proved much more durable than the four lighthouses before them. Approximately 115 years later, having two towers was deemed unnecessary and one of the towers was moved to Eastham, another Cape Cod town. At that time, the remaining light once again got a makeover. A rotating lens and an incandescent oil-vapor lamp were added. In 1939, the Coast Guard electrified the light and in 1969 a larger rotating light was installed. Finally, in 1982, the light was automated and it remains lit to this day. Chatham Light Station is now run by the Coast Guard and remains an aid to navigation. Unfortunately, the grounds are not open to the public except for scheduled open houses that occur throughout the year. Parking is available outside the grounds which allow visitors to wander close enough to see the grand structure, but make sure to get there early for the numbered spaces fill up fast during the summer season.

More information:


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 romantic charm suitable for relaxation after the most wonderful day of adventures exploring Cape Cod’s lighthouses, 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.


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.