Nobska Lighthouse, the Bright Light of Woods Hole
By Mary Moran
Originally called “Nobsque” Light, the Nobska Lighthouse is located at the entrance to Woods Hole Harbor in beautiful Falmouth, Massachusetts. It was built as a navigation guide for vessels traveling through the busy Vineyard Sound on their way to and from the neighboring islands and Buzzards Bay. The current structure, constructed in 1876, is still active today and has been owned by the Coast Guard since 1939. The picturesque grounds where the lighthouse is located are open to the public year-round, dawn until dusk. A small amount of parking is also available for visitors. However, the lighthouse itself is only open a few times a year when scheduled open houses are held.
The original light was established in 1829 for approximately $2,250 but because of its faulty design, the structure put too much weight on the quarters below causing terrible leaks. The newly constructed tower stands 40 feet tall and is 87 feet above sea level. It was transported in four different sections to Falmouth from Chelsea, Massachusetts where it was actually put together. In addition to the tower, the keeper’s house, garage, storage shed, and oil house also remain intact from their late 19th century construction. More changes occurred to the lighthouse in 1888 when its fifth-order Fresnel lens was replaced with a more effective fourth-order Fresnel lens. The lighthouse itself is an iron structure with a brick lining. It is painted a classic Cape Cod white with the lantern or uppermost part of the structure, is painted black.
Nobska has a flashing white light and red vector. This white light can be seen up to 17 miles away and is flashed every six seconds. A fog signal was incorporated into the structure in 1910 for when the visibility on the water drops below five miles because of fog or heavy weather. When this visibility drops, the signal lets out two strong, deep blasts every thirty seconds to warn traveling vessels. During the 19th century, one of the keeper’s duties was to record the number of vessels traveling past the lighthouse eaach day. It was so busy that on one day in 1864, the vessel count was a whopping one hundred eighty eight, most of which were passing schooners.
Although the original lighthouse proved not to be architecturally sound, the first keeper, Peter Daggett, was praised for keeping the lighthouse in such excellent condition during the years he was in charge. However, Daggett was also remembered for being a quiet man but apparently make constant complaints about the low quality of the oil he received for the light. He remained keeper of Nobska until 1849. Civilian keepers continued the reign at Nobska even after the merge with the Coast Guard in 1939. It wasn’t until 1973 when the Coast Guard officially took over the Nobska Light post. This occurred when Mr. Joseph Hindley Jr., the last civilian keeper of Nobska Light, retired from his duties at the gorgeous Woods Hole landmark. Since then, the keeper’s house is now home to the Commander of Coast Guard Sector Southeastern New England and the lighthouse continues to be both a breathtaking historic tower and also a useful safety tool for Captains, their crews and passengers.
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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 lighthouses, we recommend the Harriet Beecher Stowe room, the Theodore Roosevelt room or the Emily Dickinson room. These rooms feature comfortable king beds, fireplaces, jetted 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.