Brant Point Lighthouse

July 10, 2019

Brant Point Lighthouse, Nantucket Harbor, Nantucket Island, Massachusetts


Station Established: 1746 
Year Current/Last Tower(s) First Lit: 1901 
Operational? YES 
Automated? YES 1965 
Deactivated: n/a 
Foundation Materials: STONE PILING 
Construction Materials: WOOD 
Tower Shape: CONICAL 
Markings/Pattern: WHITE W/BLACK LANTERN 
Relationship to Other Structure: SEPARATE 
Original Lens: FIFTH ORDER, FRESNEL 1901 

Historical Information:

* According to all available records, the lighthouse at Brant Point, located on the south side of Nantucket Harbor, Massachusetts., has been rebuilt seven times in addition to three beacons, since it was originally established in 1746. At a town meeting at Nantucket on January 24, 1746, the sea captains of the island spoke out for a lighthouse and 200 English pounds were voted for the purpose "in supposition that the owners of or others concerned in, shipping will maintain a light therein." However, the expenses of maintaining the light were actually defrayed by the town. This earliest lighthouse was destroyed by fire in 1758.
* At another town meeting held shortly afterward, the rebuilding of the light was agreed to and another light was built in 1759. This stood until 1774. In the March 12, 1774, issue of The Massachusetts Gazette and the Boston PostBoy and Advertiser appears this item: "We hear from Nantucket that on Wednesday the 9th of March Instant (1774) at about 8 o’clock in the Morning, they had a most violent Gust of Wind that perhaps was ever known there, but it lasted only about a Minute. It seemed to come in a narrow Vein, and in its progress blew down. and totally destroyed the Light-House on that Island, besides several Shops, Barns, etc. Had the Gust continued fifteen Minutes it is thought it would not have left more than half the Buildings standing, in the Course that it passed. But we don’t hear of any Persons receiving much hurt, nor much Damage done, except the loss of the Light-House which in every respect is considerable."
* Two weeks later the citizens met and agreed to rebuild the lighthouse for the third time "as High as the former one that blew down lately at the Town’s Expense." As many of the captains from other ports objected to the system of lighthouse dues, the townsmen petitioned the General Court of Massachusetts for permission to levy tonnage dues, and, beginning August 1, 1774, that court ordered that any vessel over 15 tons was subject to a charge of 6 shillings the first time each year it entered or left Nantucket Harbor. In 1783, the lighthouse was burned to the ground in a third disaster.
* The first three lighthouses had been cheaply constructed, but the fourth light, for economy’s sake, was practically nothing but a beacon built even more cheaply. A wooden lantern, with glass windows was hoisted, in 1783, between two spars, with grooves to protect and steady the lantern. This lamp gave a very dim light often compared by mariners to a lightning bug; hence it received the name "bug light." This "bug light" did not prove satisfactory.
* A fifth beaconlike light was substituted for this in 1786. It was merely a frame, fitted at the top for lamps. This outfit was wrecked in a heavy storm in 1788. In August 1789 Congress passed the act transferring the colonial lights to the Federal Government. Some time between 1788 and 1795 another lighthouse was erected on Brant Point. According to a "Memoranda of Cessions by Massachusetts," dated 1795, "The lighthouse on Brant Point with the tenements and land thereto belonging, owned by the State, was ceded to the United States in 1795."
* This building, the sixth to be erected on this site, grew old with the years and was condemned in 1825.  A small tower framework, the seventh light, was built on top of the keeper’s dwelling in 1825. This had eight lamps arranged in a double row, six in the lower series and two in the upper tier.  Behind each of these lamps were 12’ 2-inch reflectors.
* On November 9, 1853, C. A. Ogden, Major, Topographical Engineers, recommended to the Lighthouse Board the erection, as the eighth light, a sixth tower for a second-class lens light at Brant Point, Nantucket, at a cost of $15,000. "The frame of the light tower at Brant Point is so completely rotted as to require reconstruction with the least possible delay," the letter continued, "and believing it to be the wise policy of the Board to make all its future construction permanent, I have asked the above amount for the tower. The dwelling house is much decayed, but has a nearly new roof and weather boarding on it, and may last for some years yet." A similar recommendation to the Board dated October 22, 1853, from Even W. Allen, collector and superintendent, district of Nantucket, reads in part "The whole establishment at Brant Point is very much out of repair, and from the age, material, and construction of the building, I should not consider it good economy to repair it; the interests of the Government and all concerned, seem to demand a more permanent and commodious structure." Accordingly, on August 3, 1854, Congress appropriated $15,000 "for rebuilding the lighthouse at Brandt’s Point, Nantucket, State of Massachusetts." This appropriation was spent, $6,383.85 in 1856 and $8,616.15 in 1857, for the erection of the new tower. The following is a description of this tower. "The foundation of the tower is of concrete cement 2 feet thick, and 18 feet in diameter. The base is of hammered granite, laid in courses 2 feet thick to the height of 12 feet. The interior of the base forms a cistern, where water may be caught for household purposes. The column forming the tower is of brick laid in cement, with an airspace within the walls for ventilation. The lamp is of cast iron, with 12 lights of plate glass. A circular iron stairway winds its spiral way up to a floor of iron, where rests the lantern, 58 feet above the foundation and 47 feet above the ground."
* The lamp was a catadioptric apparatus of the fourth order, commonly called the Fresnel light. The light was first exhibited December 10, 1856.   In 1900 a fixed red lens-lantern beacon light was installed at the extremity of Brant Point, 600 feet from the tower, it having been found necessary to move the light outward, owing to changes in the channel leading into the harbor of Nantucket. This was the ninth light to be located on the Brant Point site.
* In 1901 a new tower, the tenth light and seventh tower, was built at the extremity of the point, and the light exhibited there for the first time on January 31, 1901. This is still in use as a white cylindrical (wooden) tower, with foot bridge to shore on which is a 1300 candlepower, fourth-order electric light, fixed red, 26 feet above the water, visible 10 miles. This is the lowest lighthouse in New England. It is located on the west side of the entrance to Nantucket Harbor. A fog bell completes the equipment at this station.
* A long-standing dispute begun in 1887, over the boundaries of the land constituting the lighthouse site, which belonged to the United States, was finally settled in 1901 when five lots, embracing 5.9 acres, on which three summer dwellings and part of a hotel were located, were sold, as no longer needed for lighthouse purposes and the proceeds paid into the Treasury.