Cape Ann Lighthouse

Nov. 5, 2019

Cape Ann Lighthouse, Thatcher Island, off of Cape Ann, Rockport, Massachusetts


Station Established: 1771 
Year Current/Last Tower(s) First Lit: 1861 
Operational? YES 
Automated? YES 1979 
Deactivated: n/a; Second Tower: 1932-1988 
Foundation Materials: GRANITE (SURFACE ROCK) 
Construction Materials: CUT GRANITE
Tower Shape: CONICAL
Relationship to Other Structure: SEPARATE
Original Lens: FIRST ORDER, FRESNEL 1861

Historical Information:

* Thatcher’s Island was named for the Rev. Anthony Thatcher who, on the night of August 14, 1635, was shipwrecked there. Of the 21 persons on board, including his 4 children, only the minister and his wife were saved.
* On April 22, 1771, the Province of Massachusetts Bay Council authorized the erection of twin lighthouses on Thatcher’s Island. Captain Kirkwood was appointed keeper on December 21, 1771, but, being a Tory, was removed from the island by the Minute Men during the early days of the Revolution. The lights remained dark all during that war.  The lighthouses were among those turned over to the Federal Government under the act of August 7, 1789. From 1792 to 1814 Capt. Joseph Sayward was keeper and he was succeeded by Aaron Wheeler, who served 20 years. One of Wheeler’s tasks was to clear the 300 yards between the towers of large boulders and surface down the smaller ones. A bonus of $100 was paid him for this work. Charles Wheeler, who succeeded him served until 1845. A fog bell was installed in 1853.  In 1859 Congress authorized the rebuilding of the two lighthouse towers and two new towers, of cut granite, were built in 1860-61. Each was 124 feet high and fitted with a Fresnel lens of the first order.
* A Civil War veteran named Bray was appointed keeper in 1865 and on the day before Christmas, that year, took his assistant, who was running a fever, ashore. While he was away a heavy snow storm came up and he could not return. His wife, with two babies, alone on the island, fought her way between snow drifts, to keep the lights in the two towers burning. When her husband returned Christmas morning, it was only because she had, by almost superhuman effort, kept the lights burning that he was able to find his way and not miss the island altogether in the blinding storm. 
* In 1891, Mr. John Farley, assistant keeper, was killed while landing at the station in a heavy sea. In 1919, when President Wilson was returning to the United States on the S. S. America, the great vessel narrowly escaped the rocks on the island in a fog. Only the fog horn, heard at the last minute, enabled the captain to change his course in time.  In 1932 the light on the northern tower was discontinued and that in the southeast tower was electrified by means of a 6,000-foot submarine cable to the mainland.  A gray stone tower, 124 feet above land and 166 feet above water, now houses the 70,000-candlepower first-order electric light, which is visible 19 miles. An air-diaphone fog signal is also located at the station.