In the 19th Century, construction of lighthouses along the Atlantic coast was critical for the safety of merchant mariners transporting goods and materials by sea. In 1828, the U.S. government tpurchased four acres on Nobska (Nobsque) Point for $160 and the first lighthouse on the site, a wooden structure that incorporated Keeper’s quarters, was constructed at a cost of $2,249.
In 1841, the first Fresnel lens (pronounced “frennel”) was installed. Named for French physicist Augustin Fresnel, these massive glass lenses are cleverly designed to gather light from a source, concentrate it and emit a beam with a range of many nautical miles. Peter Dagget, the lightkeeper in 1845, reported using ten oil lamps, which consumed 339 gallons annually, carried by hand up to the light room.
The wooden light structure operated for 47 years and was replaced in 1876 by the present, 40-foot tall cast iron lighthouse, which was manufactured in Chelsea, Massachusetts. A separate house for the lightkeeper was also built that year. The Fresnel lens was upgraded to a larger, 4th-order lens in 1888; this lens is still in place today and may be viewed during a lighthouse tower tour.
Improvements were periodically added to the facility, including construction of a brick oil-house, a paint locker and, in 1875, a fog bell tower. In 1905 a second Keeper’s dwelling was added; a 1½ story, wood frame structure built at a cost of $6,000. By 1919, electricity had come to Cape Cod and the light was electrified with a 150-watt bulb, making oil largely obsolete.
During the 1930s and 40s, technological advances were incorporated. A radio tower was erected in 1937, used for triangulation bearings with Cleveland Ledge and Butler Flats in New Bedford. The fog bell was replaced in 1948 by a compressed air diaphragm horn.
KEEPERS AND STEWARDS
The Nobska Point Lighthouse was operated by the U.S. Lighthouse Service for 111 years, from 1828 until 1939, when the Service was merged with the U.S. Coast Guard. By 1949, the Woods Hole Coast Guard also had responsibility for 23 other manned lighthouses as well as for eight lightships: Nantucket, Handkerchief, Pollack Rip, Stone Horse, Cross Rip, Vineyard, Hens and Chickens, and Brenton Reef.
The last civilian lightkeeper at Nobska Point Lighthouse was Joseph Hindley, who retired in 1972. He was replaced by active-duty Coast Guard enlisted personnel. In 1985, the light was automated, eliminating the need for full-time keepers. The quarters were converted into the residence for the area Coast Guard Commander, which use continued until 2013, when it was determined that the structure was in need of extensive repair.
Auxiliary Flotilla 11-2, Woods Hole, “adopted” Nobska Point Lighthouse from the Coast Guard in 1994 to provide general maintenance and to conduct public tours. As the Auxiliary Flotilla is an adjunct of the Coast Guard their service ended in 2014. During their time of service more than 1,000 people visited the lighthouse annually.
In 2013 the last Commander to live at Nobska moved out. U.S. Coast Guard determined that the House needed too much work for the next Commander to move in and looked for a partner to assume responsibility for the Keeper’s House, Lighthouse Tower, and land surrounding the structures. The Town of Falmouth was the successful bidder, becoming the licensee with the understanding that the property would continue to belong to the federal government and, as public property, must be open to the public.
The Town, in turn, in March 2016, gave responsibility for restoration, maintenance, and operation as a museum to the Friends of Nobska Light. The Friends have restored the Tower and are working on the rehabilitation of the Keeper’s House and developing the Museum.