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Friday, August 15, 2008

Highland Light - Truro, Mass.

“The Cape is wasting here on both sides,” Henry David Thoreau wrote in 1855 at Highland Light, noting “Erelong, lighthouse must be moved.” A couple of years later a new lighthouse was built in this spot, right there about 510 feet from the edge of the cliff. In 1996, some 141 years later, Mr. Thoreau’s prediction proved right. The lighthouse was moved.

Above is a shot of Highland Light where it stood, only about a hundred feet away from eroding cliffs in the 1980s, and below, the light where it stands now, moved back to a safer distance of more than 450 feet from the edge.

Not an easy job, shifting tons of lighthouse, rolling it at a snail’s pace along steel rails. Thanks to the Truro Historical Society and the donations of many, the oldest lighthouse on the Cape, Highland Light, also called since 1976 Cape Cod Light, is safe.

Long before the notoriety of its being moved from the cliffs, the Highland Light was mentioned by author Robert Nathan in his now famous novel “Portrait of Jennie” when the scene of the novel shifted from New York City to Cape Cod.

A 45-foot wooden lighthouse, the 20th in the United States, was built some 500 feet from the edge of the bluff in 1797. Because of fears that the light might be confused with Boston Light, Highland Light became the first lighthouse in the nation to have a flashing light. A new brick lighthouse was erected close to the site of the first one in 1833.

This was replaced with new brick tower built in 1857 with a Fresnel lens from Paris. This Fresnel light made Highland Light, the highest on the New England mainland, one most powerful, and was said to be the first glimpse of America seen by many immigrants from Europe.

But the cliff on which it stood continued to erode at a rate of at least three feet a year until, by the early 1990s, the lighthouse stood just over a hundred feet from the edge. In 1990 alone 40 feet of earth were lost just north of the lighthouse.

The Truro Historical Society and the Save the Light Committee raised funds for the moving of Highland Light, and state funds helped get the project going in 1996.
The foundation of the lighthouse was excavated. The lighthouse was lifted on beams with hydraulic jacks and mounted on rollers, moved on rails, just a bit at a time.

In the summer of 1998 Highland Light was re-opened for visitors, now operated by Highland Museum and Lighthouse, Inc., under a National Park Service Concession contract. The lighthouse is open daily, mid-May through October.

If you’re out and about on the Cape, go have a look at this beautiful lighthouse. For more information on the Highland Light (or Cape Cod Light if you will), have a look at this website, and also this one.

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