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 purchased 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 light keeper 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 38 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 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 1 ½ 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 obsolete.
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 Bretton Reef.
In 2014, the Coast Guard advertised for bidders to assume responsibility for the 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 for free.
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 anticipate that they will complete the restoration and opened the museum and tower not later than 2020.
You can visit the grounds anytime.
Tower Tours are currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not possible to be socially distant while inside the lighthouse tower.