History of Highland Lighthouse
Highland Light Station, also known as Cape Cod Light, is located on Outer Cape Cod within Cape Cod National Seashore in North Truro. Commissioned by George Washington and established in 1797 as the 20th light station in the United States, the original 45-foot tall wooden tower and keeper's dwelling were built more than 500 feet from the edge of a 125-foot-tall clay cliff. A new brick lighthouse was erected near the original tower in 1831. The present 66-foot-tall brick light tower, keeper's house, and generator shed replaced the previous structures in 1857. An enclosed walkway connects the tower and the one-and-one-half-story, L-shaped, Queen-Anne-style keeper's dwelling.
Erosion of the steep cliff throughout the years brought the present light station around 100 feet from the cliff's edge by the early 1990s. Using funds raised by the Truro Historical Society combined with state and Federal grants, Highland Light Station was successfully moved 450 feet back to safer ground. After the 18-day move, the light was relit on November 3, 1996, and is an active aid to navigation. Today, the keeper's house features a gift shop and museum exhibits and a dedicated staff provides tours of the tower.
Highland Lighthouse and Henry David Thoreau
The naturalist and author Henry David Thoreau visited Highland Light several times in the 1850s. Thoreau found the lighthouse "a neat building, in apple pie order."
In 1864, Thoreau wrote an essay for Atlantic Monthly on the history of the Highland Light. In this excerpt, he describes the power of the Light:
"The keeper entertained us handsomely in his solitary little ocean house. He was a man of singular patience and intelligence, who, when our queries struck him, rang as clear as a bell in response. The light-house lamp a few feet distant shone full into my chamber, and made it bright as day, so I knew exactly how the Highland Light bore all that night, and I was in no danger of being wrecked... I thought as I lay there, half-awake and half-asleep, looking upward through the window at the lights above my head, how many sleepless eyes from far out on the ocean stream -- mariners of all nations spinning their yarns through the various watches of the night -- were directed toward my couch."
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