BRANT POINT LIGHT
The nation's second oldest lighthouse - Boston Light (1716) is thirty
years its senior - Brant Point Light is also the shortest (26 feet) and
dimmest (600 candlepower) lighthouse in the country.
Nantucket mariners had seen Boston's light and several European
lighthouses and realized the need for a beacon at the entrance to their
home port to warn approaching vessels of the bar which made safe passage
difficult. In 1746 a consortium of shipowners and merchants convinced
the town of Sherburne to erect a lighthouse at Brant Point to accomplish
this purpose. Early records make it clear that the town expected the
shipowners to maintain and repair the lighthouse even though it was
built on town property.
That first light did the job perfectly until a breezy night in 1757 when some whale oil spilled from the lamp and ignited the flimsy wooden structure, burning it to the ground. A new wooden structure replaced the ruin and functioned faithfully until a sudden powerful gust of wind, possibly a tornado, toppled it in March of 1774. The light was quickly rebuilt but with one important addition. A committee of shipowners and merchants petitioned the Continental Congress for the right to collect a "light money" tax of six shillings to be levied on shipping entering the harbor. The petition was granted and the financial burden of repair and maintenance passed from Nantucket pockets to those of island visitors. Sound familiar?
Brant Point Light's turbulent chronicle continues through a couple of
centuries: burned down in 1783, replaced by a "beacon" in 1784; in 1786
the "beacon" was destroyed and replaced by another which blew down in a
1788 storm; a new structure was erected by the Commonwealth of
Massachusetts and lasted for almost forty years.
That lighthouse was ceded to the Federal government in 1795, along with
eight other lighthouses along the New England coast, and Brant Point
Light has been government property ever since. In 1825 the building had
deteriorated badly and was condemned and rebuilt by Congress at the cost
of $1600. The new wooden lighthouse survived the great fire of 1846,
but ultimately succumbed to the ravages of wind and water. "Completely
rotted", it was replaced by a $15,000 brick structure in 1856.
With the completion of the jetties the course of the channel was altered
and it became necessary to change the location of the lighthouse to
comply with the new route. In 1901 the present brick lighthouse was
erected on the extreme easterly end of Brant Point, where it has been a
favorite landmark of islanders and visitors alike for the past
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