GREAT POINT LIGHT
In 1770 the Nantucket town fathers (selectmen) appointed a representative to petition the Massachusetts General Court to build a lighthouse on Great Point to reduce the dangers to navigation of the Point Rip, the narrow stretch of turbulent waters between Great Point and Monomoy Island. The proposal was tabled and remained dormant throughout the Revolutionary War period, but in February of 1784 the Commonwealth finally agreed to construct a wooden lighthouse on "Sandy Point, Nantucket". Completed in 1785 at a cost of 1,089 pounds, 15 shillings and 5 pence, the light was referred to as Nantucket Light on early maps, charts, and government light lists.
In June of 1795 three mainland scoundrels robbed the Nantucket Bank of
$20,000 in heavy gold and silver coins. They also stole Great Point's
lighthouse rowboat to aid in their getaway, adding one land based
dramatic event to the continuing succession of maritime incidents caused
by Point Rip's treacherous currents.
In the autumn of 1816 Great Point's wooden tower was destroyed by a fire
of suspicious origin. It was replaced at a cost of $7,385.12 by a sturdy
sixty-foot tower of cut granite blocks. The new light went into service
in the fall of 1818. The tower was painted white for added visibility
from the sea, and its fixed white 12,000 candlepower beam could be seen
for eleven miles.
In September of 1857 the tower was raised to seventy-one feet and a new
Fresnel lens, similar to the one at Sankaty Head, was installed,
increasing the range of Great Point's beacon to fourteen miles. The oil
fueled lamp and lens combination continued in service for 114 years
until replaced by an electric unit in 1971.
In March of 1984 at the height of a severe northeaster that packed
hurricane force winds, Great Point Light, which had shone so reliably
for 167 years, became a casualty of the raging sea, crumbling straight
down into a heap of stone. Many a Nantucket home now contains a piece
or two of the rubble, all that remains of the fine old lighthouse.
The Coast Guard planned to replace the collapsed light with a steel
lattice tower, but a landslide of outraged protests quickly stymied that
idea and the present structure, based upon the plans for the 1818 light,
was built in 1986. It is automated, powered by solar cells and
batteries, and is eleven feet higher than its predecessor.
It is fitting that the million dollar cost of the new Great Point Light
was appropriated by an amendment to the Continuing Resolution of 1817,
the act that had provided for the construction of the original Great
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