Coast Guard Station Chatham
Chatham Lighthouse is often considered the trademark of the town. Standing 40 feet tall, the light overlooks the infamous Chatham Bar. The lighthouse is currently home to an active duty Coast Guard Small Boat Station, with a primary mission of Search & Rescue, responsible for the safety of the local fishing fleet and recreational boating community.
The original construction of the lighthouse began in 1808, consisting of a set of two separate light towers located 70 feet apart, with the keeper’s house built in the middle. The two lights were mandated to prevent mariners from confusing the Chatham light from Highland Light in Truro, located approximately 20 miles north of Chatham. Chatham light is still known by the local fishing community as “Twin Lights,” despite the fact that only one light tower stands today.
On October 7, 1808, President Thomas Jefferson appointed Samuel Nye as the first keeper of Chatham light. The lights remained relatively unchanged until 1841, when the original wooden light towers were condemned and replaced by new brick construction. Upon the construction of the new towers a new light keeper was appointed, Collins Howes followed by Samuel Nickerson and then the First woman keeper, Angeline Nickerson (Samuel Nickerson’s widow.) In 1872, Josiah Hardy II becomes Keeper and remains for 28 years. Hardy is often praised by historians for his superb notes and records about Twin Lights.
April 25, 1877, the decision to move the lights to its current location was approved. This order was a result of the constant and fast consuming erosion occurring at a rate of 30 feet per year, which seemed to approach closer and closer to the light towers on a daily basis. The new towers were construction once again of brick, only this time they were covered in a cast-iron shell and placed 100 feet apart. Prior to 1878, lard was the primary fuel used to illuminate the Twin Lights. Kerosene replaced Lard and was considered to be state of the art technology.
The Twin Lights were separated on May 15, 1923. The North Tower was moved to Orleans and is known today as Nauset Light. The move was approved for two reasons; the project was a hope by the government to stimulate the local economy in the aftermath of World War I, and to replace 3 lighthouses known as “the Three Sisters” that stood along Nauset Beach. The original site of the north tower can be seen on the on the grounds of Coast Guard Station Chatham, with the concrete base currently home to two “Admiralty” style anchors.
A major budgeting change occurred in the summer of 1939, when the U.S Coast Guard official assumed responsibility of the Bureau of Lighthouses. With the new allocated funds from Congress, Chatham Lighthouse was once again updated with state of the art technology, an electric motor replaced the clockwork drive, used to rotate the light. 20 years later, Two high intensity electric searchlights replaced the fuel powered flame, which was used for over 160 years to illuminate Chatham Lighthouse.
In 1994, the local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla 11-1 assumes the responsibility as “the Keepers of the Light.” Flotilla 11-1 has volunteered countless hours up keeping the light and conducting weekly tours for the public.
-Written by BM2 Sherman Baldwin
Click on the map below for the exact locations of the
LSS along the outer Cape
Click here for more information on
Cape Cod Halfway
List of LifeSaving Stations
Race Point LSS, Provincetown, MA
Peaked Hill Bars LSS, Provincetown, MA
Highland LSS, North Truro, MA
Pamet River LSS, Truro, MA
Cahoon's Hollow LSS, Wellfleet, MA
NausetLSS, North Eastham, MA
Orleans LSS, East Orleans, MA
Chatham LSS, Morris Island Beach, Chatham, MA
Monomoy LSS, Monomoy Island, MA -
In 1883 the High HeadStation was built between Highland and Peaked Hill Bars Station.
In 1896 the Wood End station was built in 1896 on the inner edge of Provincetown.
In 1897 Old Harbor Station was built on North Beach in Chatham.
Finally in 1902 Monomoy Point Station was built on the South Tip of Monomoy Island.
Here are some notable rescues over the years.
Clicking on the links will take you to the CG Historians office pages for that
rescue. We are in the process of having these rescue brought to life on
this site, but it will take a little while, please be patient.
Seth Mayo Rescue, 28 MAR 1902
The Coast Guard's Greatest Peacetime Rescue occurred
off Chatham on February 18th, 1952.
Click here to read more.
*****More Coming Soon*****
special newspaper report
from the Standard Times newspaper from January 3, 1933. The article lists
all the crew at each of the Cape Cod Coast Guard Stations.
Read the USLSS Annual Report from 1899 on the
November 1898 Storm and the
*****More Coming Soon******
Page and make sure you send us any historical pictures you have to include.
Also visit the SPAR's page (Semper
Paratus Alway's Ready Women's Reserve) for some great Chatham SPARS photos.
Life-Saving Service Heritage Association
Nantucket Life Saving Museum
Cape Cod Maritime Museum
U.S. Coast Guard Heritage Museum at the Trayser -
the museum is open and has a great collection
of Coast Guard artifacts, and a knowledgeable staff. They are located on
Route 6A in Barnstable Village.
Foundation for Coast Guard History
BOOKS ON CAPE COD
Chatham "The Lifeboatmen",
Bernard C. Webber, (c) 1985 - Detailed account and photographs by the Gold Life
Saving Medal recipient Bernie Webber. One of those books you read in one
sitting, since you can't put it down. Several local bookstores carry this
book, you may also find online.
Old Harbor Station,
Richard G. Ryder, (c) 1990 - Excellent book on the Old Harbor Life Saving
Station, a needed reference book for any Life Saving Service enthusiast.
Very hard to find. I am trying to convince the author to do a second
The Life Savers of Cape Cod,
J.W. Dalton (c) 1902 - quintessential history of Cape Cod Life Saving up to
1902. Again, hard to find, seen occasionally on EBay or other online book
From Highland to Hammerhead,
Charles B. Hathaway, CAPT USCG (ret.), (c) 2000 - The definitive Coast Guard reference documenting
the 201 years from the establishment of Highland Light in 1797 to the
commissioning of the 87' Patrol Boat USCGC Hammerhead. The Booksmith in
Orleans still has copies of this book, make sure you get a copy!
East of Cape Cod,
Asa Cobb Paine Lombard, Jr. (c) 1976 - another great book on Cape Cod's Life
Saving history with lots of pictures of Life Saving Stations and historical Cape
Sea Stories of Cape Cod and the Islands,
Admont Gulick Clark, CAPT USCGR (Ret.) (c) 2000 - 50 great true stories of Cape
Cod and the Islands. Recommended by Bernie Webber.
H.R Kaplan, A.L. Lonsdale, LCDR, USCG (Ret.) (c) 1966 - Foreword by ADM E.J.
Rowland, former Commandant. Another book recommended by Bernie Webber.
Life Aboard A Coast Guard Lightship,
CWO4 George E. Rongner, USCG (Ret.) (c) 2007. A retired Surfman, Lightship
Sailor, and CO of the White Sage and White Lupine. Recommended by Bernie
The Pendleton Disaster Off Cape Cod: The Greatest Small Boat Rescue in
Coast Guard History, Theresa Barbo, John Galuzzo, CAPT W. Russel Webster,
USCG (Ret.) (c) 2007. The History Press. New account of the Pendleton
Rescue in 1952.