Nobska Light

History   Courtesy of the U. S. Coast Guard

  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.

During the 1930’s and 40’s, technological advances were incorporated. A radio tower was erected in 1937, used for triangulation bearings with Cleveland Ledge and Butler Flats in New Bedford. The fog bell was replaced in 1948 by a compressed air diaphragm horn.


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.

The last civilian lightkeeper at Nobska Point Lighthouse was Joseph Hindley, who retired in 1972. He was replaced by active duty Coast Guard enlisted personnel. In 1985, the light was automated, eliminating the need for full-time keepers. The quarters were converted into the residence for the area Coast Guard Commander, which continued until 2013, when it was determined that the structure was in need of extensive repair.

Auxiliary Flotilla 11-2, Woods Hole, “adopted” Nobska Point Lighthouse from the Coast Guard in 1994 to provide general maintenance and to conduct public tours. As the Auxiliary Flotilla is an adjunct of the Coast Guard their service ended in 2014. During their time of service more than 1,000 people visited the lighthouse annually.  

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 by 2020.


Friends of Nobska Light is a Falmouth-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Make a donation here on the website or by mail.

Friends of Nobska Light • PO Box 183 • Falmouth, MA 02541

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