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Nauset Light: Lesson in Beach Erosion

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Nauset Light is the best-known historic structure in Eastham.

Its official name may be Nauset Beach Light but to a group of concerned citizens it’s a symbol of their town’s nautical history, and it was worth saving from sure doom caused by eroding cliffs.

Nauset Light, as it is more commonly known, is a 48-foot-high brick-lined cast-iron structure that originally was built in 1877 and located in Chatham, due south of Eastham. It was moved to Eastham in 1923 to replace three small wooden lighthouses, know as the Three Sisters, which had been decommissioned.

Erosion of the cliffs continued unabated and by the early 1990s Nauset Light was just 50 feet from the edge of the 70-foot cliff on which it stood.

Although the average natural erosion rate on the Atlantic Ocean side of the Cape is about 3.8 feet per year, in the Nauset Light area the average accelerated to about 5.8 feet per year between 1987 and 1994. Scientists say in some years there can be little or no erosion in this area but in other years there can be 15 feet.

When the Coast Guard announced in the early 1990s that it had no plans to save Eastham’s most famous historic structure, a group of concerned citizens knew it was time to act. Not willing to watch their beloved lighthouse fall into the sea, they formed the Nauset Lighthouse Preservation Society and began to raise funds. In 1995 they leased the lighthouse from the Coast Guard and arranged to relocate it about 300 feet west. Since then the Coast Guard has given it to the National Park Service while the Nauset Light Preservation  Society agreed to maintain it as a private navigational aid. Now the all-volunteer group offers free tours of the lighthouse and nearby oil house on Sundays from May through late October and Wednesdays in July and August.

Experts estimate that the lighthouse will be safe in its current location for about 75 to 100 more years, long enough for our great-grandkids to see it.

(Photograph: (c) Debbie Dolphin from LighthouseInn-CT.com)

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