On the night of March 29, 1984, a wind-whipped storm described by weather meteorologists as a “freak event” swept up the New England coast with ninety-mile-an-hour winds that toppled the Great Point Lighthouse that had stood on the northeast point of Nantucket Island in Massachusetts since 1818.
To most locals and lighthouse aficionados, the demise of the lighthouse came as no surprise. They had been complaining for years that the lighthouse was in danger of collapse due to erosion. After the lighthouse was automated, no effort was made to find a good steward to maintain the station, and the keeper’s house was boarded up. However, on October 23, 1966, a fire of mysterious origin destroyed the keeper’s house. This event spurned more heated discussions by the people and politicians as to why more efforts were needed to save the tower by moving it to a more protected location. But, for the most part, those appeals fell on deaf ears, mainly because the estimated cost of $450,000 to move the tower could not be found.
In an effort to somewhat appease the people of Nantucket, in November of 1983 the Coast Guard refurbished the tower and spruced up its appearance. But this did not quell the detractors who still wanted the lighthouse moved. As erosion continued to creep toward the tower, others suggested a cheaper method. They proposed that an artificial reef be built to protect the tower. But the years of hemming and hawing with indecisive action came to an end when the tower came toppling down into a pile of rubble on that fateful night in March of 1984.
Soon the Coast Guard erected a temporary wooden tower at the site, and several different plans were discussed to put up a new tower, none of which would have resembled the original tower, which is what the locals wanted. Fortunately, the people found a strong ally in United States Senator Ted Kennedy who had strong ties to Nantucket, and before, long federal funding was approved to rebuild an exact replica of 1818 tower. In 1986, at a cost of slightly over one million dollars, the replica Great Point Lighthouse tower was built by marine contractor Hydro-Dredge Construction of New Bedford, Massachusetts.
The new tower was erected 300 yards west of the location of the original tower. The construction crew worked seven days a week, 12 hours per day, to complete the project in one season. During that time, Senator Ted Kennedy visited the site on several occasions to preview the work as it progressed.
When the “new” Great Point Lighthouse was dedicated on September 7, 1986, the ceremony was attended by several hundred people, including Sen. Kennedy, and Jeannette (Haskins) Killen, who lived at the lighthouse from 1937 to 1944 where her father, Archford Haskins, had been the lighthouse keeper.
Now, thanks to photographs taken by Tom Mann who shared them with us, we are publishing, for the first time ever, these historic images of the construction in 1986 of the “new” Great Point Lighthouse.
This story appeared in the
May/Jun 2017 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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