eastern tip of Sandy Neck—a half-mile wide, six-mile long, dune-studded
peninsula on the north side of Cape Cod—marks the entrance to
Barnstable Harbor as well as the approach to the small harbor at
Yarmouthport. Both developed as important ports for fishing, whaling,
and coastal trade in the nineteenth century. In the days when shore
whaling was a major local industry, Sandy Neck was the site of try
works for the processing of whale blubber. Cranberry harvesting later
became the peninsula’s chief business. Today, it’s home to a little
cottage community just west of the lighthouse.
From A Trip Around Cape Cod, 1898
- Congress appropriated $3,500 for a lighthouse at the
eastern tip of the peninsula, a site known as Beach Point, on May 18,
1826. Two acres for the light station were acquired from the town of
Barnstable for one dollar, and construction quickly followed. The light
went into service on October 1, 1826, and the first keeper -- at a
yearly salary of $350 -- was Joseph Nickerson, who stayed for seven
- The first lighthouse consisted of a wooden lantern on
the roof of a brick keeper's house. The lantern originally held 10
lamps and reflectors, exhibiting a fixed white light 40 feet above mean
high water and visible for nine nautical miles.
Baxter replaced Nickerson as keeper in early December 1833. He remained
until 1844, when he was succeeded by his son, James. Henry Baxter’s
first entry in the station’s log read:
This day moved my famerly [sic] and took
possession of the lighthouse at Beach Point, Sandineck. Wind NE, Thick
During his stay, Baxter frequently noted severe cold and ice in the
harbor, as well as erosion that ate away at the land surrounding the
lighthouse. A storm in late October 1837 took six feet of land away on
the station’s east side. On December 15, 1834, Baxter wrote:
This day a heavy gale from the SW with
snow. Came on shore the schooner Enterprise . . . and
Capt. Sawyer with two women on board. Got them on shore with much
trouble. Capt. Sawyer much frost bit. So ends very cold and the ice
making fast the schooner, laying in the barr [sic] with much ice on her
and sails much torn.
- In his 1838 inspection report, Lt. Edward D. Carpender
recommended the suppression of four of the lamps:
- It cannot be that this light requires more lamps
than either of the Plymouth [lights]. Those lights are far outside of
this, more exposed, and with a vastly heavier trade dependent upon them.
- When the engineer I. W. P. Lewis examined the station
in 1842, the number of lamps had been reduced to six. Lewis proclaimed
the light "very necessary and useful," largely because it helped
mariners avoid the dangerous bar that extended from Sandy Neck. But he
found the lighting apparatus "worn out and dirty" and proclaimed the
whole building "another specimen of contract work where the Government
have been losers by the operation; the whole construction and materials
being equally defective." A wooden bulkhead was under construction to
protect the station from the encroaching sea, but Lewis saw the
structure as "merely a temporary expedient."
Thomas P. D. Baxter was keeper from 1846 to 1862. In his 1946 book, A Pilgrim Returns to Cape Cod,
Edward Rowe Snow described a visit with Baxter’s grandson, Harry Ryder,
of Barnstable. Ryder said that his grandfather frequently had visitors
at the lighthouse, and that the packet boat traveling between Boston
and Provincetown often stopped there.
- An 1850 inspection report reveals that the lantern had
been raised some 8 or 10 feet, and a new system of seven lamps and
14-inch reflectors was in use. The inspection found everything in good
order under Keeper Thomas Baxter, and it noted that erosion had washed
away a considerable amount of the sandy shore near the lighthouse.
The original lighthouse was replaced in 1857 by
the 48-foot brick tower that still stands, slightly north of the first
light's location. The distinctive pair of iron hoops and six staves
that surround the central part of the lighthouse were added in 1887 as
part of an effort to shore up cracks in the tower.
The waters inside Sandy Neck were often plagued
by ice in winter. One cold day, Keeper Thomas Baxter was heading to
Barnstable in his dory, alternately rowing, pulling, and pushing the
vessel through the icy harbor. He caught his leg between the dory and
the ice, suffering an injury that led to gangrene and eventually his
death in 1862.
- Baxter's wife, Lucy Hinckley Baxter, succeeded him as
keeper and raised three children at the station. The Baxters' grandson
Harry Ryder told historian Edward Rowe Snow, "The picture she often
described to us of her having to heat the whale oil in the winter
months behind the kitchen stove and carry two oil butts up into the
tower at midnight is one we never forgot."
- Numerous repairs to the original dwelling kept it
inhabitable, but the 1880 annual report of the Lighthouse Board deemed
the house "beyond repair." The following year's report announced that
the old house had been replaced by a new, wood-frame structure, with
brick inner walls. The pretty six-room Queen Anne Victorian dwelling
- George A. Jamieson, previously at Minot's Ledge Light
and Duxbury Pier Light, became keeper in 1897. After a storm in early
December 1898, Jamieson discovered that his chicken coop and 40
chickens were gone, apparently washed away to their doom. As it turned
out, the coop had washed safely ashore in Barnstable. The chickens were
fine, although they did exhibit some strange symptoms that were
attributed to seasickness.
- Keeper Jamieson's children were schooled by a teacher
named Mr. Ferguson, who boarded with the family during the school year.
Lessons were held in the small workroom attached to the lighthouse
tower, and one of the children later remembered how the teacher's voice
would echo inside the tower. The Jamieson children also had fun being
pulled around the grounds by their Saint. Bernard dog -- they'd hitch
up a cart in summer and a sled in winter, when there was snow.
- Barnstable Harbor gradually declined in importance, and
shifting sands left the lighthouse in a less advantageous position. In
the summer of 1931, when William L. Anderson was keeper, the lighthouse
was decommissioned and its lens was moved to a steel skeleton tower 200
feet closer to the tip of Sandy Neck. The new automated light was
fueled by acetylene gas and was operated seasonally, from April 15 to
October 15. The light was discontinued in 1952.
- The lantern was removed from the lighthouse and the
property was sold at auction in 1933 to Warren J. Clear. The price was
$711 for 1.93 acres and all the light station buildings. In 1944, the
property was sold to Fred Lang, a radio personality on the Yankee
Ken Morton at the top of the
tower before the reploca lantern was installed.
- Lang sold the property to the Hinckley family in 1950.
Ken Morton and Kee Hinckley today manage the Sandy Neck Lighthouse
property for the family. In 2004, Morton began working with the Cape
Cod Chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation to have a replica
lantern installed on the tower in time for its 150th birthday, in 2007,
for aesthetic reasons as well as to protect the interior from water
damage when it rains or snows.
A chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation was formed
to help restore a lantern on the tower:
Sandy Neck Restoration Committee
P.O. Box 147
Barnstable, MA 02630
- The installation of a new lantern began in the spring
and summer of 2007. The job was completeted in the fall, and in October
2007 the lighthouse was relighted as a private aid to navigation, with
a modern LED optic. Click
here to read more about the relighting.
The lighthouse during its "headless" period
- Sandy Neck Light can be seen at a distance from Millway
Beach in Barnstable, but it is best seen by boat. Whale watches from
Barnstable Harbor provide a view.
- You can read much more about this lighthouse in the
book The Lighthouses of Massachusetts by Jeremy
A bedroom inside the keeper's
The iron stairway inside the tower
The oil house
A view of the nearby cottage
community at Sandy Neck
Another view from the top,
looking toward the end of Sandy Neck
- Keepers: Joseph Nickerson (1826-1833);
Henry Baxter (1833-1844); James Baxter (1844-1846); Thomas P. D. Baxter
(1846-1862); Lucy Hinckley Baxter (1862-1867); Edward Gorham
(1867-1875); Jacob S. Howes (1875-1880); Eunice Crowell Howes
(1880-1886); Philip R. Smith (1886-1897); George A. Jamieson
(1897-1908); James Jorgensen (1908-1909), Henry L. Pingree (1909-1918);
William L. Anderson (c. 1930)