Guiding Lights

Nantucket’s Lighthouses, Keepers & their Families

Before modern technology, captains and sailors could only rely on the light from the lighthouses to guide their vessels to safety. And for centuries, the families that manned these lighthouses were just as important in guiding sailors to safety as were the lighthouses.

One of these lights is Nantucket Light, often called the Great Point Light, on the northernmost point of the island. First built in 1784, the original wooden tower was destroyed by fire in 1816. The following year a stone tower was erected which stood until toppled in a storm in March 1984. Rebuilt again in 1986, the stone tower was built to replicate the old one, and still remains in operation today. Modern additions include solar panels to recharge the light’s batteries, and a sheet pile foundation and 5-foot thick concrete mat to help withstand erosion.

Other Nantucket lighthouses include the Brant Point Light, originally erected in 1748 and replaced nine times, and the Sankaty Head Light, with its distictive red and white coloring.

The Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum’s exhibit, “Guiding Lights: Nantucket’s Lighthouses, Keepers & their Families,” celebrates the island’s historic monuments. This warming exhibit, running May 24 – October 8, 2012, celebrates the beacons of light and the families that guided mariners through the treacherous shoals for centuries that surround Nantucket.

This year’s exhibition celebrates not just the Island’s historic monuments but also these early heroes. The Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum is excited to honor and pay tribute to the men, women, and children by sharing their stories and photographs of their daily life as well as true tales of shipwreck sights and salvage at sea.

The Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum shares the fascinating stories of yesterday’s maritime heroes through permanent and changing interpretive exhibits and special events. The Museum houses a collection of over 5,000 objects, including surfboats, beach carts, vintage photographs and more, a silver medal awarded to Marcus W. Dunham for his role in several rescues during the Great Gale of 1879; the incorporation of oral histories into their “Madaket Millie” retrospective; an interactive shipwreck map; and a whimsical Newfoundland dog chair created by ‘Sconset’ artist, Clara Urbahn.

The Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum is located at 158 Polpis Road, just 3.5 miles from Nantucket Town. The museum exhibition opens Thursday, May 24 and runs through Columbus Day, Monday, October 8, 2012. Hours: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. daily.  Admission: $5 adults,  $3 children ages 5 – 18, free for children under 5, includes admission to the museum and the historic Coffin School, located at 4 Winter Street. For more information, including a full calendar of special events and Family Fun Days for people and their pets, call (508) 228-1885, or visit or

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