This Saturday is National Lighthouse Day, and in honor of that producer Dave Fraser takes us to visit Cape Cod’s oldest lighthouse, locally known as the Highland Light.  

The Highland Light sits perched 120 feet above the ocean in Truro, MA. Moved to its present location in July 1996 due to the eroding shore line, the Cape’s tallest lighthouse is owned by the National Park Service as part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, and serves as an active aid to navigation. 

Learn more about the history of the Cape Cod National Seashore in part 1 of our three-part series about the beloved National Park.


Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: This Saturday is National Lighthouse Day, and in honor of that, producer Dave Fraser takes us to visit Cape Cod’s oldest lighthouse, locally known as the Highland Light, which sits perched 120 feet above the ocean in Truro, Mass.

Moved to its present location in July 1996 due to the eroding shoreline, the Cape’s tallest lighthouse is owned by the National Park Service as part of the Cape Cod National Seashore and serves as an active aid to navigation.

Dan Sanders, Highland Lighthouse President: The Highland Light was, at one time, the biggest and most powerful light on the East Coast.

I think it’s part of our American heritage, and I think people tend to be drawn to it for that reason. But I also tend to think there’s an attraction of a lighthouse by the sea to most people, because people do climb it. It puzzles me a little bit because I’m an older guy.

And when I was a little kid, this lighthouse and the other lighthouses were very big parts of our maritime heritage, because global positioning systems and things like that hadn’t come in yet. And the lighthouse was still critical to navigation.

We are sitting right now on 42 North latitude and 70 West latitude, 2,900 miles dead east is Portugal. Eight hundred and forty is the Titanic.

So, there’s four lights out here telling you how to navigate yourself around Cape Cod. Now, why? Because we stick way out to sea. And if you don’t have those kinds of navigational lights, then you could run into the Cape, thinking you were headed for Boston. And many, many ships did.

What you see is two balconies. The light in the lighthouse is swinging round and round so that it glows on the horizon all the time. And every five seconds it flashes bright. And if you’re a ship captain coming in from Europe in a sailing ship on your way out to sea, that five second flash identifies that you are on the Highland Light.

Right now we’re 65 feet above the ground, but the ground’s 120 feet above the ocean, so we’re one hundred and eighty four feet above the ocean. And this light can project 16.3miles to seaward.

There’s no doors in the light room, because if you were to open that door one hundred years ago, and high wind — it might blow out the light. And if it blew out the light — big, huge, expensive light — and the ships coming in from Europe didn’t pick up the light, that would be a disaster. So you go out to lower gallery, walk around climb a ladder on the back.

And the original location, of course, is where that stone is in 1797. It’s moved back 16 years ago.

But a couple of years before that, the Coast Guard guy sitting in a lighthouse in a big storm, suddenly found a banking to our left going over the side. The banking is steadily eroding. The lighthouse is as far back from the bank now as it was from the banking in 1857 when it was built.

So they see this banking let go, and the Coast Guard says this lighthouse is going over the banking and we’re going to abandon it cause we can put a light on a pole. And everybody gets together and they raise the money to move it back to save it. And so, you see it further back.

I doubt that the ancient critical navigation matches, but somehow the lighthouses are a connection with the past. And and I think they’re preserved for that reason. That’s one of the reasons we try to preserve this one.