Nobska Light Station Tower Restoration

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Location: 233 Nobska Road, Woods Hole
Applicant: Friends of Nobska Light, Inc.
Grant: $264,850
Year/Article: April 2017, A40

In 1828, the US Government purchased four acres in Woods Hole on Nobska (Nobsque) Point for $160 and built the first lighthouse on the site, a wooden structure that incorporated the keeper’s quarters, for $2,249. In 1841 the first Fresnel lens was installed, emitting a beam with a range of many nautical miles, produced by ten oil lamps carried by hand up the narrow circular stairs to the light room, consuming 339 gallons annually. After thirty-eight years, the wooden light structure was replaced by the present forty-foot tall cast iron lighthouse tower, manufactured in Chelsea, Massachusetts, a separate house was built for the keeper, and a larger, 4th order Fresnel lens replaced the first lens. Later improvements included a brick oil house, a paint locker, and, in 1875, a fog bell tower. In 1905 a second keeper’s dwelling was added. By 1919, electricity had come to the cape, rendering the use of oil lamps unnecessary. 

The US Lighthouse Service operated the Nobska Lighthouse for 111 years, until 1839, when the Service was merged with the US Coast Guard, and by 1949, the Woods Hole Coast Guard held responsibility for twenty-three additional manned lighthouses as well as for eight lightships. In 1985, automation of the light eliminated the need for resident keepers and the quarters were converted into the residence for the area Coast Guard Commander until 2013, when the Lighthouse was decommissioned.

Under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, Nobska Lighthouse qualified to be conveyed at no cost to other governmental entities, educational agencies, nonprofit corporations, and community development organizations which had the capacity to make the station available for education, park, recreation, cultural, or historic preservation purposes for the general public. In 2014, Falmouth successfully bid to assume responsibility, under a five-year lease, for the property and in March 2016, gave responsibility for restoration, maintenance and operation as a museum to the Friends of Nobska Light, recently organized to restore, maintain, and manage the light station for public enjoyment.

In 2017, the Friends requested and were awarded $264,850 in funding from the Community Preservation Fund in support of Phase I of a three-stage restoration and preservation of the Light Station, an iconic property on Cape Cod and for the Falmouth Road Race, resulting in its being seen annually on television worldwide. The property will be converted into a museum and educational center. April Town Meeting in 2017 awarded the Friends the requested amount and Phase I work was scheduled to begin shortly thereafter. Phase II includes rehabilitation of the keeper’s house as a maritime museum, and Phase II will complete and conserve the site as a handicapped accessible public education center. Friends anticipate opening the museum and tower by 2020.

The estimated total project cost for all three phases is $2.76 million, which includes a twenty-two percent contingency fee. Friends plan to seek support of, in addition to the Community Preservation Fund, the Massachusetts Historical Facilities Fund, the National Park Service Maritime Heritage, private gifts and grants, businesses, general public donations and fund raising events. Friends anticipate opening the museum and tower by 2020.

As a property of the federal government that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, all restoration and preservation work must satisfy the standards of the Secretary of the Interior for historic preservation, the standards under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, and those of the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

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