Peter Wademan, Twin Lights, 20″ x 30″, O/C
A National Historic Landmark, Twin Lights is located on the north and southeast sides of Thacher Island. The island is about one mile off the coast of Rockport, about two miles from Gloucester Harbor, and about 30 miles north of Boston. The south tower and southeastern portion of the island (approximately 28 acres) was deeded to the Town of Rockport by the U.S. Coast Guard, which maintains the solar-powered optic. The north tower and northern end of the island (approximately 22 acres) is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and managed by the Town of Rockport as a wildlife refuge. Access to the towers is not permitted. Thacher Island is open to the public and is accessible by boat or kayak.
Cape Ann Light Station, also known as Thacher Island Twin Lights, was first established on Thacher Island in 1771. Thacher Island is located about a mile offshore of Rockport. The rocky, 50-acre island earned its name when the General Court granted it to Anthony Thacher in 1636-1637. During the Great Storm of 1635, Thacher and his wife were the sole survivors of a tragic shipwreck near the island that claimed the lives of approximately 21 passengers and crew members, including the Thacher’s children and friends. Numerous other shipwrecks occurred in the area, and the Massachusetts colonial government eventually purchased the island to establish a light station. One of only 10 lighthouses operating in North America at the time, the Cape Ann Light Station was constructed in 1771 to safely guide mariners past Thacher Island. The two identical wooden towers were among the first built to mark a hazardous location rather than a harbor entrance and were also the last lights built under British rule in the colonies. Prior to the widespread use of revolving or flashing optics, twin towers provided a distinguishing characteristic for mariners.
The original towers were replaced by the present 124-foot tall, twin granite towers in 1861. The new towers, which are the tallest lighthouses in Massachusetts, received enormous first-order Fresnel lenses and were first lit on October 1, 1861. Situated 298 yards apart, each tower is accessed through an enclosed brick passageway located on the west side of the tower’s base, and contains a circular staircase (155 stairs) leading from the base to the lantern. In 1932, the use of the north tower was discontinued making it one of the last operational twin light stations on the Atlantic Coast. The south tower was electrified via a submarine cable to the mainland that same year and provided a more intense light. The south tower was automated and unmanned, when a modern optic replaced the Fresnel lens in 1979. The north tower’s original Fresnel lens no longer exists, while the south tower’s original Fresnel lens is displayed at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Museum in New London, Connecticut. In 1989, the north tower was relit as part of its restoration to serve as a private aid to navigation. In January 2001, the Cape Ann Light Station, including several associated outbuildings, received recognition as a National Historic Landmark.